Evolve or become extinct – a warning to Borders businesses

Rob Oliver (left) and Nathan Upchurch who are part of The Business Club, a group of Galashiels business people who are determined to rejuvinate trade in the town.
Rob Oliver (left) and Nathan Upchurch who are part of The Business Club, a group of Galashiels business people who are determined to rejuvinate trade in the town.

TWO traders who have launched a Borders business club have warned that bosses who fail to adapt will see their companies fold.

Nathan Upchurch and Rob Oliver believe too many companies are operating in the past and have failed to move into the 21st century.

The duo run Galashiels printers The Paper Chain and this week, in an interview with TheSouthern, voiced their fears for the future of some companies.

Mr Oliver, the owner of the company, and Mr Upchurch, its account manager, co-founded The Business Club as a network for business people in November

And they cite 10 empty shops on the town’s Channel Street as an example of how the economic crisis is hitting the Borders.

And Mr Upchurch warned: “Border businesses that don’t adapt, that don’t market and promote themselves, are going to die. It’s not the fifties any more..

“People sit in their shops, waiting for business to come to them, just hoping for the best – but they can’t do that now.

And colleague Mr Oliver told us: “It’s time for some hard-hitting home truths. The harsh reality is that if Border businesses want to compete on a national level, or increasingly even on a local level, we have to consider evolving our outdated sales and marketing practices.”

Mr Upchurch stressed: “We’ve got to wake up. We’ve got to try to bring everybody into the 21st century. People are still doing business like it’s the twenties – it’s just a bit old hat, and people are afraid to change.

“All local businesses are screaming for customers to buy local, but few do, because consumers can get goods cheaper anywhere else, and they’re not being given any reason to buy locally.”

And his colleague believes the Borders has been slow to move with the times: “Business in the Borders has not been as progressive over the years as it has been in larger areas, so we hope that by clubbing together in The Business Club we can share our collective knowledge and experience, and learn from each other, in the hope of remaining competitive, even under the shadow of much larger businesses.”

The free-to-join club is the first of its kind in the area and meets every second Wednesday for breakfast at 7am in the Kingsknowes Hotel on the outskirts of Galashiels.

And Mr Oliver said that getting together over the breakfast table before the business day begins will have benefits.

He told us: “A lot of business people in the Borders don’t know each other, and don’t know each other’s expertise. By joining together, you get more business, which makes your business grow, and you employ more people.

“It’s proven to work. People coming to the meetings discuss what they do, what their product is, and someone will say: ‘I’m looking for that product’ or ‘I know someone looking for it’.

“The club’s primary aim is simple: local business for local people.

“The Borders has been hit hard economically. However, members of the business club hold that it is crucial to their survival to maintain a positive outlook and a warm, neighbourly form of loyalty that is rare to find in this world of aggressive business tactics. Like-for-like cooperation is encouraged between members, in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.

“Members are expected to contribute what they can, in the form of referrals, contacts, and know-how in an effort to strengthen our businesses, encourage growth, and create jobs.”

“Our last breakfast table conversation was on ‘added value’. The time has come when almost any non-specialist product or service can be purchased either online or from a big supermarket chain, often at a lesser cost to the customer. Almost every company claims to have great pricing and service, so during that particular discussion, members were encouraged to take stock of exactly why customers should buy from them: the ‘added value’, or special features and characteristics of their business, that warrant spending a little more.”

Mr Oliver said the club was fortunate in its membership.

He added: “Every member is a veritable goldmine of wisdom and experience, and it’s hugely beneficial for all involved to have the opportunity to sit down over a meal, as equals, and better understand how various local industries are being affected in different ways by the current economic state. I hope other independent groups will be formed in other Border towns, so that we can meet together to exchange business and ideas, and so bolster the local economy.”

z The next breakfast talk is on social media.