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January 15, 2014

Top tips from New England

There’s nothing quite like stepping away from your daily routine to gain some fresh perspectives on your work. The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust funds a limited number of travel fellowships to do just that and Angus Robertson, general manager of the Sleat Community Trust on Skye, has been a recent recipient.  In Sleat, Angus oversees a number of community owned retail businesses – a petrol station, shop and post office. His travel fellowship took him to New England, USA where he looked at best practice in running rural retail and ‘buy local’ projects.  His report makes a great read.


Executive Summary of full report which can be read here

My fellowship travels to the New England area of America in the Fall of 2013 aimed to research the best in rural retailing, not for profit enterprises and “buy local” projects. A number of meetings and visits were arranged with small business owners, village stores operators and retail & community organisations throughout the region. In particular my wish was to identify how successful local shops and enterprises were surviving against the pressures of the current economic downturn and from increased competition from online retailers, out of town malls and large supermarkets. 

Many of the rural businesses I visited in New England were flourishing in these difficult economic times. Through my fellowship travels I identified twelve key learning’s and action items from these visits which will be acted upon over the coming months. A few of them are listed below; 

Get behind a “Buy Local” campaign at a Sleat, Skye or Highland level. 

Diversify the product lines our community shop by offering more locally produced goods and tourist items/services.

Offer social network and internet retail training to Sleat enterprises, to better promote their businesses nationally and globally. 

Liaise with North West Highland communities and authorities regarding best action planning for local businesses in relation to visiting cruise liners. 

Work with education providers and funders to look at the possibility of providing a Highland Centre of Learning for Small Scale Local Food and Drink Producers. 

New England has shown that “Buy Local” projects to promote the purchase of goods in rural independent stores is a great way to keep local businesses economically viable and can be an effect marketing tool against online and big box retailers. Targeted training for budding rural

entrepreneurs in areas such as marketing, branding and packaging along with post start up support was seen as a significant way to encourage new small business.


Group merchant associations and Chambers of Commerce were seen to be valuable ways for rural businesses to collectively promote themselves to tourists and the local population customer base. Online promotion was seen as a necessary way to compete with larger enterprises and the use of social networking a particular vital tool in that battle. 

Finally local small businesses producing bespoke food and drink products abound in New England and effort should be put into growing this market in a Sleat, Skye and/or Highland context.

To read Angus’ full report of his travel fellowship click here