There are thousands of trade associations in the UK, serving every type of business. If you’re an independent retailer, for instance, membership of a trade body can offer tangible benefits, such as free access to expert advice and favourable deals on banking and card processing.
Joining a trade association can also improve your credibility and build trust with customers. In addition, membership often opens the door to useful networking events and exhibitions where you can make new contacts and share knowledge. Above all, associations are the voice of their members, representing their interests and lobbying on their behalf.
But while organisations such as the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Business serve SMEs as a whole, independent retailers can get specific benefits by joining a retail association.
‘The voice of independent retailers’
bira - the British Independent Retailers Association - represents small shopkeepers the length and breadth of the UK, with over 7,000 members.
Its members include every type of independent retailer, from small one-store outlets to chains and department stores - the only proviso is that you are independently owned and have business premises and pay business rates. There are also specific associations under the bira umbrella serving sectors including hardware, pet supplies and fashion.
Members benefit from over 30 different business services, many at much lower cost, including business banking with HSBC, shop insurance and “some of the lowest card processing rates on the market”, says Sarah Arnesen, bira’s head of marketing and events. In addition, there is free legal support and up to £50,000 of indemnity cover.
Key challenges facing retailers today include rising business rates, parking issues and pressure from online retailers. “We are the voice of the independent retailers,” says Arnesen. “We conduct regular research, including a quarterly sales monitor, and share the findings with Government and banks.”
Support for fuel retailers
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) represents the interests of independent petrol retailers, which account for 70% of all the forecourts in the UK. “Many of these forecourts are still one or two site operators who can greatly benefit from membership,” says Gordon Balmer, the PRA’s commercial manager.
“The growth in convenience retailing, with more people buying food on the go, has brought new opportunities for petrol retailers to diversify,” says Balmer. “For example one member has a butchers selling locally-produced meat, and the success of this has prompted further investment into a fishmongers.”
The PRA gives members an array of business support, including access to preferential banking services, technical advice, card processing, cloud-based accountancy packages and online training. It also hosts regional “Live and Local” meetings and roadshows.
“We’re committed to supporting our members by offering information, services and advice which ensure that the independent fuel retailing sector can continue to grow and be competitive in an ever more challenging business environment,” says Balmer. “This also requires the PRA to challenge and work with all appropriate Government departments to ensure that the sustainability of independent forecourt retailers is protected.”