Indies in Harrogate Pt. 5: The Summary

This is part 5 of a 5 part blog about the situation for independent businesses in Harrogate as we head into the summer of 2017.  If you’d like to head back to the first post click here.

Indies in Harrogate Pt. 5: The Summary

That is almost certainly the longest piece of written work I have completed since leaving the Army and it’s taken a fair bit of time to get it together.

I have no doubt that some of what I have written will be wrong and hopefully someone will read this, let me know how and I can update the piece.

I don’t have all the answers, you may not think I have any of the answers.  I have simply put forward my ideas.  One of my main aims was to drive a conversation about the issue that goes beyond mindlessly blaming the council, chains, national economic conditions, other town centres, lack of conferences and the usual themes.

I believe that indies are greater than chains, but it’s not the ownership structure that makes me think that.   I love the combination of the people, the history, the attention to detail, the commitment to quality and service.  To me indies have real heart and those are the kinds of places that when I can I like to spend my money.

Business owners and their teams must continue to work incredibly hard to create businesses that residents and visitors want to use, if they don’t then they only have themselves to blame.

If residents don’t actively choose to use the businesses that have been created for them then they will fail and we will live in a town that doesn’t have indies.  That’s the town we will have chosen, and the town we will deserve.

I think only a particular kind of masochist to have enjoyed reading all of this piece.  I hope it has got you thinking about what you might like to change in your own routine and perhaps make more conscious decisions about what you buy from whom.

Let’s continue the discussion either in the comments section below, on social media or in person.  Get in touch.



35 Comments Add yours

  1. Kim Wilson says:

    We like you are an independant business (Bed and Breakfast) and do our best to support our fellow independant businesses (from the man who supplies our Harrogate Honey to Samuel who supplies our amazing Yogurts from skipton) – you ask however why should a customer go to an independent? yes you do get cookie cutter identical from a chain – but in an independant you get an owner who cares, who worries about all the tiny details and remembers your name. In an independent for example like Creps and Creams where we like to go for Pancakes he had our Mocha’s ready before we had even ordered them (we are sad sacks and have the same order every time) and that’s what makes the difference – customer service.

    1. Paul says:

      Hey Kim,

      We know you guys do a great job of supporting other indies – us included and it’s much appreciated. I think what I am trying to say in the post is that if we operate great businesses and deliver fantastic service, are always improving and innovating and our customers are happy then assuming we don’t mess up other areas of the business (finance, marketing etc) then we should be ok. We’ll stay ahead of the chains and we’ll still be here. If we are doing some those things but not all then we can help each other out as an indie community, especially to support new start ups who need a boost.

      If we relax or expect people to come and visit us just because we’re independently owned or because they always used to in the past then we are disrespecting the customer and underestimating the competition.

      You guys are all over constant improvement for your guests though, so I think you’d be in the well ahead category.

      See you soon

      Paul x

  2. Cathy Bonner says:

    I’ve been wanting to write a blog too- but after reading yours, you are clearly coming from a better informed position than I. You have answered many questions I had and this was an interesting, honest and compelling read! I agree that the BID sounds like it would be an important move for Harrogate.

    1. Paul says:

      Hey Cathy,

      It’s been bubbling away inside me for a fair while. Nothing to say you shouldn’t have your chance to talk about the situation – if more people are talking about it then it’ll come to more people’s attention.

      How are things going up your end of town at the minute?

      Regards Paul

  3. sharon canavar says:

    This blog is perfect. Measured, insightful and well researched.
    Working in a small organisation but coming from a family business in Harrogate with a 120 year heritage (albeit Swainsons Funeral Directors so a somewhat different market), this absolutely resonates with me and the needs of the town.

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Sharon,

      Some might say it could be a little shorter!

      There are some fantastic things that go on in Harrogate, the International Festival clearly being one of them (especially with it being copied in Manchester and Leeds in recent times). I feel we need to keep pushing and growing the indie scene because if we don’t there is only one alternative – and we don’t want that.

      Regards Paul

  4. Sally Spragg says:

    Hi Paul,
    Well that was a read and a half! I finished my cuppa after Blog 3!
    It’s funny, but you could say that the same thing is happening all over the country, not just in Harrogate. It’s happened in Stockport.
    We try and go to indie cafes as the service is invariably good, plus the quality of food, with most using local food and cooked on the premises.
    I think the service is a good point. If good service is not there, then I tend not to return!
    Unfortunately “indies” cannot always compete with cost as they are not multi shops/cafes,therefore their buying capacity is smaller so they don’t get the bigger discounts.
    I have never been to the convention centre but perhaps an open day for local indies in and around Harrogate would be an idea. Don’t know how it would work.
    I do think that out of town facilities are brilliant as you can generally park for free whereas for most towns, parking is extortionate!
    Good luck with all the work you are putting in behind the scenes to keep a great place as Harrogate, thriving.

  5. Bernhard Palmer says:

    It is not a competition of indie v’s chain. The competition is, where do I, the individual, wish to eat /drink? The recent craft beer pubs are all busy, they supply fantastic beers and are often not cheap, but people will pay for the best. Some of the indies have failed for a reason, many if the chains also fail. Give a customer 1‰ more than they expect and they will return, you know the rest! Indies or chains doing the right thing will survive, there are plenty of examples of that

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Bernhard,

      I agree that when it comes down to it many customers will not care whether somewhere is an indie or a chain – it’s about the experience you deliver. I do hope that as a team we aim a little higher than delivering an experience that is more than 1% better than the minimum our guests expect – we shouldn’t have to settle for mediocrity and mediocrity is exactly what the chains aim to deliver. The minimum level of experience to ensure a customer comes back but no more, because that delivers maximum profit.

      I think there is value in a town, especially one like Harrogate, maintaining a mix of retail and hospitality options. I think the indie scene contributes to the attraction of a town, helps attract visitors and keeps those visitors coming back. When indies collaborate in events like the Leeds Indie Food Festival it drives trade and chains simply aren’t interested in doing that.

      Good indies will survive, some marginal ones may not, some potential ones may never be created because the trading conditions look difficult. I’m just keen that we try to help and support one another for the benefit of the whole town.

      1. Bernhard Palmer says:

        Our town has improved hugely, new bars and restaurants, number 92, fisk, little ale house, all new, all great. However there is a need for the wetherspoons and domino pizzas, the pizza express etc. The more restaurants we have, the greater the choice, the more ‘tourists’ visiting. You mention indies that have failed, maybe they weren’t good enough? Plenty of indies still going strong. I won’t air my personal opinion as there will be some derogatory comments, but the indies I would visit are still going strong!

  6. David Atkinson says:

    A great read. The clarity you offer is a view of the complexity of the situation. Taking a critical perspective, I believe there are a few other factors in play, however your review is well drawn and apposite. It would be great to chat over some of your great coffee.
    The Yorkshire Meatball Company

    1. Paul says:

      Hi David,

      I don’t doubt there will be more factors – but I thought I would be using my luck at 5 blog posts!

      Would love to catch up and talk about this and also the journey that YMCo have taken because I’m interested in whether that could be a route for Baltzersen’s.

      I’ll drop you an email.

      Regards Paul.

  7. Excellent and important posts, thank you. I created a leaflet called the Harrogate Vintage Trail which has been out there for about 4 years. The tourist info office have been very supportive. Perhaps one for Harrogate Indies would be effective. It could work well for the conference centre if we can offer discounts for delegates. Thanks again Steve Elvidge @Space

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Steve.

      I have something in mind for a trail, have spoken with Yorkshire Trails about it who were keen to get involved – I agree that’s something small and relatively low cost but can create a buzz for visitors and help make an inmpact. I think the Tourist Info would be keen to support again. The convention centre do have their delegate discount card – we’ve never chosen to be a part of it but I’m going to look at it again this year and give it a bit more consideration. I’ll be around to see you!



  8. Jenna says:

    I thought that was a really informative blog post. I am not a business owner but have friends who are and I will always look to support indie wherever possible. Thank you for highlighting some points that I wasn’t aware of.

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Jenna,

      Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for supporting indies where you can. I hope a lot of people will have a slightly wider perspective on some the issues in town so we can get past the shouts of ‘the council should be doing more’ when indies close. We can all do more, if we ant to and it’s important to us.



    2. Paul says:

      Hi Jenna,

      Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for supporting indies where you can. I hope a lot of people will have a slightly wider perspective on some the issues in town so we can get past the shouts of ‘the council should be doing more’ when indies close. We can all do more, if we want to and it’s important to us.



  9. Lisa says:

    I am hopefully opening an indie retail business in Harrogate centre and am hoping that there will be like minded pro active people wanting to improve the town’s economy. I find the hardest thing about being an independent business is the lack of team spirit from other businesses as I believe that our ability to survive as a viable option going forward is in the strength of our numbers and working together. I have to say that I have very mixed opinions on a town centre BID as I currently have a business in Skipton and having direct experience of this concept I can say that it is certainly not plain sailing. I enjoyed reading your perspective on the issues currently facing your town.

    1. Paul says:

      HI Lisa,

      I’d agree and a few people have mentioned the concept of ‘Team Harrogate’, it’d be nice if that were a thing.

      It’d be really interesting to get together and hear your experience with the Skipton BID, I don’t think anyone would expect it to be straightforward especially when you are trying to deliver value for such a wide range of businesses but my personal feeling is that we need to try. I’ll drop you a line.



  10. Mark says:

    I prefer to support local independent businesses but when I don’t, it is down to quality of product or assuredness of that. I really like coffee so I often drink it at Bean & Bud. There snacks are high quality too. It’s a slightly different market but I include Baltherzens in that quality bracket too. But many other indies offer the same average at best product or appear to. And therein lies the rub. Nothing distinguishes them. Perhaps an independent quality scheme based on coffee, tea, snacks, food, service & price would help, with stickers in the window to display ratings. A retailer may be 5* for coffe, tea, snacks & service but n/a for food. Or 4* coffee & tea, 5* service but 3* snacks & food. And an Indie retailer booklet the public could buy containing all the indie outlets in the town with their ratings to help fund it. Maybe even give away copies of this booklet at conferences in the conf centre to encourage delegates to visit them. Perhaps Harrogate Council might wish to help with funding and there may be grants available as well for print runs. It may be supported by a Harrogate BID.

    Just my penneth worth as x consumer!

    Hope if helps.

  11. Steve Pepper says:


    A very thoughtful and well balanced series of blogs. Congratulations and well done on highlighting all of this.

    As a Chamber management member I too am particularly concerned with the demise of local independent’s in favour of chains.

    People visiting Harrogate will more likely be making their decisions to go to places like Jamie’s where they know and trust a particular brand.

    I went once, at my nephews request on his birthday and I found it too noisy and the food was acceptable but nothing to write home about.

    From my own personal perspective apart from two or three local indies supporting my training business (yours was one) I’ve had precious little response to my food training offer in the town.

    These days I simply don’t do marketing in town or otherwise waste my time.

    The larger chains mainly have in house training and most of the indies go for online.

    Maybe I should mention that I also do online from £15 per head although it’s not a major part of my business.

    Around 5 years ago I noticed that most of my customers had made the decision to go for online training rather than live food safety training and there really wasn’t enough classroom based stuff to make it a viable option to continue.

    I realised that there were plenty of chefs groups particularly on Facebook and started to increase my offer to do the higher level stuff. With careful use of Social Media I managed to survive.

    Since then I am one of the top trainers at this level in the country with people coming from far and wide to receive my level 3 and 4 food safety training.

    In 2014 I also had started to get a following as being the “go to Guru” for all matters relating to food safety on these groups.

    This also saw me creating among other things, some free resources for people both at home and internationally.

    It included a Food Allergen resource with a matrix and recipe designed to help chefs a free book and a free induction pack. Because of this I had a massive increase on my offers including the level 3/ and Level 3 allergen management course.

    Since then I have developed an electronic Food Safety Audit system. This has also helped me diversify my overall training/auditing offer.

    I guess what I’m saying is that if you stand still in the food industry then you will quickly see you losing out to your competition.

    Having created all of this I can’t rest on my laurels and am looking at other ways of either increasing my offer or diversifying it as things change.

    For example at the moment the Food Standards Agency (FSA) is reviewing their take on interventions and inspections.

    This is down to lack of funding and fewer professionals in the LA sector.

    All this will probably have a knock on effect with the Food Hygiene Rating System (FRSH) and I’m already starting to look on how this will impact on my training business.

    Maybe I should look at doing some online training myself or create some niche food safety videos. Or perhaps market my “iAuditor” Food Safety auditing template to various chefs and food business owners round the country.

    All I know is that if I stand still I will lose out.

    I totally support what you and your businesses are trying to do in Harrogate and wish you well for the innovation that you have done over the years.

    I just wish that some of the other local businesses would start to help each other as well.

    Steve Pepper FHCIMA, MRSH
    Vice President Harrogate and District Chamber
    07806 472134

  12. Stu Mitchell says:

    A great post and one I read with hope. I would like to think that, as a resident, I do my bit to help the indies but I do sometimes fall short when I need to nip into town for a coffee and logon – tho I have to say I tend to get to Bean and Bud because it’s handier for parking than those in the middle of town.

    It has been mentioned above that some of the indies – and I’m thinking about coffee shops in particular – aren’t as good as the others. I guess we’re lucky to be spoilt by a very extremely good coffee shops (yours included, of course) which means I’m less likely to go to others.

    I wish there were more indies that were on the way into town in that respect; Leeds Road is a little bereft of them (Christian’s is great but Cafe Culture has closed). There must be opportunities for passing trade that are currently overlooked.

    Finally, regarding the longer term of our town: I think it’s increasingly hard to get to. Our road connections to the A1 mean it’s not ideal for visitors and we probably end up turning away people that’d have visited otherwise. Better routes in and out would definitely help – and bring more trade to the Convention Centre too.

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Stu,

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Bean and Bud do great coffee and tea so there is no finger pointing from this direction – I often meet people there too because it’s distracting sitting in your own place, you can’t give the other person your full attention.

      There will always be differences in coffee shops. Bean and Bud do the best coffee, their commitment to quality and consistency is way above any of the indies in town, and a different stratosphere to the chains. We’re happy for that to be the case, our offer is slightly different and brings in some of the unique food products we make and a more of a family oriented space. I don’t see an issue with that; technically we compete but I bet there are tonnes of guests that visit us both depending on what it is they’re after that day.

      The M&S cafe (complete with parking) made opportunities difficult along the Leeds Road parade and I’m not sure we’ve seen the end of closures along there, rent isn’t cheap along that stretch when you consider the footfall.

      Transport is a major issue and there are plans for relief roads and better rail links and all sorts. It’s something I’m not very well informed on, Brian Dunsby runs the Harrogate Rail Group and he is all over transport like a rash if you want more info.

      There are certainly lots of reasons for hope as other people have commented on some of the businesses that seem to be doing well like Hoxton North, Fisk and other places. There is a growing movement amongst indies to get together and I’m certainly going to push to make more contacts within the community and try to build links that benefit us all.

      Hope to see you in Bean and Bud soon!



  13. martin wolstencroft says:

    Great interesting read Paul,
    I ‘m MD of arc inspirations which owns the pit and banyan in Harrogate. I set up arc 18 years ago with my business partner and to be honest never thought we’d open many more. I really admire and respect your place and many more independents in Harrogate and to be honest all over the world., You should all be very proud of what you do because its you who the big chains copy for inspiration and ideas.
    I’d be happy to have a coffee and chat if i can help in anyway,
    regards Martin

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Martin,

      Thanks for reading.

      In some ways what I have written could be considered arch-hypocrisy because in 13 years time if I’ve built a business from one site to multiple employing hundreds of people and generating money for the economy through VAT, PAYE, Business rates etc then I’ll be very proud of it.

      I want to grow Baltzersen’s because it needs to support my family, and the families of my team and I want them to be able to grow with the business and stay here. I imagine you had/have very similar goals.

      If I can do it in a way that helps other indies and supports the town at the same time then I want to do that too.

      I’d love to meet for a coffee at some point, I’ll drop you a line.



  14. Sally Pickersgill says:

    Hi Paul, great to read your blog ( which echoes so much with what I find traveling around nearby towns, as well as Harrogate). Also Martin from Arc, you’re doing so well ( used to supply you with non food when Arc first started)! Am always disappointed to see visitors to Harrogate piling straight off train & bus into a usually dirty Nero, and massive Costa behind it. Will always walk the extra few paces for my Bean & Bud or scandi pastry… But am stunned at others laziness. You did run loyalty reciprocal with 2 indi s on coffee, that not work?

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Sally,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Costa and Nero pay a premium for their positions so it’s just human nature that people use them, we need to do a better job of explaining the alternatives if we want to attract some of that business. We do appreciate the many people that do walk the extra distance because they enjoy the offer at Baltzersen’s or Bean and Bud.

      We ran the indie coffee amp for a while and it did share some customers around, I’m not quite sure I got the distribution channels quite right though. I actually still have some copies so I could dust them off!

      I have a plan that I am putting the finishing touches to that I hope will help us all point locals and visitors in the direction of the businesses that we admire across multiple sectors.

      Hope to give more detail about that soon.



  15. Sue McQueen says:

    Hi Paul
    I hugely enjoyed this read and have shared it on Fb to spread the word. A few like-minded individuals in Knaresborough have chatted and mulled over exactly these points – we even visited the Bishy Road team to ask for guidance from their perspective. Andy Grinter had arranged a visit from Jonny last year which, sadly, was very poorly attended by local retailers.
    I believe your articulate and well thought-out piece here will hopefully be a start for Harrogate businesses to do some joined up thinking.
    Keep up the good writing. Well written words are very powerful.

    “We cannot control the way people interpret our ideas or thoughts, but we can control the words and tones we choose to convey them. Peace is built on understanding, and wars are built on misunderstandings. Never underestimate the power of a single word …… And one right word, or one kind word, can grant you the heavens and open doors.”

    Wishing you all the best

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Sue,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the piece. You are very kind about the writing itself; others have not been! It’s a functional style rather prose but I’ll keep doing it.

      Andy’s comment lays out a really sensible approach to how we could be working together in a more joined up way. I’ve had a few discussions with Richard Spencer, the new CEO of Visit Harrogate, and I am meeting him again early next week for another more focussed chat. He certainly seems keen to gather in the info and get a workable plan tighter.

      It’s a shame that the meeting with Jonny was poorly attended, but that goes to my point about businesses owners needing to take responsibility first – if the opportunities to work together are there and we don’t take them we only have ourselves to blame.

      Naturally I come first from a Harrogate town centre perspective because that’s where my business is based but if we can get things moving in the right direction here there is no reason why it can’t be copied in Knaresborough or any schemes extended to the wider district so we all benefit.

      I’lll come by at some point and introduce myself, hope to talk to you soon.



  16. Lisa Mee says:

    Paul, thank you for your thoughtful blog posts, it is indeed a really difficult environment we all face in Harrogate at the moment. With the increased number of restaurants and cafes there is competition to get the customer and the staff members who will serve! There is also a perception in Harrogate that there is “cash” to be had, however it is my experience that the harrogate folk are canny and don’t spend that easily.

    In answer to your question about Goose and Runamocha, both were too specialist to succeed. I operate in the same space and know just how difficult it is to get parents to spend money with you when valley gardens is on the doorstep and it is free. I think the honest answer is you have to be the best, indie or chain. Your customers need to talk about you, so as indies we need to encourage people to help us in a number of different ways. Just because you are independent doesn’t mean customers will beat down your door!

    That said, us all getting together the like each other’s pages, to recommend each other etc etc can only help.

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for leaving a comment here. I’d certainly like to get in touch to talk with you in the future.

      I was deliberately vague about the reasons why some of the other indie businesses have closed, because whilst we might guess why I don’t think many of us actually know. It may be the case that you’ve spoken with the owners that were in a similar industry to you I don’t know, but I haven’t.

      I certainly agree that finding staff can be as challenging as attracting guests through our doors. I think the residents of Harrogate know value when they see it so we have to make sure we are offering that, whichever price point we are working at. Part of that is to always be striving to improve what you do and that goes across all sectors as well as indie and chain.

      I don’t think we need anything particularly radical to happen in Harrogate, but if we can just do a better job of making sure more people know what is on offer in the town and encourage them to consider the options before settling for a chain that will really help to get things moving in the right direction. If we can come together a little more as an indie community I think we can surprise ourselves with the scale of what could be achieved.

      Hope to meet you soon.



  17. JoJo says:

    Hi Paul,
    i am a very small independant in Harrogate & have been around for a few years. I have seen many places close, which is just heartbreaking. I always support other indies & often put thier brochures in my place or i send Customers to other indies if i can’t offer them what they want or fancy.

    I have heard some of the comments other places make about each other & it really is just sad. We all need to help & support one another.
    I have unfortunatly been on the receiving end of some racial comment from a close neighbourhood indie, it’s not the best positiion to be in but have chosen to ignore the bad behaviour & nastiness.
    People just need to be kinder to each other & stand together as a united front to survive & build a better future for us all.
    No one including the Council will help us, so if we can’t help each other, we will all end up like the poor chaps that have closed. Most recently Burkitts.
    Your Blog has been as inspiring as your coffee, which we love along with Bean & Buds.
    Thank you & i look forward to reading your next installment


  18. Hi Paul,

    We really enjoyed reading this blog. Nice to read such a well written article about what’s happening in our town from someone who clearly cares. There’s some positive ideas and lots to think about! As a retailer on Parliament Street we are often asked for coffee shop/bar/restaurant recommendations as someone stated earlier visitors love to receive a tip from a local. So we love the idea of something that works to promote the towns indies together.
    Keep up the good work!
    Nicola & Rags at Exit Interiors

    1. Paul says:

      Hi Nicola and Rags,

      I’ll no doubt be in touch to discuss the Indie Harrogate guide we’re looking at putting together – we can certainly help each other.

      I’ve had a lot of people get in touch so that’s a really positive step.

      Speak soon.



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