Shop Local: Five top tips to put Bedford shops on the map

Old Arcade Christmas

As we head toward Christmas and Bedford shops prepared for the busiest shopping period of the year they’ll be doing their best to attract shoppers through their doors. But what can they do to make the most of this busy time and make sure other times of year are as good as they can be?

Retail expert Gemma Lane has now given five top tips to put Bedford shops on the map. Gemma’s career has seen her working in retail from selling on market stalls to working as a visual merchandiser for big household names.

Gemma’s focus is now building up her own creative business, On The Map but she still provides visual merchandising services and retails support at independent stores across Bedford and the surrounding area.

Part of this work has been creating the stunning Christmas displays throughout Bedford’s Old Arcade.

Gemma says “Retail is more than a business, it is an art, a community and a labour of love!

“Whether in the conceptual stages of moving into retail, a business already out there considering taking the next step or even a retailer already in business, it is always worth a recap on who you are, what you are doing and why? I believe these five points are super important to put any retail business on the map.”


Have a business plan. It feels so outdated, but whatever you call it, it is imperative. You need to have a plan. It will change, everyone’s does, but you have to know what your overheads are, your profit margins and the takings required. If your products aren’t earning what they need to, they and the business model aren’t sustainable and this can cause an awful lot of stress. If this is your dream, you don’t want to end up hating it. If it’s going to be tight, take a break and rethink things to try to find a way it will work. Challenges are good, but if your idea doesn’t add up and isn’t sustainable, it is time to move on, find something that is, enjoy it and make it flourish.

Know your location

Know what is around you and be a local expert. If you don’t stock something, who else does in the town? Cross promotion is a great way to help to keep consumers in the locality, rather than them heading online or traveling elsewhere. Other things like knowing where free or easy parking is available, being aware of what is on in the town, where you can get a coffee, or how you can help the local homeless is a great start. Once you have this information, keep up to date and share it! Start talking to customers and other business about your wonderful community. A positive conversation and a smile goes an incredibly long way.


Every business has a story, a foundation, a reason for being. Make this part of your brand and shout about it. Keep it concise, but with energy and passion. Incorporate it into your displays, social media, website, advertising, and everyda

y conversations. Stories create memories which impact on a customers experience but are also a constant reminder to you of the love you have for your business. On a quiet day (we all have them) this foundation will keep you going. It’s something you can build on and share with the world.


Merchandising is the creative side to your business. Whether in your window, within your store, or photos, these images are generally the first impression someone has of your brand. The style of creativity will vary depending on the store, but it needs to be interesting, topical and most importantly speaking to your target audience. It doesn’t have to be an expensive staged theme, but remember that visual merchandising is marketing, so should always be high up on your agenda. Plan ahead and keep the interest up.

More than retail

In the current retail climate and I predict even more so moving forward, consumers are expecting more than just a shop. Create an experience, be knowledgeable and have the ability to offer your expert advice on your products, go the extra mile and create a lasting memory.  Consider loyalty or referral schemes to encourage repeat business and be unique. What can you offer, that makes you stand out? Could you run workshops, events or collaborations with other businesses or community projects? There are lots of options, just find out what ties in with your brand.

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