Independent Birmingham is your go-to guide to discovering the very best of Birmingham’s independent scene.
Joe Schuppler began Independent Birmingham as a blog; its aim was to champion small businesses down the side streets and encourage people to explore the lesser-known aspects of Birmingham.
From there, Independent Birmingham has grown into a website, membership scheme, app, and events company. The aim is to celebrate the city of Birmingham and the independent businesses that make the city so unique.
Lee & Adam, the co-founders of Electric House, interviewed Joe for an episode of the 0121 podcast. The series tells the stories of the most exciting and influential Midlands-based entrepreneurs. We want to ask difficult questions about what we can be doing to support the city and its young creators.
It’s important to support local businesses, especially coming out of lockdown. Joe says,
“It’s always going to happen that big chains come into Birmingham. It drives up rent prices and decreases passing footfall down side streets which makes it more difficult for smaller businesses.”
Read on for Joe’s tips and advice on how to responsibly support your city’s independent businesses.
On his first day at university, Joe sat next to the person who would go on to found Independent Liverpool. Together, the friends were enthusiastic about venturing outside of their dorm rooms to find the best independent produce that the city had to offer.
When Joe returned home to Birmingham, he realised that although he had a passion for visiting independent businesses that are the heart and soul of the cities, he didn’t know a single one in Birmingham.
“If I’m so enthusiastic about my city, and I don’t know any independents here, then surely there are other people like me out there who want to learn the same thing. That’s when I knew I wanted to start Independent Birmingham.”
“Social media is tremendously important. When businesses ask me about using social media, I tell them it’s as important as their product is. It’s how you reach and engage with your current audience.”
Using Digbeth Dining Club as a case study, Joe explains how before their social media following grew, they had fewer customers. Referencing Original Patty Men, Joe notes that you can look down their Instagram feed, and see exactly what you’re expecting and wanting to see.
“That’s what it’s all about: marketing yourself to people who have never heard of our business before.”
Joe stresses the importance of following independent businesses on social media. He recommends that the businesses stay active on their channels. Although it may be a difficult job, the hard work pays off:
“Social media is the most vital tool now to businesses, because if you’re not engaging with your audience, then people are quick to forget your voice. Audiences are very much excited by new stuff; it’s important to reconnect with them.”
Independent Birmingham has curated brilliant guides to discovering the best cocktail bars, outdoor eating spaces, craft ales, and so much more, all in Birmingham. Joe’s favourite is the list of 73 dishes you need to eat before you die: a foodie extravaganza of places to eat in Birmingham.
Joe describes the negative perception that some people have towards Birmingham as “baffling”, and expressed his outrage at a Radio 1 Newsbeat reporter who was quoted in a Guardian article as saying, “Good luck trying to get young, exciting journalists to move to Digbeth.”
“There’s a perception problem that people in the city are trying to eradicate because they can see what an exciting and diverse crowd is here. We’re young, we’re energetic, and we want to support local. It’s a phenomenon that’s been building across the UK, and Birmingham is at the highlight”.
To reinvigorate enthusiasm about the city and prove the critics wrong, Independent Birmingham published 50 reasons to stay away from Birmingham: a gallery of the most beautiful and impressive Birmingham attractions.
“The first time we shared it, it went wild. It’s still one of our highest engaged-with articles. It provoked a strong reaction from people; we kept it that way, so that we could champion as many independents as possible.”
Supporting local businesses starts with passion for your city. Be active in seeking out these independents on social media, starting with Independent Birmingham.
During lockdown especially, the relationship between independent businesses and their local customers has shown itself to be vital.
“The independents had to adapt quickly. Kudos to them, because it seemed like every single week, there was a new rule or regulation that stopped them from operating in a new way.”
Local customers who understood the importance of keeping these independent businesses open were rewarded with their favourite products and improved wellbeing:
“All independents are heroes. They’ve helped us get through lockdown, made the last year more bearable, and brought a bit of sanity back to us.”
All quotes from Joe Schuppler have been edited from episode 6 of the 0121 podcast