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“We’re connecting customers with local independent businesses”

When coronavirus put their business plans on pause, the team at Vocal launched Edinburgh Lockdown Economy: a platform to help consumers find independent businesses on their doorstep.

Last updated: 15 Jun 2020 3 min read

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Tom Harries, co-founder of Vocal and Edinburgh Lockdown Economy.

When Tom Harries and Harry Leeming launched their customer feedback app Vocal back in January, like all of us they had little idea just how different the hospitality sector would look for the rest of the year.

The idea behind Vocal is to give users a simple way of providing feedback to the places they visit: restaurants, bars and tourist attractions, for example. “We get your message to the manager in private and we make sure you get a reply,” Tom says. “For years, customers have felt like they weren’t listened to and we wanted to fix that. If someone takes the time to share their ideas it’s only right they receive a personal thank you.”

Tom and Harry had ambitious plans in place for Vocal in 2020, but like most companies, they’ve been forced to pivot. Still determined to help their local small business scene, they built the Edinburgh Lockdown Economy: an online platform that connects the city’s consumers with independent enterprises offering a range of services, products and activities.

“I’ve learned that it’s incredibly important to take action at a time like this and not to worry too much about rigorous planning,” 
Tom Harries, co-founder, Vocal and Edinburgh Lockdown Economy

“We’ve paused our efforts on the business [Vocal] until people are able to visit local places again,” explains Tom. “We chose instead to start the Edinburgh Lockdown Economy site to try and bring together a lot of information that was scattered across social media and difficult to find. Our inspiration came from a similar project in Bristol and, since launch, we’ve helped a number of other sites launch across the UK, all doing the same thing.”

As well as accessing a directory of businesses, visitors to the site can sign up for a regular newsletter, which aggregates the best lockdown offers available, provides services updates and highlights positive business stories. 

Staying creative and reactive

The site has been a real success, and Tom’s more than happy with the numbers so far: “When we started, we never thought it would have as big an impact as it has. We recently passed 600 local businesses on the site and over half a million views of their business pages, which is phenomenal. This is down to the hard work put in by our team of volunteers, who are either furloughed or have lost clients as a result of the crisis.”

While 2020 hasn’t quite gone to plan for Vocal, being forced to improvise has given its founders a valuable learning opportunity; one that Tom thinks will benefit the company beyond the lockdown. 

“I’ve learned that it’s incredibly important to take action at a time like this and not to worry too much about rigorous planning,” he says. “With that approach, we’ve been able to iterate the site and launch new ideas, like a noticeboard that shows all the changes that are happening on the site based on customer feedback as we’ve grown.”

He adds: “The growth tactics we’ve implemented for this project are definitely transferrable to Vocal – as is the audience we’ve connected with: both managers and locals are exactly the demographic we want to work with in the long term.”

Tom shares his experiences of the past two months and offers advice for fellow SMEs: 

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