Any small and local business can thrive when given the appropriate support and custom from the local community. The principal competition of local businesses is not other small, local businesses, but it is large companies that can afford to undercut their competitors.
Similarly, martial arts clubs need support from their own members. It is unlikely that a club will receive much support from random other people, unless they are in the fortunate situation of being able to apply successfully for grants, which is not possible for most HEMA clubs. Therefore, it is important that clubs support their members, and that members support their club.
The ethics of choosing “cheaper” or “slightly more expensive”
I used to have a very problematic relationship with money. I knew the price of everything, but the value of nothing; I would quibble over price, and I would go to great lengths to save a few pennies here and there. What value did I get from this? Very little. I bought cheap stuff that fell apart quickly. I gave income to people and businesses who did nothing to support my local area or the clubs of which I was a member. Now I have a much better relationship with money, and I understand better how my purchasing choices have a real impact on other people and businesses.
By choosing “cheaper” as your priority, it starves small, local businesses of the income they need to be able to keep operating. If you bemoan the closure of small, independent businesses and wish that they weren’t replaced by boring chain stores, then choosing “cheaper” is being part of the problem. What is more important to you: having a small, local business that can support your local area, that can support your club, and that can perhaps support the training and teaching activities of your club instructors? Or saving a few pounds by finding a slightly cheaper vendor than your small, local business?
Within HEMA, I try to support the businesses that I believe do the most to support the community. I have little interest in supporting business that do little in return for the community, but if a business helps the community beyond just providing equipment, then I think that is worth my support.
(And by that, I am not counting sponsorship of equipment as prizes for competitions. That’s just marketing for the company that chooses to offer the sponsorship. What I mean by “supporting the community” is actually doing something for the benefit of the community, such as useful research and development, or providing grants or sponsorship to fledgling clubs who need most help, or writing articles with genuinely useful advice for running clubs or events, or this sort of thing. If a wider (or indeed, the whole) community can make use of a resource or form of support, then that is something worth prioritising and rewarding with custom.)
Small local shops vs Amazon, eBay, and bargain-hunting online
A small, local HEMA shop that brings in equipment and gives people the chance to handle and try on different items, is an immensely valuable resource for a local HEMA community.
For an individual, it can be a lot of hassle to try to buy in equipment from abroad, navigating customs and import legislation where necessary, and taking the risk of which size to buy without an opportunity to see and try the equipment first. Having a local shop makes it so much easier to find out what equipment would be best for you, decide exactly what size you need, and then make the purchase.
However, ignoring your local HEMA business in order to go online and find the equipment at the very cheapest rate will take potential income from your local business and put it elsewhere, starving the local business of the revenue it needs to justify holding items in stock, and making it less worth the effort and hassle of running a shop.
Do you want to have a small, local business nearby? Is that business in fact supporting your club or organisation in some way? Then it would probably be best to support this local business with your custom, rather than placing your sales elsewhere just to save a few pounds.
What value does a small business bring to a local area?
This is an interesting question. Arguably it is the small, independent, local businesses that bring “character” to an area, that make an area distinguishable from any other high street or shopping area in the country. They add to the aesthetic, they add to the local consciousness, they keep money local.
In HEMA terms, when you go to an event, part of the attraction is browsing a variety of stalls each carrying different items. It might be convenient to go to an event and for there just to be a single stall with everything on it, but then the event does lose something in terms of character, and participants lose the chance to meet different people with different experience and principles for doing business. Having lots of vendors at an event is definitely a lot of fun!
Can you make purchases from these small, local businesses and support them so that they receive the income that they need to stay open and to thrive?
Small businesses need your support, otherwise they will be unable to stay open and will be unable to support your local community. If a small HEMA business is supporting your national or local HEMA scene, or supporting one of your local instructors or researchers, is this worth your support? If your club is able to stay open and provide the activities and instruction that it does due to selling things like basic equipment to members, is this worth supporting? How much poorer will you end up if you do not give this support by trying to save a little money here and there?
Keep this in mind for your next purchases. Rather than asking your instructor what is the cheapest source for this piece of equipment, instead ask which suppliers or vendors of that equipment do the most good in your local area, or that contribute most to the club. Pay attention to which shops and shopkeepers are contributing to the community – not just in terms of sponsoring tournaments, but in other ways too.
The more support you can give to small, local businesses, the more these businesses will be able to support your local community and activities, and therefore, the more that everyone locally will benefit.
I suppose this is a good time to mention that Fallen Rook Publishing works hard to support the international HEMA community with the regular publication of new books and research! And similarly, if you are based in the UK, then the Academy of Historical Arts online shop sells all kinds of protective equipment, training tools, and other useful items; all income goes towards supporting our educational activities across the UK.
If you would like to support my writing efforts, please consider donating a little something towards my coffee fund!
Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers. I teach regularly at Liverpool HEMA, and help behind the scenes with running HEMA in Glasgow at the Vanguard Centre.