Running a small or local business isn't for the faint of heart; it is never easy. There is no doubt that traditional retail, local restaurants and the shop-local model are under attack. Consumer habits are rapidly shifting to the ease of online and their options are forever expanding. The methods of reaching consumers through advertising and marketing are becoming more fragmented each year. The odds of success in the hyper-local arena of locally owned and operated businesses are certainly decreasing.
Changing the consumer mindset toward local amidst the full-on internet blitzkrieg being waged against local businesses is tough. Local businesses must become more consumer-focused, more friendly, provide new and unique experiences and greater customer service to blunt this new competition. Equally important, they must come face to face with the realities of this ever-changing marketplace.
What are some of these realities? Here are just a few:
1) 70 percent of all retail transactions occur after 6 p.m. Additionally, most people with spendable income work. When a local business closes before 6 p.m., it is missing out on 70 percent of its potential business.
2) Businesses must adopt and provide over-the-top customer service, something lacking in the cookie-cutter world of retail and online.
3) Businesses must have an inviting façade and appearance to lure potential consumers through their front doors.
4) Businesses must provide products consumers are seeking, understanding that product lines change from year to year, or even month to month. Consumers spend more on local products if provided what they want and need.
The United States has added retail space at five times the rate of consumer spending. We have nearly four times the amount of retail square footage per person than Europe. These numbers indicate the retail competition is fierce. This places hyper-local businesses under siege. Many in the big box and chain sectors are also taking on water just as badly and are at risk of implosion as well.
All the above aren't opinions; this is the reality facing the retail world and it won't get any easier. Knowing this, communities and hyper-local businesses wishing to thrive in lieu of simply surviving need to be taking huge strides in turning around or slowing these trends. How might this happen?
Both community and local businesses must act as if time is of the essence because it is. Both must stop taking mini steps and lengthen their strides as those relate to actions. While those strides will vary depending on the community or business, nonetheless, they must figure out what those steps are and boldly move forward. Now isn't the time for communities to embark on more time-consuming focus groups and studies or withhold community and personal resources while waiting for better days. Better days won't come with inaction.
Communities must create a uniqueness that brings high interest and awareness. They can do this by investing in their downtowns, assuring that they are the heart and soul of their communities. They must spend what it takes to attract those competitive tourism dollars. They must take on projects enhancing economic vitality such as gathering spaces, retail options, bike paths, walking trails, roads and attractions. Waiting shouldn't be an option.
If local businesses want residents to spend more for items than they might otherwise spend with a national chain, they need to assure their places of business are attractive, inviting and customer friendly. They need to instill a better sense of pride through over-the-top customer service. Groups of businesses need to adjust their hours of operation to match the shopping habits of their consumers. In conjunction with that, they need to work together, creating events that drive traffic into their communities.
While there are many options and pathways forward for communities, there is one path sure to fail. If you keep courting outside businesses that bring more of the sea of sameness you can find anywhere, those communities will ultimately fail.
To succeed, create the uniqueness locals and tourists yearn for. Create the heart, soul and vibrancy visitors seek. This is the only viable and successful path forward. The sooner communities come to understand this, the sooner they can get on with the mission of changing their economic landscape and future.
Let me close with a quote by Nikos Kazantzakis. He said, "In order to succeed, we must first believe that we can."
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John Newby, of Pineville, Mo., is a nationally recognized publisher, community, business and media consultant and speaker. His "Building Main Street, not Wall Street" column appears in many communities around the country. He is the founder of Truly-Local, dedicated to assisting communities, creating excitement and energy, and combining synergies with local media to better their communities. He can be reached at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.