If someone were to say the success of local businesses didn’t always rest on retail products or services, one might consider that an outlandish statement. But when we look behind the curtain of the transforming retail environment, the changing demographics, the challenging economic conditions, and newly formed habits, we might take another view.
I would submit the best way for local businesses to survive moving forward is by offering and providing products your mega corporations and Amazon might not be able to provide, which are service and experiences. Local businesses must be about providing experiences not found in other places. Local businesses must be about building trust and relationships with their customers and neighbors in the community. Local businesses must understand that it isn’t always about having the most product, but providing a great product backed by a local name and face. Beyond all that, local businesses must look for unique ways to provide a product and service experience that reaches the emotions of those frequenting their business.
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We have discussed in the column on several occasions how the Millennials and the younger generations have begun to transform the shopping experience. Long story short, they are about experiences in lieu of material things. Yes, they enjoy some of the finer things of life like everyone else, but at this point, they prefer to travel, spend time building relationship,s and having new and unique experiences. This should be a huge opportunity for local businesses that are aware of this and are looking for ways to make this shift work in their favor.
If your business is still one of those with a person hired to sit behind the counter and wait for shoppers to check-out, I would submit, your business has checked out. Shoppers today value experiences, they want to build relationships with their local businesses, making friends along the way. They want to see local businesses go the extra mile on service and trust. Many think that this requires major efforts and/or expense – it need not cost a dime.
Just this past week, I was referred to a local garage for a simple oil change. I never expect much of an experience when getting my oil changed, in fact, to me it is a necessary evil to keep my car in proper working order. I went in when my appointment was scheduled and was out in 20 minutes or so. Nothing extremely out of the ordinary for a simple oil change. A day or so later, I got a text message. It said, “It was our pleasure to work on your vehicle the other day and we just wanted to follow-up and make sure everything was OK and thank you for your business.” That simple oil change became an experience by a simple follow-up text a few days later and you can bet, they have a new and lasting customer. Just as I was referred, you can bet I will be referring my friends to that garage as well.
Now that is a simple example of course, but local businesses MUST find ways to stand out in the crowded landscape of their business competition. By design or by shear lack of good luck, most National and local political policies favor the big guys at the expense of the little or local businesses. Case in point, recently when COVID became an issue, many communities forced their local businesses to shut down while the mega and corporate businesses were allowed to stay open. People could go to crowded stores and stand in long lines at these establishments while community leadership demanded the local shops close. It was obvious that local business owners were on their own in many communities.
Don’t wait for government, either National or local, to come to your rescue. Adapting your business model is up to you and your customers. Build trust with them, build relationships with them, over-power them with outstanding service. Remember, the most easy and valuable service is a simple follow-up, they will always remember that and pass that experience along to others. Take the future of your business in your hands today or tomorrow may never come.
John A. Newby, author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street " weekly column and CEO of Truly-local, LLC, dedicated to assisting communities create excitement, energy and synergies with their local media and business base. Working together, the three can build a bright future with new revenue growth and vibrancy. His email is: info@Truly-Localllc.com.