By Ron Kustek
We pride ourselves on our local community, on how we support small businesses and how a small business is the backbone of our identity, that if it weren’t for our mutual connection between independent businesses and us locals, that the big corporate giants will take over and wipe our ethnocentric-Santa-Cruzian persona off the face of the planet.
Well, let’s challenge ourselves!
But the Price: Will we accept higher prices, because a smaller local business cannot buy in huge bulk quantities like a warehouse store. This leads to higher prices. Will we also accept higher prices because a local business cares more about our local employees and pays them higher wages than a big-box national brand?
But the Products: Will we expect a local business to stock the full breadth of brands (often from China, stored in a huge robotic warehouse) that we see online instead of products the local business feels is the highest quality for the community? Will we only buy what we see in our Instagram feed of paid talking heads (yeah, that’s what an influencer really is). Don’t think any local business can afford to pay for international YouTube “influencers” in their cost structure.
But the Promotions: You may find a better price online because that location isn’t paying an extreme price to rent from a landlord who is likely profiting from the recent tax breaks? You likely shared that in some post. And did you not buy locally because the local store didn’t email/text you a paltry 10% off coupon (because you didn’t give the local store owner your email or text info due to “privacy” but gave it up so easily to an online multi-national corporation) … please, can we seriously be bought that easily?
But the Place: OK, so during these times we’re trying to socially distance and stay safe — often with our own definitions of what that means. And yes, I’d rather sit on my couch or comfy chair to surf the web for the best price from a company that can afford to pay for shipping (from my annual fees of about $10/month) so that they can promise me 2-day shipping — when in reality, it varies from 2-11 days — but it shows up at my door and I don’t have to take a shower, dress, drive or walk and then talk to another human). If we all really wanted to support our local shops, we would also use sites such as www.shopnow.org This is THE local platform that identifies what you want that is in-stock from a participating local business. I fully support them – even though they haven’t quite yet been able to perfect their algorithms.
For business owner who expect that as long as you just open an independent business in Santa Cruz County, that magically customers will appear … you still have to do the work.
But to Compete: Communicate and market the reason why anyone should buy from you. Realize that you have to devote EVERY part of your external marketing and your internal operation to what makes you better, special and different. And please, don’t say you have the highest quality at the lowest price … yawn. Everyone’s heard that before.
But my Culture: Do you care enough about your customers that you train your employees and help them when they face issues that are new to them, whether by phone, online or in person? Do you commit to spending time to help them find the answers and the words to help them be their best representative of your business?
But my Commitment: If you wake every morning reluctantly to face your own business, simply get out. Sell. And if there are no buyers, than quit. If your heart isn’t in it, then that will show in EVERY aspect. You won’t do building improvements, website upgrades, employee training, long-term investing in your quality brand. You know who you are …
But to Captivate: If you listened to your customers, they’d likely say, “Take me where I’ve never been.” This is essential in defining why you’re in business in the first place! We live in an entertainment culture. If we’re not being stimulated by our sense of smell, or visually or audibly, then we’re not paying attention. Or paying money for anything.
But to Connect: Go through your files of the hundreds or thousands of customers who have bought from you. You can simply sort what their favorite products are. When they buy. How much they spend. When they last bought. What their other interests are. If you’re a business owner without ready access to this information and your eyes are glazing over — get into the 21st century of small business technology because it’s already 20% over!
Well, there you have it. We’re all in this together as business owners and consumers, each willing to exchange value for value. The point is, if we are truly committed to acting local, then we should all be BUT-less.