In a Small Biz Survival article, Becky McCray reported that, “Consumer spending at small retailers is growing faster than spending at big retailers”. This trend has been consistent from 2012 to 2014. Jill Schimpff, owner of Schimpff’s Confectionary, was recently interviewed by Phaedra Hise in an American Express OPEN article. Her store has been in business for 123 years and it was started by her husband’s family. The article goes on to say that small retailers have “retained their warmth, character and independence, knitting themselves tightly into the community”. There are simple steps that small business owners can take in order to bring that hometown feel to their business, so that customers are drawn back time and again.
1. Develop Genuine Relationships
The process to bringing that hometown feel to your business begins with developing genuine relationships with both your customers and employees. This step will only be effective if it begins with a deliberate effort. You can bring that hometown feel to your business by being open to understanding the various aspects and factors that shape your local community. Most small business owners put long hours in each day and interact with their customers on a personal basis. This is not generally possible for the CEOs and owners of larger businesses and corporations. According to the trends previously discussed, consumers are seeking genuine interaction with the staff and owners of the small businesses that they frequent. You will become successful in accomplishing this first step when you diligently make an effort to form authentic relationships with people.
2. Your Personal Story Matters
In addition to forming genuine relationships with your employees and customers, it is vital for you to share your own personal story with them. Obviously, there will be boundaries with regard to how much you share and with whom. However, be prepared to share the story of how you started your business. When your customers see that you care about your business, it will be a stepping stone to bridge the gap between you and cultivate the trust factor. Be creative in how you share your story. For example, you can create a dream board and post it somewhere in the store. Make your business story a focal point for customers to find out more about you and how you got started with your store. Additionally, you can utilize the board as a means for showcasing some of your customer’s business dreams. This is another way to show your customers that you care about building authentic relationships.
3. Branch Out into the Community
This third step can become a breeding ground for increased personal contact with your customers as well as new prospects for your business. If there are any local community fairs or flea markets that are open to new vendors, opt to participate as a vendor several times in the calendar year. Setting up a table and selling products is great for business. However, the more lasting factor is that you will be forming new relationships with your customers and prospects in this even more relaxed atmosphere. Additionally, you will then be bringing that hometown feel back to your store. Participating in such an event sets you apart in the community from larger, less relationship-friendly retailers.
4. Utilize Social Media
Small business owners who want to bring a hometown feel to their store must not shy away from utilizing social media. On the contrary, this avenue is a prime opportunity to reach the younger generation of consumers and bring them in to your store. Get active on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn and Google+. By interacting with your customers, you are practicing step one which promotes the idea of developing genuine relationships. These interactions can still be used as an opportunity to share sales and discounts you’re offering. However, it becomes more personal and cultivates that hometown feel when you ask customers to post testimonials to your social media pages and also answer any questions they may have. As customers see that you are genuinely interacting with them online, it will positively cement their confident perception of your business in their mind.
5. Expand Your Perspective
This last step involves several different factors. First, you need to be open to expanding your perspective and thinking outside the box to develop creative techniques that can be specifically implemented into your business. Second, you must be able to receive constructive criticism and advice. Find an accountability partner who is in a similar situation. Band together with other small business owners in your local neighborhood and meet together monthly to brainstorm new ways to serve the community, and restore the local economy. When your customers see that you truly have a heart for the community, it will further develop their trust and consumer loyalty in your business. The last factor involves being open to learning new ideas and techniques that will help you to grow your small business by reading books by professionals in the field.
Cultivating a hometown feel in your small business is easier than you may think. However, you will need to put some diligent effort into the process in order to make any impact in your community and your business. What ways have you tried to cultivate a hometown feel in your own business or do you have any ideas you’d like to share with other small business owners?