We all know that Local Business are struggling in the face of intense competition from bigger, better-funded rivals. Whether it’s national and international chain companies or Local Business and superstores taking over every high street, out of town retail parks or the threat from the internet and e-commerce, today’s beleaguered ‘mom and pop’ businesses need to keep running just to hold their ground.
Bring Customers into your Local Business
So what can a local store, bar, restaurant or other business do to attract and retain customers in the modern age? The key is finding out what you can offer that other businesses can’t, and emphasizing that quality. Don’t try to beat the likes of Amazon at their own game, but use the tools and techniques of the digital era to promote what’s unique about what you have to offer.
Be Local, Think Local
Being a small local business can often seem like a disadvantage when compared to the reach and muscle of the multinationals. But you can turn your local status to your advantage in several ways. Engage with the local community by sponsoring a local sports team or supporting local charities. Think about what you can do to help your local community, and build awareness of your business into the process.
The Personal Touch
Small local businesses can offer familiarity and friendliness that you can’t get online or in a vast faceless superstore. Build friendly relationships with regular customers and personalize your stock with handwritten staff recommendations. Above all talk to your customers- not in a pushy, ‘sales rep’ way, but by offering friendly small talk as well as helpful, knowledgeable advice about your products.
Use the Internet
Although it is a source of competition, the internet isn’t your enemy. These days even the smallest local business can benefit from having a website. Even if you don’t use it as a sales portal, see it as a form of advertising, with your location, opening hours and an idea of who you are and what you offer. A website also makes you seem like a reputable business not a fly by night firm. People are more likely to make the trip downtown to visit you after checking online to make sure you still exist!
Establish a Social Media Presence
Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and Instagram, are great for free promotion- but you have to put in the hours. Again, it’s about building a community of regular followers. Post useful, interesting or amusing comments regularly, encourage interaction and reply to any comments you receive. You can use social media to tell people about special offers or to reassure them that you’re still open during a period of very bad weather.
Use Ground Level Advertising
There are many other ways that you can get your message across in an immediate, down-home fashion. That might include sending out flyers and advertising in local newspapers. Another great idea is a chalkboard outside your establishment that can be updated daily using liquid chalk. Write out offers, calls to action or just amusing phrases in liquid form. Be as quirky and individual as possible- such chalkboards often build up a cult following, with passers-by photographing them and sharing the pics on social media, giving you the kind of exposure that money can’t buy.
Depending on the nature of your business, regular or one-off events are a great way to attract business as well as publicity. A bar or restaurant could have DJ nights, comedy, live poetry ormusicians. A store could open in the evenings for arts and craft nights or workshops related to the products you sell. A bakery could host evening baking classes.
Another related idea suitable for most types of business is including works by local artists on your walls. You could even have an opening night where you could promote your products.
Locally Themed Offers
Why not offer discounts to employees of some local businesses, or to nurses, police officers, students or seniors? The segment you target should reflect your business- an art supply shop might give a 10% discount to students from a local college, while a bar near the hospital might give discounts to doctors and nurses on a particular night of the week.
Ultimately the question you must ask is why people should leave their homes to come to my store? In other words, what can you offer them that online shopping can’t? You may not be able to compete regarding convenience or prices, but you can provide a unique experience with the personal, quirky touch that they can’t get anywhere else. Offer something different and stand out from the crowd.