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Friday, February 17, 2012

Guest Commentary: Local is a Two-Way Street

By Kelsey Roth of The Management

A friend of mine approached me the other day and asked, “‘I’ve been getting into biking lately, and I want to support my local bike shop. But when I check prices online, it’s usually cheaper. Why should I pay the higher prices just to shop local?”

I took this as a teaching moment and talked to him about how spending his money locally is better for the economy and how price shouldn’t be the only determining factor. A local bike shop could add a lot of value to his shopping experience in ways an online retailer could not. But something concerned me about his situation. What if his particular local bike shop wasn’t giving him a reason to shop locally?

We often put the success of the local movement on the customer. We use slogans like “Shift Your Shopping” and “Buy Local”. But I believe the small, local business is just as responsible for the success of the local movement and the local economy as the customer.

The big online retailers have two main advantages over the small local business: Price and Convenience. They know this and do whatever they can to promote it. The lure of shopping during your lunch hour without leaving your desk, or taking advantage of a special on-line only sale can be very seductive. In tough economic times, these are compelling features. But this doesn’t mean that the small, local business can’t compete.

Make It Personal:
The big retailers, whether online or a physical location, aren’t able to foster personal relationships with their customers like a local business can. Getting personal service from a national retailer is often rare for a variety of reasons, and sadly, it’s something many of us have gotten used to in exchange for low prices.

People prefer to buy from people they like and can relate to. The local store can take advantage of this by providing personal service, before, during and after the sale. Don’t sell people stuff, help them buy it. Listen to what the customer’s needs are and find solutions that are unique to them. Never miss an opportunity to communicate with them. Social media like Facebook and Twitter can help as well as email newsletters and blogs. Let them know when you have something you think they would like. Make the customer feel like you are their personal store.

Chances are that you started your business because you are extremely passionate about it. You wouldn’t open a camera store, for example, and not love cameras and photography. Use that passion and knowledge to be the local, go-to expert for your customers. Use social media, your website or blog to post useful tips and information. A camera store could host free photography classes or give out a beginner’s guide to taking good pictures with every new camera purchase. Customers who respect your knowledge will be much more likely to return when they need advice and will trust your judgement on future purchases. Plus, people will enjoy their purchase more if they know how to get the most out of it. You already have all this knowledge, so put it to good use.

Offer Items Not Available at the Big Retailers:
The big retailers are able to offer low prices because they purchase in volume. As a result, they don’t carry some items because the supplier can’t produce the volume they demand. This provides you an opportunity to carry those items that a big retailer can’t or won’t carry. Usually items that are “green”, natural, organic, hand-made, or locally, independently produced or manufactured, are created on a small scale and are not attractive to the big retailers. Seek out those hard-to-find unique products and be their local source. Not only will you be helping other local companies, but it could help you carve a unique niche in the marketplace.

Just telling people to “shop local” isn’t enough. Local businesses need to do their part, too. It is too easy for customers to be lured into the seduction of low prices and convenience shopping. As local businesses, we need to find ways to add value to the goods and services we provide in ways that big national retailers can’t. Whether it’s through developing personal relationships with your customers, providing help and information, or just offering what the big guys can’t, we need to give customers a reason to “buy local”.

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