Wednesday, May 13, 2009

3 Ways For Local Businesses To Benefit From Being Community Insiders

Being a believer in having a vibrant local business community, I want to support our town’s local businesses whenever I can. Recently, I spent over 3 hours at a recent Business Task Force meeting discussing ways to increase the vitality of our local economy. Putting my money where my mouth is, I set out last weekend with my 17 year-old daughter to run pre-prom errands as much in town as possible. We had the dress but needed it hemmed, needed a slip and had to schedule appointments for hair and makeup before the big event.

First order of business was getting the dress hemmed. In our town, there are several dry cleaners that do alterations. We went to the most exclusive one first and struck out. We struck out again at the number 2 provider. Apparently, people in our town only need their clothes altered on weekdays. Neither store had any one on site on a Saturday morning to pin the hem.

With two strikes against us and determined not to strike out on the dress-related errand front, we abandoned our local businesses and set off to Nordstrom at the nearby mall. They didn’t have the slip we wanted, but offered to order it and ship it directly to our home at no charge. Great service!

Next, we asked in a tentative voice if they would hem a dress that had not been purchased at the store. The timid associate who helped us with the slip asked a colleague and was told “no.” It seemed to us that the colleague hadn’t actually listened to the question – we asked our timid associate to ask the department manager. We got the answer we were hoping for, and the alterations lady appeared on the spot! Nordstrom has always gotten service. And they understand their customers’ lives. Score one for the Seattle chain store!

When it came to the hair and makeup appointments, we again went local. Here, the providers were far more tuned-in than the dry cleaners. We found a few who were willing or even planning to come in on Sunday (our high school’s prom is always on Sunday night, for some reason). One enterprising salon had created a Prom Special, a package deal for hair and makeup. Smart marketers at work!

What’s up with the alterations people? What can other local businesses learn from these vignettes? Here are three ways local businesses (providers of products and services) can take advantage of the fact that they are community insiders:
  1. Make your services available when people in your town are likely to use them. Whether it’s the seamstress at the dry cleaner’s or the local coffee house, if you’re not available when potential customers are about, you’re not only missing a revenue opportunity you’re risking falling off the community’s radar. The last show at our local movie theater usually gets out around 11 pm. Almost all of the stores in town close at 6 and most restaurants and coffee houses close at 9. Affluent people are strolling back to their cars with nowhere to linger. Give them an opportunity to come in and buy something!

  2. Make it your business to know what’s going on in your town, and tailor your offerings for local needs, tastes and events. Unlike command-and-control chain stores, local businesses can be more nimble. As the hair salons in my Sunday prom story show, being tuned into the local community can give local merchants an edge on the competition in the surrounding area. By offering specialized products and services (e.g., hair and makeup for the prom or box lunches for the mountain play every Sunday in June), they earn incremental revenue and as importantly, they motivate residents to give them a try when they might not otherwise, and have an opportunity to turn them into more frequent customers.

  3. Help consumers extend the useful life of their purchases. As sustainability grows in appeal and shoppers become ever more frugal, interest in maintaining and repairing clothes and other items rather than simply replacing them is already on the increase. Expect it to continue. Being known as the place that can help people to get more use out of their clothing is on-trend and personal. It's more natural for a local business to provide these services.
Smart seamstresses will see an opportunity to help consumers make their clothing last, and will make themselves available to fit their schedules. Those who don’t figure it out will continue to reduce their hours until they are no longer in business, unless Nordstrom drives them out of business first.

1 comment:

Bruce Sanders said...

Judy, your "3 Ways" are great examples of the value of anticipating the needs and desires of customers rather than waiting to react. It comes from paying attention. All of us appreciate doing business with people who are paying attention. There are analysts (actually psychoanalysts) of consumer behavior who say that certain shoppers even expect the salespeople to do little less than wise mind-reading ( An appeal of the business which is locally owned and operated is a sense that they are part of our community, so know us well. That's at least a minor league version of mindreading.