“Support Your Local Sheriff” is a 1969 comedy starring James Garner. It grossed $5,000,000 which, strangely, was enough to justify a 1971 sequel, “Support Your Local Gunfighter.” Perhaps the “Support Your Local ______ ” is a theme that resonates, or maybe better, used to resonate.
In this day of the huge Walmart or Costco or Target or Home Depot or online store, it is easy to forget that there are neighbors, friends and relatives trying to make a living in local businesses. Many of these are not price competitive compared to the big stores and most are not competitive on product options. No matter, they offer other things not available elsewhere.
Local businesses that have a hope of survival are competitive on their ambiance and on their service. Local businesses know you and they know your friends and family. Shopping is a social event in these places. You may pay a bit more but you enjoy the experience.
At one time I purchased most of my clothes in one store. The proprietor was someone I played golf with and by chance he was my height and my build. This was a great advantage. My wife could shop there and buy anything without fear of it not fitting. If it fitted Boyd, it fitted me.
Returning an item to a well-run local businesses is efficient. They keep track, often unconsciously, of the problem and the same one does not occur again.
Service is personal not corporate. If I left my interac card at a local store, I would likely get a phone call or even have someone drop it off at my home or office. Not so much if I do it at Walmart.
Local businesses will do better if they don’t try to compete with the price centered big stores. Repeat, if you try to compete with them, you will lose. I like Costco, but I don’t want local businesses to try to be them. Instead, I want the friendly staff who know me. The personal service. The community involvement. Most of all I want to deal with people like me.
Price is an issue but not an overwhelming one. If local business is close, they get the business. Not necessarily lowest price or even the same price. Just close. If Costco offers something at 40% less, that’s fine, they have buying power and I won’t pay your price in those circumstances. A good local business would probably tell me to buy it there instead, and “Thanks for coming by.” One did that for me in the past 6 weeks and I appreciate it and I will remember.
Local businesses need to spend less time putting obstacles in the way of development and more effort into being a worthy destination. They cannot gain by preventing customers from going somewhere else. Perhaps that other someplace has better parking or the area around it is cleaner or there are no beggars in front of the stores or the hours are longer, but those are things that the locals can and should address and remedy. Parking and walking seems farther downtown but it probably is not any further than parking in a huge parking lot.
For local businesses, put effort into making your shop someplace people want to come. That is the winning tactic. But, don’t feel entitled to customers. You need to deserve them.
You can draw customers to you by working at the service side. Don’t forget to ask customers to tell others because your advertising budget is likely less than Home Depot. Pay a little attention social media. It is a low cost way to let people know about you.
For shoppers, you may be amazed at how much more pleasant it is to shop with your neighbors. Check out local bakeries, hardware stores, clothing stores, jewelry stores, sporting goods and other specialty products, specialty food stores and locally owned supermarkets, and for an especially peasant hour, try a farmer’s market and talk to the people.
This Christmas season, give it a try. It is not necessarily the most convenient and not often the cheapest. It’s different so you may need to adjust a little, but I think you will come home feeling better than competing in the malls and big stores. Take your children with you. They will learn important things. I once had a jeweler show one of my children how to set a diamond in a gold ring.
Support Your Local Businesses won’t be a movie but it should be part of your life.
Don Shaughnessy is a retired partner in an international accounting firm and is presently with The Protectors Group, a large personal insurance, employee benefits and investment agency in Peterborough Ontario.