Small towns are funny things, they have their own rules and culture. Small town living is generally a lot more laid back than the big cities. It appears relaxed, chilled and the lifestyle is easy. Perfect place to open a business, it will be fun. Great excitement as the ideas percolate, the right spot is found, renovations happen. If it’s a restaurant, the first few weeks are abuzz as locals are delighted to discover a new place to eat out. (The downside of that is that the first few weeks of any restaurant are generally when the creases are ironed out and word quickly gets around about “bad” experiences.)
I love seeing small businesses succeed. Seeing someone having the courage to take an idea and turn it into reality. For the past 22 years I have watched a lot of businesses come and go and it’s been interesting to see who makes it and who doesn’t. One of the biggest obstacles, I’ve found, is not marketing properly. There is a general misconception that you can open a business in a small town like White River, sit back and watch the money roll in. Even better yet, just pop a manager in place and you don’t even have to do much work! It’s a common error and putting that manager into a new business is a fatal mistake. Just because it’s a small town doesn’t mean people will notice you are there. If anything you have to work twice as hard to attract customers. They will drive past every day thinking “I must pop in” and that’s where it stays, a thought. Or they drive past and don’t even see you. Think I’m exaggerating? I was recently told a story of someone who is a new arrival in White River and after 6 months didn’t even know about the Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre and the Bagdad Centre! So never assume people know you are there just because it’s a small town.
The business owner thinks they can start a Facebook page, pop a few photos and posts about “specials” and, Bob’s your uncle, the customers come along with the money. Actually days can go by with no shadow darkening the entrance, panic sets in as they begin to realize sales are nowhere near the expenses needed to cover at month end.
The reality is that it’s who you know and how you connect with the community that’s important. It’s about keeping the awareness of you and your business out there. People forget and “out of sight out of mind” applies. You need to keep reminding them you are around. Find out what community organizations exist, White River has the brilliant We Are White River, a concept that was born out of a passion to build bridges, bring communities in the town together and create opportunities for businesses to grow. Connect with the influencers, the “faces” and ask questions. Get involved with, and support, community events.
Successful businesses grow a community, provide much-needed employment. You need to market, market and market some more, ensuring you market in the right way. Connect with people. Constantly. Be authentic and be consistent, offer value for money. Most importantly, engage and be seen. Not your manager, you. Just take a look at some of the most successful businesses in our town. The people that own them give 110% of themselves, they are the heart and soul of their business and it shows. They are known and (mostly) loved. That’s what it takes to create a successful business in a small town.