Growing up I can remember there being a sense of skepticism when a new business would open in the Grand Mall or somewhere else around Grand Blanc. There were so many short-lived stores over the years that there is not a mystery as to why that skepticism existed. Yet, there have been plenty of locally owned stores that have remained despite this, one example is J.J. Cardinals on Saginaw Street within the Pavilion Shops. Cherish Local had the pleasure of sitting down with one of the owners, Louise, the other week to talk about how business was. She shared with us how even when she opened in 1991 there were those who said she would not be able to remain open long; yet, I’m sure every skeptic has been pleased to see her and her husband prove them wrong for the past 26 years.
Having that conversation with Louise got me thinking about everything it takes to start your own business, as well as how to keep the doors open within a town that is skeptical of new businesses because it expects the best. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, “75% of new businesses survive the first year, 69% survive the first two years, and 50% make it to five years”. Nellie Akalp acknowledges in a Forbes article that although having a 50/50 shot in surviving the first five years may not be the most motivational statistic she still encourages those who are ready to take the plunge. My favorite piece of advice she gave within her article was the importance of focusing on the customer, she explains “your goal isn’t to create an awesome product or business; it’s to help your customer”.
Essentially, from what I have read and what I have experienced, I feel that one of the biggest things a small business can do is connect with its community through every avenue they can. Financing, branding, and planning are all very important – but in order to maintain your local business, you’ll need to foster support from the local community. An easy way to begin this process is through social media, it provides plenty of opportunity to branch out to potential customers. Kym McNicholas explained in Forbes, “your first priority should be building that relationship with people, not pitching your service or product”.
Truly attracting a strong following on any social media site will require strong marketing skills, which also applies for generating foot traffic to your business. Marketing can be learned, but with so many small business owners more concerned with running their business; getting marketing help may be the better option than trying to learn and do everything on their own. Ensuring that the core message behind your business is being heard will drive more customers to give your product or service a try, and if they’re impressed they will drag their friends and family along next time.
Connecting to your community and implementing effective marketing strategies may be the edge your small business needs in surviving the first five years, and maintaining that business in years to come. Even the most skeptical of places, like our own Grand Blanc, will warm up to a new locally own business when they see the owners are passionate about connecting, and contributing to the community, and have a strong overall message with quality products and services to back it up.
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Author - Megan Carry
Marketing and Creative Manager at Cherish Local
An easy way to kick start this process is through promotions or contests. At Cherish Local we love implementing these because it allows us to connect our clients to the communities they reside in on a deeper level than they could with advertising alone. One of the clients we work with is a grocery store, called Hy-Vee, in a small town in Minnesota. In order to better connect that Hy-Vee to its community we started up a local hero contest where residents would nominate heroes within their community and then vote on who they believed to be the overall Hero of 2016. The results have been outstanding, not only did the residents in that small Minnesota town step up to nominate their own local heroes, but they took notice of how Hy-Vee was making that recognition possible and appreciated it. That appreciation and recognition results new customers coming to the store.
Even in Grand Blanc we have seen similar results. From our time working with our local Cottage Inn Pizza we have set them up in doing a handful of promotions and giveaways, but they’ve also made steps to get involved with the community on their own. One example of that is their support for the Grand Blanc High School hockey team; whenever the team shuts out an opponent or scores a hat trick Cottage Inn supplies free large pizza for the entire team. Our job is showing the rest of the community, that may not have a direct link to GBHS or their hockey team, how Cottage Inn is supporting its community’s students. Below are comments made after Cam Smith of the Grand Blanc Varsity Hockey Team scored his third hat-trick in last night's game. Comments such as the ones from Paul Hayes show why businesses supporting their local community is so important; he said "That's awesome that your business does this ... my next pizza will be from Cottage Inn Pizza".
Connecting and engaging with customers is only the first step in establishing a fan base for your business and brand. Customers will demand consistency, for example if the Hy-Vee in Marshall, MN or the Cottage Inn Pizza in Grand Blanc, MI were to stop supporting their local community so openly people would notice and lose interest in them. Supporting the community will also only get a business so far, they also need to be able to provide the goods or services that they claim to do. Gaining the attention of new customers is only the beginning, maintaining their trust and loyalty takes a lot of work. This is why anything less than genuine interest in ones market and consumers will not be enough to generate and maintain loyal customers and raving fans.
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Author - Megan Carry
Marketing & Creative Manager at Cherish Local