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Saturday, May 16, 2009

Getting Ahead By Being Local

Local Wildlife - stained glass window, Dornoch Cathedral #1
originally uploaded by foxypar4.

Local represents a competitive advantage, a means for getting ahead, right?

After all, local businesses capture an aura, a perspective, an approach, that has nothing to do with that of national businesses. Rather than be beige-ly uniform, local businesses express character and uniqeness. They are memorable, and focused entirely on their customers, right?

Combine that with our desire to focus locally, to eliminate waste from distribution chains by sourcing our foods, clothing items and services from organizations down the road from us and people we know, with whom we converse regularly, and who listen to us.

So why is it that local business often don't 'get' it?

Some examples.

In 3 Ways For Local Businesses To Benefit From Being Local, Retail Hits and Misses' Judy Hopelain describes her experiences running pre-prom errands with her daughter. Local doesn't always win out, despite a strong biais. Judy recommends:

1. Making sure that your business services are available when customers need them. In other words, are your hours of operation relevant to your customer base?

2. Know what's going on in town and tailor what your offer to be relevant. If it's prom season, do you offer a prom package?

3. Help customers extend the usefulness of their purchases. This ties into the new age of frugality.

Jeanne Byington from The Importance of Earnest Service makes a similar comparison in Service at 1,000+ Supermarkets vs. a Pair of Bread Boutiques. Imagine how dreadful her local service exprience is!

At the same time, large organizations are catching onto the appeal of local. Take Frito-Lay pitches its Lay's potato chips as locally made from the 5/12/09 USA Today. I'm impressed with the concept: it celebrates individuals, the "80 'local' farmers from 27 states who grow the potatotes used to make its chips." All of sudden, chips have more character. They form the basis of a conversation about location and potatoes and people. I like that a lot!

In the 5/13/09 New York Times article titled When 'Local' Makes It Big, the same chips are criticized for "embracing a broad interpretation of what eating locally means." Ok. But, still, a different kind of conversation is taking place involving products and the companies responsible for the products. Hunt's now highlights the provenance of the tomatoes used for canned tomatoes. The Sacramento County Farm Bureau has started a "Grow and Buy Local" initiative.

Being local definitely has merit.

My local paper - The Argus - wrote "R&M celebrates 28 years as an old-school hardware store" in the 5/7/09 issue. I was intrigued given the subject of this post. The owners attribute their local success to "old-fashioned customer service." More specifically,

+ "Customers know they can get anything from screen and window repair to high-tech computer color matching."
+ "They are now serving the second generation of hardware buyers in the Pompton area. Many of their customers come in to show their children the pictureof te Little League team that R&M sponsored over 20 years ago."
+ They help customers work to 'tackle smaller projects' themselves and save money.
+ They have an extensive inventory and willingly special order anything not available in store.
+ They are open seven days a week.

Being local can definitely get you ahead. But, it means embracing all that local means: being closely connected to your customers, interacting with them, and staying relevant to them in the value and convenience you offer them.

Are you ready to flaunt how local you are?

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