LOOK FORWARD — LOOK LOCAL

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Adam Bernstein explains how to create a shop local approach for your business.

The world of retail is ever changing. It’s true that the high street has had its fair share of challenges in recent years, especially when confronting the web. But it’s also important to not lose sight of the one thing that bricks and mortar has over online — a local community to market to.
Being able to draw on customers that can come into store, pick up and examine products is something that web traders can never do. High street retailers also have the ability to satisfy any instant needs. Whether for fish tanks, a hamster cage or dog lead — the high street is so well placed to make a sale. Retailers just need the opportunity to talk to customers.
So how best to engage with the community?
Offer advice

First off, consider the free options that include the likes of Facebook, Linkedin, as well as groups in the locality.

Facebook is a good example. Most think of it as a conduit to share pictures, videos and gossip. That may well be the case, but it’s just as important to keep in mind that a good number of potential customers use the platform to keep abreast of what is relevant to them. The advice here is to construct — and maintain — a good Facebook presence and at the same time, watch (join) village or town-based Facebook pages. Clearly each will have their own rules on advertising, but well-placed messages can work wonders, especially if they come via a page member who post a link to your business. Keep in mind the need to not irritate group members with overly frequent or irrelevant posts though. That said, incorporate tactics, such as entering those who use the ‘share’ and ‘like’ buttons on Facebook posts into a competition to win a free product. If you do offer products, use time limited or value-added offers, such as free upgrades to generate a sense of urgency to buy.

Seek to use location targeting on Facebook. Here you’re trying to put your content whatever it may be — in front of those in your locality. While this involves some cost, at least it’ll be targeted to the area you serve.

Allied to this, don’t ignore the need for a website — not everyone is on Facebook. An actively trading site is not critical, but some form of online presence is, otherwise customers will not know of your existence. For this reason, use location targeting via Google AdWords in addition to that on Facebook.

Local groups are another potential source of new business; so, see if there are any groups or events where you can offer advice. Use it as a soft-sell with tips for new pet owners. Talk about common problems and mistakes when caring for their animals. Schools, voluntary organisations, such as Round Table, Rotary, business breakfast clubs and others are another way to propagate a business among the locality. But wherever you visit and whomever you talk to, let the advice do the work here — a good rapport with the audience will do more for the business than pushing products ever will. Put yourself in their shoes — what would you want to know?

And if you have time, join a local chamber of commerce, or your parish or town council. Be seen as someone who gives to the community; the more networking you do, the better your reach. A solicitor once said that he never turned down a good funeral. He wasn’t ‘ambulance chasing’ but instead, making the point that he had no idea where an event would lead to, no matter how awkward it was.

Tie ups

Can you organise a tie up with another organisation or event to cross-fertilise businesses? Just as a local ale and cheese shop could partner with a music venue to host a beer and music festival (the venue benefitting from the footfall, and the suppliers able to put their goods before a new audience), could you do the same and start a local event where others run stalls and you run, say, a dog show, with a prize that is presented in the shop, which can be publicised in the local paper?

In a similar vein, could you sponsor a local event? Depending on where you are located, there may be regular events every year organised and run by other local groups. In many cases, these groups are looking for fellow businesses to support their cause, either by teaming up to organise the event or just by donating money in exchange for being mentioned in their programme, website and advertising.

Both of these options are an excellent way to get your business in front of local customers. If your business is in a more rural location, there is no reason why you can’t expand your horizons to support initiatives in neighbouring areas.

Also, make friends with local journalists. This takes a little time, but you could help them out with a decent image that they can use (with attribution of course), a story of interest, which has nothing to do with your business, or maybe you could just be someone to have a coffee with — after all, people buy people. No matter your approach, aim to do something newsworthy that gives the journalist a reason to get you (and the shop) in print.

Remember that PR can be a very good, cost-effective option. The local press, radio, online publications and even podcasts love to feature local businesses as they thrive on feel-good stories.

Other options

Something else to consider is SMS marketing. Clearly this requires customer consent and an ability to know when not to not burden customers with too many messages. But used correctly, you could send customers a short text to alert them of a sale, or a hard to get item that’s just come into stock. This form of local marketing is great for brick-and-mortar businesses that wants to drive instore foot traffic or those who want to contact their customers in real time. Even better, it’s more responsive than email.

But at the end of the day, your best method of reaching local customers is to offer excellent customer service so that your trade grows mostly on recommendations.

Yes, it’s true that, according to an October 2018 House of Commons report, Retail sector in the UK, that web trade stood at just 5% in 2008 and now makes up 18% of all retail sales, but that still means that 82% of sales are in physical stores. And if small businesses are the backbone of a community, then customers are the heart of small businesses. As such, it is vital that your business focuses its efforts on providing the best customer experience possible.

To finish

Offer incredible customer service, convenient operating hours, a friendly atmosphere and the best possible pricing and begin the fightback. Don’t ignore the locals and passing trade in favour of fighting online; they could very well be not only your bread and butter trade, but also the best advert you’ve ever had — and at virtually zero cost, too.