What Will COVID-19 Mean for “Main Street?”

There’s so little any of us can predict with certainty about our local economies after The Pandemic. But let’s speculate.

Even as restrictions on our social interaction begin to ease, official permissions will probably roll out slowly and within prescribed geographies (certain towns, certain cities). That means we’ll all be staying close to home even after we return to our schools and jobs. Especially if there are repeated rounds of social distancing dictated by new flair-ups.

Further, experiencing new things in unfamiliar places with new people will present a psychological hurdle for many long after COVID-19 is a memory. And this unusual dynamic may create responsibilities and opportunities for local business districts.

Locals spending more of their money locally? Amid all of the pessimism, this could well be one of the lasting legacies of our current situation.  And there are no customers more valuable. Repeat business is nearly assured of a satisfied local!  How indie businesses appeal to local customers in the next twelve months could have real, long term impact.

 Cha cha cha changes

First, the bad news. On “Main Streets,” our influencer restaurants are radically affected. And the longer term, trickle down ramifications of permanent closures will be very real.  These eateries lured crucial traffic into our communities before COVID-19. Whatever your business category, a thriving local restaurant corridor clearly increases exposure and bolsters sales for adjacent shops and service providers.

But all types of small business are in trouble – and many are adapting as quickly as possible. For example, DIY local delivery – a new behavior for many – cuts out the Grubhubs and Instacarts in favor of employees (who need the work). Overnight, it’s a wildly popular tactic well beyond food service.  Some local restaurants are behaving more like grocery stores, packaging meal prep components together for purchase. Others sell everything from baked goods to pre-made sauces and even custom-butchered meats.

And it’s no surprise that the rush to create some sort of e-commerce capability among the roughly 65% of local indies without it is accelerating.

Another change that will likely have staying power revolves around Telegraphing Clean. Now it’s cool to reveal the sanitary procedures a business employs – from restaurant to fashion boutique. Look for more signage about this, even where you’d least expect it.  Other purposely visible indicators are suddenly everywhere – like sneeze guards and free hand sanitizer at checkout with queue-spacing marks painted on floors.

Masks, even when no longer required by mandate, will not surprise us. They’ll be as common in the US as they have been for many years in most of Asia’s largest cities. The ambient scents pervading upscale boutiques and gift emporiums may trend away from botanicals toward more antiseptic odors that signal “clean.” Even janitorial routines, until now relegated to “after business hours,” may move into prime time so shoppers can see (and be reassured by) cleaning-in-action.

New behaviors. New habits?

Local shoppers are adapting too. Many are researching a product online, buying it over the phone from a local independent, then fetching their purchase by appointment. (All of the sudden, providing “curbside pickup” is added value.) Indeed, our stay-at-home reality has shifted how and what we buy in many ways.

Some changes suggest possible upside for local indies in years to come. Trips to big box outlets, for example, have become joyless outings. Visits are far less frequent and focused now on quick, bulk buying of low-profit staples. Yes, we’re all shopping less in general. But when our innate consumerism rebounds, the thought of scratching that shopping itch in a crowded mall or superstore may remain a bridge too far for many of us. Another real possibility during our seclusion, is that we’ll realize how much online retail simply under-stimulates while over promising. In other words, as local indies reopen for business, a larger piece of the replenishment and impulse shopping pies may await.

That people everywhere are walking more – often as couples or in small groups – is another clear change in behavior. With gyms closed down and few legitimate reasons to drive, it turns out walking is the only rigorous activity to permit both social-distancing and conversation! The moist, shared air of a gym may now present more risks than we’re willing to take, and that means your local customers could easily make a habit of walking or jogging outdoors for exercise. When restrictions loosen, how might you take advantage of more foot traffic on the sidewalk in front of your store?

Space for optimism

Amazon is a bigger threat than ever, of course.  But there’s reason to believe a renewed enthusiasm for  “small” and “local” will accompany our first tentative steps back into society. And this may present exactly the opportunity we need to redefine our common future.

For example, the transition to working-from-home for many white collar jobs may be permanent. (Urban office space was always a burdensome overhead cost.) And the potential uptick this can deliver to some Local environs is significant. Lunches, Happy Hours and much of the work-day shopping that used to occur “downtown” will now naturally migrate to our neighborhood business districts. As “Main Street” business communities, the choices we make now could easily inspire new loyalties among local customers.

A crucial question for any independent small business is how it will meet more of the wants and needs of nearby residents within the next twelve months. Never have locals been so emotionally receptive to Shop Local as a clear imperative.

Marketing more assertively to these shoppers is vital, especially if they’ve felt under-served by your business in the past. A store that relied too much on non-local traffic may need to evolve its product selection to better reflect the needs and preferences of its home community.  Restaurant menus or formats may change  based on purely local tastes or gaps in the culinary landscape. Indeed,”new lead generation” could become an anachronism for small business as we build marketing plans that optimize loyalty and local impact.

This won’t be easy.  Many businesses will shutter, and our capacity for survival will stretch to its limits. But the people of your neighborhood need your pluck and determination more than ever. The business you’ve built may become important in ways you’ve yet to imagine.

Change happens, and change hurts. But, if history is any judge, change is often the precursor to new perspectives and opportunities.

Why Local Customers Should Be Your #1 Target

Are You Neglecting Your Best Customers?

The benefits to a community when residents support neighborhood indies (versus shelling out for national chains or Amazon) are many and proven. Then why do too many small businesses in moderately populous neighborhoods fall short of marketing to their own local customers effectively? 

Many of these indies continue to pine for new, non-local customers and spend their precious marketing dollars on what amounts to a shot in the dark. Maybe they believe that local customers are already won over and that the potential of this audience is long-since tapped. Here’s why that assumption is usually wrong.

The legendary Pareto Principle (or 80/20 Rule) is a fundamental strategy that successful companies, large and small, have employed for decades.  But many indie business operators are unaware of how it works.

There are many articles written on the phenomenon, but what it means to your independent small business is simple:  

The top 20 percent of your shoppers (your Best Repeat Customers) should represent 80% of your overall revenue. And if they don’t, you’re leaving easy money on the table.

Local Is Luckier

This 80/20 Rule is important wherever “Shop Local” is a priority, because your neighbors make up the bulk of your Best Repeat Customers. Simple proximity makes this true for most independent shops, restaurants and service providers. Indeed, locals are your low hanging fruit — because it’s easier – and less expensive – to convince a current customer to buy from you more frequently (or in greater volume) than it is to convince a non-customer to buy anything from you at all.

Even if non-local customers must, for whatever reason, remain a priority for your business, know that they will require disproportionate marketing spend. And it’s particularly wasteful if you haven’t plumbed the full potential of your local customer base.

A Different Way of Thinking

To sum up, new lead generation is just a Big Corporate sales cliche that seeped into our small business consciousness. But for indie destination businesses — which make up the majority of “main street” enterprise — it’s often a square peg for a round hole, or (to really layer on the metaphors) a red herring that most scrappy local entrepreneurs can ill afford to chase.

The Deal Is Dead. Long Live the Deal.

The Deal Is Dead. Long Live the Deal!

Ever wondered why Deal has become a four-letter word in many independent business circles?

Well, it began as traditional local marketing vehicles – like the yellow pages and neighborhood newspapers – either disappeared or lost their relevance. And the big digital platforms like Groupon, Yelp, and ValPak rushed in like a sea change.

The Long Con?

For the most part, their recommended strategies were similar: promote steep discounts to win new customers! The methods used by some of these “marketing” platforms to gain traction in neighborhoods like yours were notorious at the time (if not downright extortive).

At first though, local independent businesses – threatened on all fronts by big box, national chains and something new called “Amazon” – swallowed the bait and often their pride to try something (anything) that might help them compete effectively.

Unfortunately, after the steep fees charged by these companies, those already discounted offers usually result in zero ROI for participating businesses:

Yelp Sponsored Ads – $300 PER month minimum 

Groupon – 15% charge against every already discounted deal

FB Ads – Mininum $5 PER ad PER day

Google Adwords Average at least $1 PER click 

ValPak – Minimum campaign $300 PER month 

“Maybe It’ll Come Out In the Wash?”

Still, this was about expanding our customer bases, right?  We were driving trial among excited new patrons who would return again and again, with or without our tantalizing offer!  

Nope. Turns out the non-local bargain hunters lured in by our discounted goods or services moved on quickly to other cut-rate opportunities. Few if any of these transients returned to indulge our full-priced offerings.

As a result, and to this day, “The Deal” as a concept elicits scorn from many local entrepreneurs. But cleverly crafted deals, used the right way, are still the most effective tactic for enticing the right sort of customers, delivering that elusive up-sell, and rewarding our most loyal patrons.

Anticipate Loyalty. Reward Proximity.

PoasterBoard.com is a geo-fenced directory and marketplace that allows your small business to Poast deals that YOU control – offers exclusively targeted to your most valuable customers. We’re talking about the locals with a vested interest in your success. Indeed, mere proximity means the barrier to repeat purchase (a key hurdle) is lowest among people in your neighborhood.

No More Gouging!

Marketing on PoasterBoard also saves you a lot of money. As an individual business, you’ll pay nothing for your permanent StoreFront on PoasterBoard.com. Instead, we’re supported by a fixed [low] monthly subscription fee paid by your local indie business alliance.

Plus PoasterBoard never takes commission from your Poasted offers. In other words, you keep 100% of every sale you make using PoasterBoard.com.

A Great Deal Hits You Where You Live

At the end of the day, local customers are not only your most reliable repeat revenue, they’re also the most effective influencers of other locals (and of non-locals). 

For someone like you – who is even more committed to your location than your best customers are – maybe PoasterBoard is finally the deal you can live with.

Stand Together or Fall Apart

STAND TOGETHER OR FALL APART

As local business communities compete with online commerce and national chains, it’s time to explore what “alliance,” or joining this battle as part of a group, really means.

When local businesses unite as Associations or Chambers of Commerce, the core idea is to “float all boats with a rising tide.” As your experience with any such alliance begins, it may seem like a heady rush toward the unknown. You come alive with a vague fervor for getting the stuff done that needs doing. It feels like capitalism is getting closer to godliness.

Selfishness Is Natural. So Is Constipation.

But after you’re all in and the honeymoon fades, there’s inevitably some “what’s in it for me?” stinking up the place.  And whatever collaborative ideas or innovations arise to answer that question get chucked right back into your ME Pile:

     “Uh, this wouldn’t work very well for ME!”

     or

    “This would be great for ME!”

In either case, local business owners who hover over their ME piles too closely don’t grasp the power of an authentic alliance and usually fail to feed its engine.

Indeed, it’s frequently the more successful independents who disregard other local shops, restaurants and service providers to their peril. For any commercial corridor, critical mass is a key driver of the awareness and traffic that sustains it.  And an influencer business stands to lose the most should its host community falter.

As a concept, alliance demands we look at the bigger picture of us – like one of those antique, panoramic photos of a giant graduating class. You may be the kid who scored all the touchdowns (middle row, seventy-third from the left). But what makes the photo stand out for most people is that sea of satisfied smiles, every face beaming just as brightly as yours.

A Real Sharing Economy

Alliance can drive growth for everyone, but for the individual it requires skin in the game.  What does that look like? Well, it can mean handing out flyers in your hip vintage clothing store to promote Live Music Thursdays at the corner pub. And maybe the corner pub hosts a quarterly fashion show for your shop, even throwing in a drink special.

In fact, striving for growth collectively isn’t about Group Think as much as it’s about Group Act. The idea is central to how and why PoasterBoard.com works.

Putting Social TO WORK

Our powerful Poaster tool (what we call our “built-in megaphone”) permits PoasterBoard “owners” (i.e. alliance leaders) to quickly design and disseminate “Sharables.” 

Driving a New Kind of “Foot Traffic”

From provocative Shop Local messages to promotional offers and event news, Sharables exist so that alliance members can broadcast them regularly to their own social networks. Every time you share one, you’re adding to a snowball effect and building awareness of what’s on offer.  When shoppers follow a link to your community PoasterBoard, for example, they can browse every local business on there, even if they were lured initially by yours

The Uncommon Common Good

PoasterBoard’s overall goal is to help urban neighborhoods, suburban villages and small town Main Streets as they pursue sustained success at the local level. Alliance is all about cumulative impact. Perhaps the idea was captured most memorably by late Senator Paul Wellstone: “We all do better when we all do better.”

Relax, This Isn’t Socialism

Your business will always be your special, precious baby.  And that’s as it should be. But alliances are helping small business communities succeed across the country. If myopic attention to your own priorities isn’t meeting all of your goals, it’s time to re-imagine yourself as part of an ecosystem. Not all of the growing will happen to you, of course, but as part of any healthy alliance, that’s sort of the point.

Hustle Porn Is a Cultural Menace

Hustle Porn: a Cultural Menace?

On social media lately, I’ve noticed more and more friends posting litanies of their daily accomplishments. The practice – known as “Hustle Porn”- is supposed to leave our minds boggled over the sheer breadth of chores one person fits into his or her 24 hours.

But don’t mistake these lists as pleas for sympathy! We aren’t allowed to question the wisdom of losing so much sleep or eating so irregularly or neglecting one’s personal life in service of vague ambition.

No, we usually indulge these posts with a “way to go!” left among the comments. After all, it’s just another enviable diary blurb by somebody doing it all and having it all, right?

I won’t muse on the impossible paradox of “doing it all” while “having it all.” But I do worry about the independent business owners who perpetuate this phenomenon while seeming to internalize its deadliest implication: the more I do, the more I am.

Do What You Do Best. Find Help for the Rest.

Consider that there are three large buckets of responsibility (or “to dos”) shared by nearly every small business: 1) Product/Customer Service, 2) Inventory/Accounting and 3) Marketing/Promotions.

You are not an expert in all three.

NO, you’re not. And amid the maelstrom of different demands you address each week, doing it all means you’re doing some of it poorly. There’s the obvious (and sad) hazard to your home life, of course, but there are also real dangers to your business.

Maybe that Grass Is Greener ‘Cause It’s Full of Crap

It’s important to breathe – and stop measuring yourself against all the other dicks or boobs in the locker room. Just maybe you’re not a titan of industry because your world needs you to be something else.

Small businesses remain the backbone of our middle class because they deliver sustainable support for families. Local independent ventures are attainable opportunities to learn, grow and live as part of a healthy community. 

Is it in society’s best interest for everyone who opens a shop on Main Street to expect a feature in Forbes if they just put in the work? Of course not. So look up and smile more often. Pay more attention to people than to numbers. And when the sh#t hits the fan some times, try to laugh (because that sh#t can be funny). Pay your bills, lock the door and go home on time as often as possible. But most importantly, and this is the kicker, look for ways to make things easier on yourself. 

Because harder only looks good in a Facebook post.