I saw a Social Media post this week appealing to the local masses to ‘shop local’. It was an act of encouragement to remind anyone that was reading (it was a Community Group) about good honest shop keepers and that buying on the doorstep would help to protect the stores and services for future generations.
Having worked in retail most of my life the timing of the sentiment is not surprising. The Christmas rush is over therefore customers tend to tighten their belts after over indulging waist and wallet.
January is historically a time when shops that didn’t make the cut with their Peak season offering tend to go to the wall. Toys R Us are the high profile (nearly) casualty but closer to home many shops will bring the curtain down after poor trading.
This is a fact of retail life. You have to Beat the Competition. Simple as that.
My reason for writing this post was to address the call to arms to shop local on Facebook.
I am all for supporting the Small Business Owner (obviously I am a new one myself), but I think there should be some terms and conditions attached to that.
Firstly, I won’t support local if the product supplied is inferior in some way to what I can get elsewhere. That just doesn’t make sense and we certainly shouldn’t be encouraging customers to accept that.
Case in point my wife and I religiously use a family butcher reasonably close to where we live. The meat supplied is superb, top quality. Why would we need to go anywhere else or to the supermarket when the butcher has consistently supplied such brilliant produce year after year?
No coincidence that the shop is always busy and shows no sign of falling on hard times just yet. In fact, it is going from strength to strength. No website, social media promotions, discounts or specials. Just Simple Quality.
Second case study is a local café only recently opened close to where we live. What a treat! We go there for breakfast and the coffee is hot and the food is simplistic and well presented. Very nice but hardly world beating. The décor is nicely done and feels modern and fresh.
The difference is you would be hard pushed to find a more driven, passionate, happy, fun and engaging host. The staff working around her are motivated and smiley and really care that you are having a good time. Special requests? No problem. Cold sat on the outside chairs? Let me hand you a blanket. The place is tiny, customers are squeezed in tightly as everybody clamours for a seat. The place is buzzing. The most interesting part is sipping coffee watching the bell toll for the surrounding coffee shops. Same product, same price, minus the sparkle.
Every week I will happily pay a little more to relax with my family around this brilliant business because I know they mean it. They are working as if their business depends on it in every single interaction; and it does. I fully expect to fail in my venture unless every minute I live and breathe customer service on a world class level.
That doesn’t mean cutting prices, discounts or flash sales. It doesn’t mean feeling entitled to customers just because you happen to turn the keys in the door nine until five. It means listening, understanding and acting on your customers deepest problems, needs or requirements. It means being there for them when things go wrong. It means welcoming the customer like royalty, remembering them and working tirelessly to create a customer for life.
As a shop keeper or service provider you can’t beat the internet or the big players on price. It’s impossible. I’ve purposefully left price as a footnote because as long as your product is reasonably priced it won’t be the deciding factor of success or failure. Let those sales go – that wasn’t your customer this time.
But be prepared to be new, fresh, engaging, unique and special in the only way that you can be and give the best customer service ever; because your business depends on it. Can I deliver this? I hope so and I’m prepared to try. I know what it looks like.
I’ll keep asking my customers through testimonials and reviews if I’m doing the right things and what they’d like to see me improve. They have all the answers to make my product great.
If you are a customer I hope you may give your Community alternative a go the next time you are out and about shopping. But - demand excellence, personalisation, service or an X-factor that you just can’t get from the mass market. Take a look how many businesses really deserve a piece of your hard-earned cash. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Then please take a moment to review them and tell others what a great job they are doing.
That’s how to beat the big boys and return our customers to our local shops and services.