A new delicatessen opened on a deteriorating Main Street in a south New Jersey town as part of the renaissance of the once-popular downtown area. There were a number of competing establishments at a nearby mall, so a unique differentiator was added to the business — a theatrical performance space featuring productions geared toward senior citizens, many of whom live next door in senior housing. And, perhaps to attract more of the cash-strapped local residents, the deli participates in town-wide promotions, such as the “$8 lunch special.”
A family-owned insurance business in southern Vermont seems to have been able to compete with large national competitors by building on the long-standing reputation of trustworthiness, creative solutions and good corporate citizenship established by earlier generations of the family. Many business owners and families in the area entrust all of their insurance needs – home, auto, business and employee benefits – to the small company, perhaps due to a community value system that espouses “staying local” and “one-stop shopping.”
These are good examples of new and growing small companies developing their business models to meet the needs of their communities. The following are less successful examples (please note that these are hypothetical, building on some real-world scenarios that the SBOC community has observed):
Perhaps seeking to capitalize on the large number of young affluent families in the area, a high-end maternity store and an expensive toy store opened in a town in Bergen County, New Jersey. The maternity and toy store may have failed because they missed some of the town’s key values. While many women in town could probably afford a pricey silk maternity top, the trendy, urban clothing was not in synch with the conservative apparel worn by most women in this community. Also, while many upper and middle-class moms may be willing to pay a premium for the convenience of shopping for birthday gifts in town, the disorganized, chaotic feel of this particular toy store may have driven them to the mall instead.
A new, hip sushi restaurant joined the cadre of historic and nautically themed stores and cafes in a harbor town in Long Island, New York. The rationale seemed to be that the families and fishermen who enjoyed seafood at the local eateries would easily segue to upscale sushi-grade fish. Unfortunately, the dress code barring shorts and flip-flops did not match the town’s culture, and the restaurant closed in less than a year.
If you are an entrepreneur considering launching a new small business, or expanding your existing business into new markets, you should keep in mind the following to help ensure that your business fits the needs and preferences of your community:
- Take time to study the types of businesses that have succeeded and failed in your immediate and surrounding communities
- Ask for feedback from your local chamber of commerce, town government and successful local businesspeople on your proposed small business
- Analyze your community’s value system and be sure your business plan aligns with these values(i.e. if there’s a strong focus on the environment, make sure your business is “green”)
- Look for a business niche that fits with your community’s predominant lifestyle and socio-economic status
- Establish and reinforce your reputation as a generous and responsible community citizen by sponsoring local events, donating to local charities and becoming a visible presence in overall community enrichment
- In addition to social networking and digital marketing, remember that your local newspapers can be effective channels for promoting your business
- Use local suppliers and vendors whenever possible
- If you merge with or acquire another small business that has a strong local reputation, consider incorporating the business name into the new name
Whatever type of business you’re opening, you should keep the needs and values of your local community in mind. After all, your relationship with your community is a two-way street.
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