Growing Markets: Tapping Your Community’s Market Potential
For businesses in small towns, one key to success is a loyal customer base within your community. If members of your community support your business, you’ll be better able to withstand any unforeseen hurdles or economic downturns along the way.
But how do you build your customer base within your community? Keep reading to find out.
We cannot emphasize enough how important it is to involve members of your community in your business. Community involvement builds loyalty and ensures that customers make a conscious choice to buy from you and not the big-box store down the road.
While small businesses can be passively involved the community by sponsoring sports teams or a float in the local parade, active community involvement will help your customers feel like an important part of the success of your business.
- ASK! - Are your hours convenient? Do you stock the items your customers want? Is your store too cold or dark? There may be easy, low-cost ways to make your customers happy and your business more attractive, but you have to ask them.
- Smile - A friendly, helpful business owner that knows her customers builds a base faster than one who stays in her office and doesn’t interact.
- Welcome criticism! - Offer an easy, friendly and non-confrontational way for people to offer suggestions. Then act on the suggestions to make your business better.
- Add value - Small businesses can offer the personal service and knowledge that big box stores lack. If you can’t compete on price, compete on customer service or something else your customers will value.
- Cooperation - When 17-year-old Nick reopened a grocery store in Truman, MN, members of his community volunteered to stock shelves. While not appropriate for all businesses, a business model that includes asking for occasional help will make your customers feel important and needed.
- Communicate with your customers - Surveys, news flyers or other communication help people feel involved. Use them to check the pulse of your customers.
- Community financing - Selling shares in your business to finance an expansion that serves the community will turn your customers into investors, increasing their loyalty.
- Community meeting space - Dedicate a portion of your business space to community meetings or social space. Host events and actively encourage people to use the space.
- Discounts for good grades - Contact local school principals to offer incentives or rewards to students who achieve high grades.
Buy Fresh Buy Local campaigns
Buy Fresh Buy Local is a nationally recognized brand with chapters across the U.S. These campaigns are connecting consumers in communities throughout the country to locally grown and locally produced foods. Through outreach events, local food guides, and educational materials, Buy Fresh, Buy Local makes it easy for consumers to find and connect with local food from farmers they can know and trust.
One way this campaign works is by having a national group coordinating local chapters. If you’re a food producer looking to tap local markets, click here to see if there’s a Buy Fresh Buy Local chapter near you. If not, consider starting one.
Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE)
The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) is a growing network of socially responsible businesses whose purpose is to show that independent, locally-owned businesses can go beyond traditional measures of success. From their Web site:
We're proving that these businesses are accountable to stakeholders and the environment. We're helping these businesses flourish in their local economies. And we're leveraging the power of local networks to build a web of economies that are community-based, green, and fair - local living economies.
There are BALLE networks in 30 states in the US and Canada, and they represent 22,000 locally owned businesses focused on sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, green building, local zero-waste manufacturing, and community capital.
BALLE encourages communities to think locally, and provides ideas and resources to make it happen in your community.
Know Your Farmer Know Your Food
A strong trend among consumers is a desire to know where their food comes from. The US Department of Agriculture and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan create new economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers. It is also the start of a national conversation about the importance of understanding where your food comes from. To shorten the distance between the average American and their farmer, USDA is marshalling resources to help create the link between local production and local consumption.
Their website includes the following sections:
- Support Local Farmers
- Strengthen Rural Communities
- Promote Healthy Eating
- Protect Natural Resources
- Grants, Loans and Support
Local Foods Programs
There are some government programs to help build markets for local foods.
- Farmers Market Promotion Program helps anyone who sells food directly to consumers
- Farmers Market Nutrition Program helps low-income moms and elderly buy fresh produce from local growers
- Value Added Producer Grant helps producers add value to agricultural products either by processing or by using specific agricultural techniques (i.e. grass-fed livestock)
- Good tips on marketing locally
- Buy Fresh Buy Local
- Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE) - A resource for folks looking to market locally
- Know your Farmer, Know Your Food - USDA’s website on connecting farmers to consumers
- Find a Buy Local organization near you
- Food and Farming
- Buy Local Day
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