"I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite." - G.K. Chesterton
One would be hard-pressed to have not heard about the doom and gloom known as the 2017 retail apocalypse. The news was full of store and chain closings and bankruptcies across the country. Yes, the economic conditions of many local and national communities and retail sectors struggled. But in all that economic pain and suffering, those in tune can find ample opportunity for local businesses willing to invest time, energy, innovation and resources to buck the negative trends many communities and retail sectors face.
It is true that shoppers are moving away from many of the national chains and the sameness that engulfs most retail to the convenience of online shopping. After all, if you go into retail location after retail location and nothing is different, why bother? You can find that same boring sea of sameness, along with a vast array of options online, saving gas and time along the way.
In a world full of sameness in nearly every facet of life, most tend to crave new and unique experiences. We are seeking ways to add uniqueness to our lives full of routine and status quo. Businesses that understand that inherent consumer desire stand a far greater chance of success in this new and unforgiving retail climate. Communities that embrace this understanding, making it easier for businesses to innovate and meet these new demands, are far more likely to thrive. I would go as far as to say, the hyper-local retail establishments have the upper hand; winning this retail is theirs for the taking - or losing.
Communities that continue to court big boxes and chains have already lost. They may not realize it, but they are dead men walking. To quote Becky McCray in her piece titled "The Future of Retail": "To find future retail successes, local officials will have to flip their ideas of economy of scale. Rather than betting big on individual chains and a few major construction projects, today's leaders will find the successful economy of scale by bringing together dozens of tiny retail experiments by local people."
Local business owners can also contribute to this movement and success. They must concentrate on providing over-the-top customer service, as well as finding ways to provide unique customer experiences and interactions that fit their retail or dining model. Being local isn't an excuse to ignore the technology available; in fact, embracing the digital age in unique ways is a must. A great example is the ability to accept orders via messaging, text message or email. This is a must in today's climate and digital age. Use the same digital tools that are your competitor's to your advantage.
Local businesses must work together as well. They must work together to market themselves as a group. Long gone are the days when a business can effectively market on their own. They must work together to spread their message far and wide. Those that don't market are destined to die; it is only a matter of time.
Lastly, communities must focus on their downtowns, which was the heart and soul in years gone by and must be again to stem the oncoming economic challenges that will only intensify.
The road to success can be robust and profitable for both businesses and communities. But it isn't a road that is easily traveled. In fact, the road will be littered with failed or half-hearted efforts by those failing to grasp the realities of the new world in which we live. It will be littered by those that insist upon traditional approaches to business and government: those that are slow, those that are traditional, those that are overly cautious and the list goes on. Don't let your community continue down the road of sameness. Stand up and insist on a unique community that attracts consumers thirsting for new experiences.
John A. Newby, a former newspaper publisher, is the founder and CEO of Uniquely USA. He lives in Muskogee and is dedicated to helping local communities keep their consumer dollars local.