Small Towns and 'Shop Local' DO matter by Annette Tait

                    Yes, Virginia- Small towns and 'Shop Local' DO matter.

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Yesterday I was part of  "Hometown Holiday Happenings" in a nearby town-the first in decades. This event was combined with a Shop Small/ Shop Local campaign. It was my pleasure to volunteer my time and have some input on fun ideas. 

    While we were waiting for the lighted parade to start, a couple ladies were talking about how this town initiated a Shop Small campaign for that Saturday- One lady, a long time resident, said "Small towns shouldn't even participate in  Shop Small Saturday. It's  a waste of everybody's time and effort"

                           (This is where I may have gotten a little animated!) 

WHAT???? How can it be a waste of time and effort???? 

After spending many years championing small and rural communities, creatively  brain-storming with them to discover all they do have, and working with small businesses, I get a little excited about the subject.... But ~let's get back on track~

The nice lady honestly felt that most people did nearly all their holiday shopping, big purchases and specialty shopping in the big city 40 miles up the road.  So what did it matter??

Well- it does matter! Small towns and the businesses with-in depend on locals shopping there. Small businesses give more of their time and money to local causes and events than any major corporation ever will. ( local businesses donate an average of 10+% to local causes vs the 2% of major companies- it just looks like more because the initial number is so high, but when compared to their incomes, it is nothing compared to what small businesses give)  Think about what would happen if those local businesses you count on to be supporters of ball teams, food banks and 4-H suddenly quit giving. 

McClusky, ND  Rexall   pop 375

McClusky, ND  Rexall   pop 375

Events like Small Business Saturday, Shop Local, Hometown Pride, 50/3 and so on, help keep local businesses in the forefront.  When we don't shop our local stores, they in turn have less revenue and will need to raise prices on what they do sell to make ends meet. They will also have to lay off employees if they have them, and that too means less money flowing in town. Those employees get paid and spend part of their hard earned in town- at the cafe, the market, the gas station, hardware store, movie theater, etc. When those folks that were let go have to leave town for work, they will spend their money in the town they found work in. NOT in your town. 

Did you have any idea how many small business owners will work extra hours themselves 'for free' to make sure there is enough money to pay their one employee?? 

When we don't support our local stores, they close.  Empty buildings are harder to sell/rent. Empty buildings lead to lower property values and a depressed Main Street, which screams very loudly

                               "DON'T DO BUSINESS HERE! NO ONE WILL SUPPORT YOU"

If small businesses didn't participate in events that highlighted them, would you remember they are there? Do you know-I mean really know, what all your town has for retail and service based businesses? Do you ask around for who has what and where before you head 'to the city'? 

Don't get me wrong, there's no law against shopping outside of your own town. I know that very few, if any, communities will every single thing you want. But try to remember all your dollars provide for when they're spent locally. Read a more about that here: Stop & Shop Local

Think about it- Life changes on a dime ( we know!)- what IF you suddenly couldn't just jump in your car and go 'to town'? Would that change how you feel about what you do have? 

Harvey ND  pop 1700

Harvey ND  pop 1700

Shopping local may mean your own town, your own neighborhood if you live the city - I grew up in a  city where every neighborhood had it's own shops as well as the big malls further out- or own circle of towns. It may mean that when you are traveling you choose the local Rexall on Main Street for sunscreen over the BigBox up on the highway. 

Small businesses and small towns should participate in events that champion them. Not only is it a chance to showcase all they do have, and maybe attract some new business to boot, it also builds community- people are out and about. Talking. To each other.

When people talk, community happens.

So yes Virginia, Small towns and Shop Local DO matter.

-Kate-

 

 

Walkability and Small Towns by Annette Tait

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One of the 'new'  buzzwords is "Walkability". 

What does that mean exactly? Basically it means the ease of getting around on foot, or how pedestrian friendly is your town.  There is a nifty site you can use to determine your own towns score-  Walkscore   The scoring is 0-100. 

Remember back when - when folks walked to the market? Or to the pool? Or the DQ?? That was 'walkable'   Entire neighborhoods and towns were designed so families could walk from one end to the other. We have gotten away from that as a norm, but it's making a comeback! 

I just used Walkscore to determine the walk-ability of the five closest towns to us. (we're within 25 miles of all)  The results were 39, 21, 0,  27, 38 and 0. Those are all on the low end. 

I was thinking about this today when we were discussing our mythological retirement. (Do ranchers really retire?)  I now understand why so many retirees want to head South- Walk-able neighborhoods and ease of use. 

Two of our nearby towns are, in my opinion, more walk-able than their scores suggest. However, I know that isn't the norm in rural communities. For many, the reality is that the folks who live there need to be mobile- meaning they need to drive or get rides for everyday tasks like groceries or going to the doctor. 

Which leads to more questions.... Are these communities using walk-ability as a means of attracting new families or retirees? Are they using it to retain the people they have? Are they creatively promoting their walk-ability? 

I know several are. Yes, it's still many miles 'to town', but Washburn, ND is doing a good job promoting how quickly you can walk downtown from anywhere, or right to the river.  

WHY is walk-ability important? Walk-ability has many facets. Everything from health benefits to retention.  Having good walk-ability can mean that retiring 'outlyers' or city folk may want to move to your small town. That translates into more dollar tax dollars, tourism dollars, retail dollars and so on.

Good walk-ability is also healthful. We've become so health conscious as a nation and environmentally friendly - a walk-able town is a very marketable asset.  It is also great for recreation opportunities like nature walks, photo strolls, coffee shop walk...walk to the pop-up dog park.  The ideas are endless really. 

Walk-ability is a good marketing tool for retaining or finding  residents and attracting new employees or businesses. 

While many small towns do not have the amenities of the city, I do know we can raise our 'walk-able score'- Cheaply, easily and nearly free- We can start by highlighting fun or interesting  walking places like an architecture or garden walk, or start talking about how quickly we can walk (or bike) to the local pool/gym/baseball diamonds. We can showcase how easily people walk downtown (or up town) for fun events. Just by thinking creatively and TALKING about it... better yet- people could share their ideas on social media. 

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The best perk of Walk-ability? It builds community. We tend to stop and chat, or at the very least smile and wave as we hurry on our way.  When people talk- community happens. 

So, how walk-able is YOUR community? 

Take a stroll around your neighborhood or town and get inspired!

~Kate~ 

5 #ShopSmall tips for you by Annette Tait

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    The holidays and Shop Small Saturday are  right around the corner. SMS has been an amazing boost for many small businesses thanks to American Express.  (You can sign up for free customize-able marketing materials)   

   But "Shop Small" doesn't have to be a one day event. You can encourage people to visit your store or your community any and every day of the year.

These  five simple tips will get you on your way.

1)  Give locals and special customers a 'sneak peak' -  By having a sneak peak of new items, specialty goods, extra services- what ever it is, you build excitement and a feeling of exclusivity  for upcoming releases or events. 

2) Co-promote with other businesses or vendors.  Nearly any business can find a creative way to co-promote with another business.  For example- a local hotel could partner with a salon or spa to offer discounted services during their customers stay.  Co-pro's are an especially effective and affordable marketing for small towns. (Read more about Co-Pros)

3) Plan creative post holiday displays and events. Black Friday through Christmas does not have to be the only time you go all out. Celebrate anything you want. Need inspiration? The National Day Calendar has multiple "National Days" every single day of the year.  Creative displays help plant seeds subliminally- Most people remember what they see.  

4) Coupons! Put a coupon good for X or YZ in each bag good for a later date to encourage repeat shopping. It doesn't need to be anything extravagant- Everybody likes to save a little cash, and this gives them a reason to come back.

5)Have pre-wrapped gifts mixed into your display.  Make gift giving easy. Have some pre-wrapped items already to go mixed into your displays. It's value added because your customer does not need to go through the hassle of wrapping it themselves. Ideal for last second shopping or holidays like Valentines, Mothers Day, Christmas, Fathers Day etc.

-Katy-

 

The rise and fall of rural communities: Just one of many reasons how and why by Annette Tait

The rise and fall of rural communities: Just one of many reasons how and why 

A good friend recently forwarded this article to Katy: “The secret to keeping some rural businesses alive”  by Chris Farrell (Forbes)  with the note, ‘It sounds like you!’

After reading it, we decided it does sound much like things we talk about.  And we have a few more thoughts add on keeping small/rural businesses alive.

Picture this: Somebody wants to purchase Bob the Builder’s business. That somebody has ideas. New ideas. Fresh ideas. Ideas to bring in more sales consistently. Ideas that build on the existing business.

Wouldn't it be a pity for this vibrant main street to deteriorate because the community was resistant to change?

Wouldn't it be a pity for this vibrant main street to deteriorate because the community was resistant to change?

Now for the zinger (which, sad to say, we’ve witnessed first-hand more than once): The good town folks get wind of this and start vociferously voicing their opinions on said -- gasp! -- changes. Everything from “You CAN’T change thaaaaaat XYZ….” “It’s ALWAYS been like XYZ,” and “It will NEVER workif you change XYZ.”

How do “they” KNOW? Are they experts? Or are they simply resistant to change, because they’re comfortable with what they have?

By saying making these negative comments, they imply -- whether they mean to or not -- that they won’t support the new business. Not monetarily, and not in spirit.

That is daunting to say the least.

This scene has been played out many times in small and rural communities, as well as in big cities, usually with the same result. The buyer who was so excited to have a business in YOUR town backs out and takes their dreams somewhere else. If they don’t take them somewhere else, they simply give up.

Either way the community loses. 

The reality is that, especially in a small town, when that one buyer who came forward decides against the venture, odds are good that building -- which could have continued as a viable business and contributor to the community -- will instead become an empty shell.

The longer it stands empty, the greater likelihood the building will fall into disrepair, discouraging other potential buyers. Plus, other folks who may have considered starting or buying a business see the town won’t support change, and they decide to look elsewhere as well.

And poor Bob the Builder gets unconsciously guilted into delaying well-deserved retirement

So maybe your town doesn't need a zebra tamer. But would you have believed it could be done if you hadn't seen it first?

So maybe your town doesn't need a zebra tamer. But would you have believed it could be done if you hadn't seen it first?

 

But what if those changes had been embraced? What a completely different ending the story has.  Now, not only does Bob the Builder get to retire, but he is happy knowing his legacy is still alive.  The townfolks are excited to still have tools, and even have opportunities for hands-on “how to” sessions, a wider selection, and/or even a new line of hobby or other equipment and supplies.

Or maybe Bob’s building gets completely transformed into a new type of business the community never even knew it wanted until it was open? Maybe Bob’s becomes Zane the Zebra Tamer and offers all sorts of fun and fanciful items or activities. It could even bring people in from outside the area, and boost the economy.

By embracing change in our rural communities, we foster entrepreneurial spirit, grow the tax base, set an example for others, and attract new families. That’s just a partial list of positive things!

But most important of all, we build community.

 

 

The rural inquisition by Annette Tait

If you live rural, you know exactly what we mean. The “rural inquisition” is that friendly -- and sometimes not-so-friendly -- interrogation that occurs when someone new comes to town. But is it good or bad? Read on and find out!

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