I’ve started up a retail business in a regional town. How can I build a rapport with the local community?
I believe you can really make a difference by having your business in a regional town. I should know – we have six bakeries in regional Victoria.
I have to admit, I’m a country boy. Every business I have owned over the last 39 years has been in the country.
Over the years I’ve sold businesses to people who came from a big city-based business, and often they have had trouble fitting into the community.
Firstly, you need to be humble: Don’t be a know-it-all, even if you do. Just come in quietly and meet as many locals as possible.
Pick the place where you’re most comfortable doing that, be it a football club, bowls club or church group.
If you have kids, that will help you fit in real quick. Every school group – especially in regional Australia – is looking for help in one way or another.
The trouble is, all of this takes time. When you’re just starting up a business, time is one thing you don’t have much of.
I suggest you prioritise but also schedule time each week to get involved in the local community somehow.
Be a listener: country people are different than city folks. One thing we have always done at our bakeries is use local tradespeople – plumbers, electricians, etc.
Join the Chamber of Commerce or Progress Association and get involved. But start low-key, otherwise you’ll end up on every committee!
Don’t be faceless: show people you’re involved. Get out there and build relationships with your customers. Understand their needs and the community’s needs.
The more you give, the more you’ll get. However, be disciplined with the sponsorships and donations you provide. Set a budget and stick to it.
You have to sell yourself before you can sell your products, so be the genuine article.
One little thing you can do is wear your name badge at all times. It helps the locals get to know you.
Smile: this shows people that you’re happy to be part of the community. And if you see someone without a smile, give them one.
Be optimistic about everything: people like to be around positivity. Country people can get a bit doom and gloom, and it doesn’t help anyone.
Show an interest in your customer’s life: learn their names and use them. Often big stores don’t take the interest. You’ve got to listen and listen, and listen some more.
Your role is to provide solutions, not sell products. Always be honest with the customer, even if it means losing a sale. Customers come where they’re invited and stay where they’re appreciated.
Make sure their visit is fun, exciting and easy. Base your business on having friendships with the people who come in. The opportunities are there for small businesses by offering that superior service.
With technology taking over our lives, make yours a person-to-person encounter. Operate the business from the shop floor, not from behind your desk.