A couple of weeks ago we received some exciting news. The United States Patent and Trademark Office has official approved and registered our trademark for MicGrowPolitan® – a brand of economic development services created and tailored to the needs of the nation’s 551 official Micropolitan Statistical Areas. Learn more
Foreword: this blog post is the result of an excellent customer experience at the Bellaire Smokehouse, which we’re using in this blog as a prelude to highlighting some best practices that small communities (and their businesses) can deploy for economic development success in their downtown.
Our Bellaire Experience
This week we’ve been in Bellaire, MI on vacation. How did we pick Bellaire? Well, it happens to have a resort that accepts exchange points from a time share our family owns and it is conveniently located within a short drive of my wife’s best friend (and her family).
Bellaire has a population of roughly 1,000 and is located next to Lake Bellaire, but the village itself is not on the lakefront. The village’s Bridge Street is their “main street” and it features restaurants, bars and shops. On it’s face, (and without diving into the data on the community) we assume that two season tourism is a primary driver of the local economy (especially given its proximity to several resorts).
Not to take away from the great food and service we got anywhere else in Bellaire, but the most memorable customer experience came at the Bellaire Smokehouse as my family (5 of us) and our friends (4 of them) were browsing through the various shops in the village. They were familiar with the Smokehouse and suggested we go take a look and it was our full intent to drop in and just look around, especially since our 7 year old is an impatient shopper.
Not long after entering the Smokehouse, Karen (one of the owners) offered our 7 year old a fruit snack from a cookie jar or fruit snacks she had on the top of the counter. Not only did that simple gesture change his mood, but it took some pressure off of us and allowed us to more comfortably look around. And she let us try a couple of samples of smoked fish sausage. By the time we left the store both families had made purchases including a few extras for the kids (like honey sticks).
So why was this such a big deal? Because what Karen did as a small retailer was a perfect example of how local retailers in smaller communities are winning by creating both “emotional connections” and “unique experiences” for their customers.
Inc Article on Why Shopping Experiences Lure Customers
Read “Customer Service and the WOW Moment” in this ShopKeep blog
Shopify Blog: The Science of Free Samples (and how it can boost sales)
What Successful Communities & Business Are Doing
One of the biggest challenges for small and rural communities is the struggle to stay relevant and survive (let alone thrive), as they face the squeeze of online shopping, competition from nearby big box stores and, in many cases, declining populations.
For those retailers and communities that are successful, it usually comes down to things they are doing that the unsuccessful ones aren’t. The most common are:
- Selling More than Stuff. The retailers aren’t just selling products, they are developing emotional connections and selling customer experiences. Our experience at the Bellaire Smokehouse was awesome, but there are more examples of it. In one instance we saw a small clothing retailer located next door to a restaurant who would offer customers spending over a certain amount “lunch on them” via a small gift card. And for multiple customers visiting the store together (who spent a certain amount) they would let them know the store would be happy to reserve an after hours, by appointment time for them to come back to shop as a group and enjoy some food catered in from next door. Those experiences may sound like something out of a “Real Housewives of. . .” show, but this is happening in a small town of 8,000 in rural Iowa.
- Working Together. The retailers survive because of a “pack” mentality.The example we most often see is that multiple stores carry each other’s local products and they aren’t afraid to recommend that if you like “X” in our store, you may want to visit Store A to see what they have too. And even more important, if their a clothing retailer is located next to a popular coffee shop, they ARE NOT posting “No food or drink in store” on their entry. Why? Because if I have to shop with my wife without that latte in my hand . . . well, you get the gist.
- Activity Draws Interest. They create activity to draw in more activity. Being open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday doesn’t work for small retailers in small communities. Unless you have heavy traffic from tourists, you’re not open when those who have money can spend it with you.When downtown businesses in small communities stay open nights and weekends, and their communities support them with outdoor spaces and even activities (like live music, extra large sidewalk jenga, etc.) the combined efforts draw large crowds of people into common places, resulting in increased spending. For more ideas, we suggest checking out the Downtown Destination Association (Roger Brooks), who encourages communities wanting vibrant downtowns to have over 250 events per year.
- An Identity & Pride. They have an identity as well as community pride. In Bellaire, I was impressed with how even their police cars reflect community spirit by displaying the school’s “Eagles” logo. Communities that are winning demonstrate their local pride through public art, well maintained public spaces, and investments that support their identity. Communities that are losing out are those that have identities or slogans that do not match their appearance. There would be nothing worse than to be City X with a slogan, “A place you’ll love” that has broken sidewalks, overgrown parks and dilapidated buildings. As the saying goes, if you can’t love yourself, you can’t expect anyone to love you! And one final thought, whatever you do, absolutely do not make your slogan a “great place to live, work and play” as it’s overused, unspecific and the topic of this blog post.
Want to learn more about how we help small communities thrive? Visit this page
For the last two decades I’ve worked around the country with companies, organizations and communities, seeing all forms of strategic planning in many phases of its development and implementation. I’ve also seen strategic plans get more and more complex and take longer and longer to create.
The length and complexity of these plans stems from a desire to want more information to guide strategic decisions as well as to want to analyze information better and more thoroughly than your competition (a subjective assumption).
Yet as more information is available and analyzed, far too many of these strategic plans appear (and are) lifeless, impractical and wasted. But why?
Knowing & Doing Aren’t the Same
As a dad of three I’m often reminding my kids to do things, which means I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “I know” to which I’ve quipped “Knowing and doing are two different things.”
Before I even finish there is a part of me that winces at having said such a ‘dad-like-thing’ but the truth is my response is less a reflection of being a dad and more a reflection of being a consultant in today’s world. Like my kids, most people fundamentally know what to do, but they are often distracted from taking action either by the immediacy of something else that’s grabbed their attention or they are waiting for more information.
Albert Einstein is attributed to having said, “Information is not knowledge.”
And this problem is only getting worse as the daily bombardment of information through every device and from every screen raises our expectation that a little more information won’t hurt and will actually make it easier to take action. It’s an assumption that the next piece of information may be so much better than what we have, we must wait.
Thus this access to so much information that is so frequently refreshing (updating, revising) is now treated as a source of knowledge, creating an illusion that with knowledge of the next piece of information we can somehow take more decisive and successful action.
Knowledge is More than Information
Unfortunately knowledge is more than mere abundance and availability of information. Knowledge involves experience (good and bad), ranking (how we measure and weigh information), instincts/intuition, imagination and other processes that are functions of taking action (a/k/a doing). Thus, the result of seeking more and more information because it is (or may be) available too often leads to the same problem of inaction that plagues my kids – distraction and postponement.
This is not to say that data and information can’t be valuable to a decision, but the expectation that more data and information will always lead to an even better decision has a limit.
3 Tips for Action
Here are three tips to encourage action:
- Do limit the analysis of data and information to that which is most relevant to your goals and objectives. Don’t rely on data that is too historic or unverifiable.
- Create a plan that guides your strategic decisions and actions for the next 3-5 years. Don’t create a plan for purposes of creating a plan.
- Assume that your plan will need to be adjusted as new information is available or markets change. Don’t fall into the trap of creating an entirely new plan every time something changes.
Our company believes that micropolitans have tremendous growth opportunities ahead, which is why we’ve focused our economic development services on their needs.
The benefit to participating micropolitans is two-fold:
- You’ll get a report with aggregate survey results, which can help you better benchmark your community against your peers in future strategic planning.
- You have the ability to submit available buildings and sites to us through the survey. That information will be kept on file and when we’re working with our private sector clients your micropolitan will get considered if it meets the project parameters.
Our guess is you’ve probably traveled through one of the nation’s 551 micropolitan statistical areas recently.
In fact, on a recent drive between our Everett, WA headquarters and our Burlington, IA satellite office, we found that there are 18 micropolitans along the way:
I-90 to I-35 to US-34
Moses Lake, WA
Albert Lea, MN
Mason City, IA