As the daughter of immigrants and owners of independent businesses in and around Detroit, I have a soft spot for what it’s like to run a place. My father ran a tool & die shop. My grandparents ran a diner. My job at my dad’s place was to accompany him in the early summer mornings and clean tools. My job at my grandmother’s diner was to peel potatoes. That’s it. I was only allowed to peel potatoes. As an adult I learned the particular risks my father took to start the business. It took a work ethic that I hope was passed on to me--even at a minimum.
Through my corporate career, both on the consulting side and the working-for-someone-else side, I’ve volunteered in my communities and traveled the country speaking to family run businesses about using social media and digital tools to build awareness for their storefronts. Seven months pregnant with my first child, I traveled to the state of Washington, speaking to a series of small businesses through the Main Streets program. I’ve also traveled to Dubai and Macedonia, speaking to international groups looking to use social tools to sell more things to more people.
Needless to say, I love using technology and online tools to bring people together in real life--whether it’s to say hello or buy something.
In the last few a years, I’ve watched independent businesses in Oak Park deal with a series of changes that are affecting the way their businesses function. Time and time again, I hear stories of independent shops on the verge of closing. Payroll can’t be made. Insurance can’t be secured. Taxes are too high. The list is endless. Meanwhile, there are no margins for additional marketing or advertising. For some businesses, marketing was never considered.
Meanwhile, well-known chains and businesses are either opening in Oak Park or in the process of being built and discussed. Some small businesses supporters are up in arms on this latest Oak Park change and want to do everything possible to stop the trend.
It seems that one important element is being missed here--the market. The shopper. The consumer. As more chains come into Oak Park, I see more citizens jumping for JOY for the opportunity to frequent places they know, miss or would like to go to more often. And there’s nothing wrong with their excitement. The market determines success. The market determines what people want to buy, how they buy and how often they walk to any establishment.
The other night, I went to new Cooper’s Hawk Oak Park location with my husband. For a Tuesday night, it was busy. We could not stop looking at our fellow wine drinkers to notice that the evening out was an occasion for many. Cocktail dresses, date nights and the like surrounded us. Why? Because many of these people most likely already KNEW about Cooper’s Hawk before they opened their doors in Oak Park. They knew what to expect. They were happy to travel a short distance to a familiar place they enjoyed for a myriad of reasons. This is very important.
This means that Cooper’s Hawk spent time, money, sweat equity and various marketing ideas to build brand awareness and keep the consumer engaged. Yes, budgets are a big deal and the larger the entity, the larger the budgets. But how can small businesses learn from this?
Opening a storefront and selling widgets is one thing - especially if it is your life’s passion. But do people in the area really want that widget? Has the research been done? If the research has been done, what mechanisms will you put in place to reach out to NEW people while retaining the same consumer base - some of which may come back out of guilt (I hear this a lot).
There is no right answer of the “one” thing that small businesses must do, but I do know this: it must be done constantly. Daily. From Facebook posts to Instagram searches to in-store events to paying for Facebook ads (yes, paying for ads) to looking up local influencers on Twitter - all of it should be done. And more.
But that takes time.
This is why my husband and I started 68 Cents - a shopping program that rewards the consumer for shopping local more often, while providing another marketing channel to small businesses at Oak Park. An extension of this partnership includes helping local businesses with their social media efforts--at no additional cost. Reception from shoppers has been great. From a business standpoint, we are excited to see early adopters like Felony Frank’s on board with the idea. Soon, we hope to blanket Oak Park businesses with 68 Cents decals - letting shoppers know that they are part of the shopping program.
Small, independent businesses can co-exist alongside larger enterprises, but they need to incorporate new tactics to stay in the game.
Oak Park’s been known to be an innovative village -- a beacon for other municipalities to follow. We should continue to be that game changer.