This year, small businesses across the country faced changes in technology, regulation, competition and more. In some places, small businesses even weathered real storms, from wildfires to Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. As challenging as storm surges and market consolidation may seem, this year’s ups and downs created a series of important learning opportunities for local and independently owned businesses.
The Small Business Spirit Remains Intact.
When Amazon announced its purchase of Whole Foods in June, many small businesses wondered where Amazon’s talons would reach next. In a recent study by Advocates for Independent Business, 90 percent of small business owners reported that their businesses have suffered because of Amazon. Still, despite the grave challenges posed by Amazon and other competitors, small business morale has not diminished. For instance, the same study also revealed that two-thirds of small business owners believe their businesses can better respond to shifts in the marketplace than national chains. These confident small business owners point to their personalized service, commitment to the community and product expertise as important differentiators. As long as the small business spirit remains intact, the American dream remains alive.
Work Together to Weather the Storm.
Following Hurricane Irma’s destructive strike to the Sunshine State, the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, launched a coordinated effort to rebuild the city’s small businesses. Keep Saint Petersburg Local, the local chamber of commerce and St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman recognized Sept. 24 through Oct. 1 as Burg Buys Local Week. The idea served a simple, yet important purpose: to encourage residents to support the small businesses that would rebuild the community’s downtown district and local economy following Irma’s destruction. At a vital time for the community, the campaign showed that local officials and community groups play a necessary role in supporting small businesses.
Pay Attention to Policy.
Speaking of local officials, there’s much more to small business advocacy than hurricane clean-up. In August, the Austin Independent Business Alliance (AIBA) celebrated a preliminary win at the hands of the Austin City Council. The council voted unanimously to allocate revenue from the local hotel occupancy tax to promoting small businesses. The resolution would provide $500,000 for “local business marketing and programming.” The August vote validated months of work for AIBA members, who continue to campaign for local policies that reflects small business needs. The victory in Austin should encourage small business owners across the country to pay attention to the policy decisions happening in their own communities.
Give Customers an Experience.
Over the past year, it has become increasingly evident that consumers want to spend money on experiences. That’s especially true for millennials, now the largest consumer group in the country. According to data from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, millennials spend roughly the same amount of their budgets on food as generation Xers and baby boomers, but millennials concentrate more of that spending on restaurants, rather than grocery stores. Similarly, Charles Schwab reported this year that more millennials spend money on experiences like live music, sports and other events than their predecessors. For small businesses, this trend represents an opportunity to strategically relate to millennials, who may want to branch out from the same, old stores and businesses their parents have traditionally frequented.
Buying Local Isn’t Just for Consumers.
In May, Independent We Stand, the North American Retail Hardware Association and Civic Economics released the results of the “Home Sweet Home: Pros’ Edition” study. The study overwhelmingly showed that B2B purchases make just as important an impact on the local economy as consumer purchases. Specifically, purchasing home building supplies and products for commercial project from locally owned retailers keeps more than twice as much of that money in the local economy as identical purchases made at big-box chain stores. Additionally, if contractors shifted just 10 percent of their residential construction supply purchases from national chains to independent suppliers, hometowns around the nation would see an additional $1.5 billion in economic activity. With that data in mind, small business owners have an incentive to support both consumer and B2B customers.
As 2017 comes to a close, take a moment to reflect on what you and your small business team learned. Let those lessons guide your strategic plan for 2018. Although the new year is sure to come with its own set of challenges and storms, small businesses prove year after year that their resiliency and adaptability can be put to the test.