Why your town died and how shop local isn't going to bring it back

Marketing graphic

I'm a small business owner in a small town - more than likely a lot like yours - called Waroona, in Western Australia. I started my business in 2006 and at that time, very few businesses in regional Australia believed that a website was something worth having.

With that in mind, was it a stupid idea to start a website development business and base myself in this town?

I was under no illusions and 11 years on, I believe the lessons I have learnt could not only stop a small town from dying, but could help to revive and restore it.

Focus on the past

When I was a boy (I must be getting old because in my head I read that in a grandpa voice!) Waroona had a lot to offer - yet I'm told that years earlier the town was even bigger and busier still.

I remember having a shoe shop, drapery, post office, 2 banks, several mechanics/petrol stations, shops that sell groceries, hair dressers, clothes shops, sewing supplies, butchers, vegetables, flowers, news agency, hardware, white goods, and the list goes on.

The town was bustling from 9am on Monday through to 12pm on Saturday and everything you needed you could buy in town - some things you'd need to wait a few days to get delivered but that was ok.

Businesses did not have to "market" because everyone knew they were there and knew what they sold. There was no competition and if there were other businesses selling the same thing, it was only because the demand was greater than supply and they'd each have their loyal regulars.

The problem is that for established businesses who have never had to market or compete, it's foreign to them and requires a huge shift in focus, processes and worst of all, requires change...

For those businesses that did understand the need to market better, the cost of newspaper, radio and television advertising presented a huge physical barrier - a barrier too great for many businesses and the only viable solution became to close the doors.

The shops in your town - just like in Waroona - over time have not been able to compete and one by one, they started to close down.

In the past, people shopped local. In the present, they don't. This gives us two possible solutions:

1. Shop Local

The shop local campaign has gained a lot of traction and it should be noted that I don't disagree with it - I just don't believe it is the most effective solution.

Why? Because the idea requires changing the behaviours of people. Behaviours that exist for different reasons for different people. They may shop somewhere else because it's cheaper or it could be that they prefer the atmosphere. Perhaps they like the convenience, or they may just enjoy the drive.

There are countless reasons why someone would change their behaviour in the first place, and the campaign would need to solve each and every one of those reasons in order to truly be effective.

2. Market External

Business owners on the other hand have changed their behaviours too - they are now actively looking for ways to generate more business and to compete effectively. By teaching them to market not just to their own town but outside their town as well and giving them the tools to do so, we are not trying to change their behaviour but instead empowering these business owners to expand their target market, generate more revenue and bring people into their town.

What we then find is that local businesses start to appeal to the behaviours of people in other towns (who are looking for a change, something different) rather than trying to change their behaviours.

The really exciting thing about business in today's world is that digital marketing makes it extremely cost effective for businesses to reach their exact target audience down to their age, gender, location, interests and more.

What this means for your town...

When the businesses in your town start to focus their energy on marketing to other towns/cities, or even selling their products globally through their website:

  • They are able to compete with other businesses in their industry
  • They increase their own revenue which gives them the ability to grow
  • They bring people to your town
  • Your town starts to move forward, instead of backward

11 years on from opening the doors to my business, I have worked with over 300 clients in more than 40 industries and in several countries from around the world.

No matter what industry you are in, what products you sell or what services you provide, there are ways you can reach a much wider audience and help your town to flourish.