1/5/2011: Creating Meaning and Money on Main Street

The reverse panel at SVII’s 1st Wednesday January event turned out to be a great discussion about local and independant business among the business owners and innovators. The discussion focused on five tough questions. Read below for more.

• If communities in America where to lose their local businesses, what would be the impact on our national way-of-life?

• What kind of stores do you consistently patronize and why?

• What is the relationship between independent businesses and community vitality?

• What are the characteristics that make for an effective “meaning place” in a business environment?

• What would you like to see local independent business do to keep you as a customer that big box or Internet stores can’t? What kinds of products/services are best delivered by local businesses?

There is no doubt that local stores can bring lots of meaning to their customers as well as to the community. Local business plays a significant role in response to local needs and has a “hometown advantage” over big store chains. To use this advantage, local business owners need to build one-on-one relationships with their customers and get to know more than jus their buying preferences. They need to provide personal service, specialized products, convenience and benefits to customers which all add up to meaning. In addition, it’s important to learn how to manage the business professionally. Taking Café Zoe as an example, Kathleen Daly addressed the importance and difficulty of hiring the right people, with the right attitude to treating her customers well.

Steve Rasmussen shared stories about the letters he received from customers expressing appreciation for having the Milk Pail Market in their life. Clark Kepler described how he got community support and funding when his bookstore met difficulties. Local business certainly has stories to tell, but the way in which they tell them makes a big difference.

During the discussion, business owners were encouraged to embrace new technologies to level the playing field in their business. Free credit card readers that enable mobile devices to accept credit card payments were distributed courtesy of Square as an example of how easy it can be to utilize new humanizing and cash flow improving technology. The panel also touched a bit about using new media such as Facebook, Yelp, and mobile loyalty rewards programs.

Main street is in crisis right now, but SVII believes that there is a way for local business to increase customer loyalty and survive by more consciously providing meaning. The next step will be to ask questions about “how”? How to raise more business owners’ awareness of this? How to do it? What’s more, we believe that not only local business needs to think about meaning, but individuals and organizations in other industries need to be aware of providing meaning as well.

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