Cider, Plaid and Small Biz
or how to stand up to a 50 ft. wave
We love to think we change things with a tweet.
But we don’t.
The effort that small business advocates -me included- do to help shift preferences and bring people into small businesses as opposed to Amazon and the local Big Box is commendable, but quaint at most.
The response to Black Friday, when festive, kind hearted people put the Ultimate Fighting vilest fighters to shame while attempting to seize the last 100-inch smart TV from their neighbor, is “Plaid Friday”.
Small Business Saturday is, who knew, the day after Black Friday, when folks are encouraged to flood main streets and downtowns in search of the perfect gift bought from a local artisan, maker, merchant or purveyor of fine dry goods.
I’m afraid to ask but I’m guessing Plaid Friday refers to how community is a fabric and diversity of threads creates a plaid-like pattern. So if we support small businesses we will contribute to the tartan of the human clan or something like that.
Cider Monday is, of course, the response to Cyber Monday. Shoppers are reminded that roaming local streets and patronizing local shops, which may or may not offer a warm cup of cider, is a better alternative than getting your things on Next-day Prime on your doorstep.
We are operating on the desire that the moral case for supporting small businesses is enough to shift the preference of millions of shoppers who make the decision of where to shop based mostly on cost benefit.
We almost try to shame shoppers into spending more to get their stuff on the pretense that their purchase will put food on the table of an honest, hard working, small business owning family.
That is usually not the case. One purchase or one day of purchases will not change the fate of a doomed small business. Making their existence less burdensome from the government side could help much more. But that’s a more difficult conversation that few are willing to have.
I did, almost a year back, and to this day I try to tell Storefront Mastery clients that their survival is based on their willingness to become unique and add more value, and not on whether the government steps in to make Amazon and Walmart more expensive to shop from.
That, incidentally, would annihilate the slim chances that low income families have now to hedge against the cruelty of rising prices due to inflation.
The sum of preferences will determine whether a business lives or dies. The revenue of Blockbuster, Kmart, and also Amazon, in 2021 are the result of such preferences.
Changing those preferences with a marketing campaign may be more difficult than figuring out that the revenue of Kmart and Blockbuster in 2021 was a joke. It is $0 because they went out of business when they lost the preference of the people.
Can we do something? Of course. We can create value. Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy and riding on them it became the powerhouse that it still is.
Amazon and Walmart got big because of subsidies and gifts, but also because they provide value in a way not many small businesses can.
Yet we focus our attention on regulating the big players, and expecting that their burden will translate in shoppers flocking back to small businesses.
The bad news is they won’t. Those corporations have enough cash to ride any regulation and pass any cost on to new subsidies or to the consumer, and still beat small businesses on price and convenience.
Where they can’t compete is in experience. Personalized service, a warm cup of cider and value added in the form of community building and resilience are areas where online platforms simply cannot reach.
I recently gave a talk to the members of a state program for neighborhood rehabilitation. The attendees were mainly the local administrators of the program. The message I tried to send was that creating experiences in such a way that shoppers feel like performers in a show, making their hero’s journey through downtown could be enough of a motivation to visit, enjoy and shop all that the downtown has to offer.
Stop trying to compete with the giants who will overpower small business every single time. Stop relying on government to regulate them because they will always be able to afford bypassing regulations.
Start building up the health of your business, become unique and offer unique things. Look into your industry, supply chain and ecosystem. Stationery shops, for example, could provide in-store calligraphy services, teach artisanal paper making or papier maché workshops, run creative writing clinics, host poetry readings or open a bookbinding club.
Getting the components of the ecosystem together to add value is a great way to become unique and indispensable. Especially when the community starts building around the business and the place becomes a hub.
Another example is automotive services/auto parts shops, which are usually boring and bland. They could upgrade their spaces to host viewings of races, stage racing simulators, host mechanics classes and teach the basics of car purchasing or roadside safety. The can organize classic car rides and ultimately become a hub for beautiful classic car enthusiasts.
The common thread is to become hubs of their communities. These and many other ideas to create an epic store experience are detailed in The Ten No-B.S. Rules For Successful Storefront Design, which you can get with a 20% discount by entering the code “bookstore” on the link below.
Be the most colorful thread on the plaid. Patronize your small biz. Go drink that cider. But remember what the actual support they need looks like.