This week, as I thought of the task of a community trying to revitalize itself, I was reminded of a rather humorous apology given by Benjamin Disraeli in the British House of Commons.
In a fit of frustration, Disraeli declared “half of the cabinet are asses.” Upon accessing his statement and being called out by the Speaker of the House, Disraeli said, “Mr. Speaker, I withdraw my statement. Half the cabinet are not asses.” While that is a humorous piece of political history, unfortunately, when it comes to helping a community grow, it can’t just be half of the community, it needs to be the entire community rowing the same boat in the same direction.
So many communities that I work with have the mentality that it is up to community leadership to revitalize the community. Make no mistake, while great leadership can set the tone and motivate a community to action, it takes the entire community to foster the greatest strides possible. The question then becomes, what are some of the things that each of us can do to assist our community in their quest for growth and vibrancy?
For starters, we need to be doing everything we can to promote and foster business growth. We must understand that most locally owned and operated businesses will never be able to match Wal-mart prices. They don’t have the scale to be able to do that. When we commit to support our local community, we must commit to “putting our money where our house is”, even when it may cost a bit more. We must understand that while spending locally may cost a few more dollars, those dollars circulate through the community many times more than dollars spent at corporately owned National companies.
My wife sent me a great meme that really gets to the crux of being local. It simply said the following, “If my friend has a tax business, that’s who’s filing my taxes. If my friend has a barbershop, that’s where I am getting my haircut. If my friend sells cars, that’s where I am buying my car from. Might be better prices out there but I am supporting my friends and helping them build.” That is the attitude we must take as we think of our community and friends.
From a business perspective, businesses need to understand that customer service must be paramount in your community if you want their support. While you may not always be able to compete on price due to the National company’s ability to obtain goods at lower prices due to the scale, you can outdo them on the customer front. I am reminded of a great quote by the author, Seth Godin, he said, “The buying race is over. Amazon won. The shopping race though, the struggle to create experiences that are worth paying for, that’s just beginning.” This is where local businesses must excel, or risk dying.
A community must have buy-in from the general public who have been educated on the value and importance of being truly-local by the media. The business base must understand customer experiences are paramount to their success in attracting a willing and educated community. When those two elements are in place, it is up to the city leaders to provide an atmosphere that is inviting for businesses and community members alike to feel and see success. This is where leadership can make all the difference.
With these three elements (community, business, and leadership) firmly entrenched, any community can overcome the odds that are usually not stacked in their favor. Together they can climb mountains otherwise thought to be over-come-able obstacles. The education of the community is of utmost importance. If your local media company isn’t leading this charge, hound them until they do. It is always much easier when the community understands their role in this process, but this is where most communities fail. Don’t let that happen in your community – insist on excellence and expect results.
John A. Newby, author of the "Building Main Street, Not Wall Street " weekly column and CEO of Truly-Local, LLC, dedicated to assisting communities create excitement, energy and combine synergies with their local media where LOCAL is often lost to corporately-owned entities and the Internet. His email: info@Truly-Localllc.com