Being in business in a small town or a rural area is different from being in a metropolitan area. Your local economy is certainly different from the national big picture. That’s why rural small business needs its own list of trends for 2009.
Here are my picks for the top trends for rural small businesses.
1. Local Economy - Each small town economy is different. Of course we are all interconnected, but each region has different dominating factors, whether it’s agriculture, minerals, small manufacturing, or something unique. It’s a better indicator for your business than the Dow Jones. Two bad wheat crops in a row will touch my business quicker than the tightening of the national credit market.
2. Energy Production - Oil and natural gas prices have fallen far from their record-breaking levels in 2008, but are still high enough to support continuing exploration. Wind power and other alternative manufacturing and production have boosted many local economies. This means opportunities to build businesses supporting larger energy production companies, as well as new opportunities in helping small businesses, local governments and homeowners adopt renewable energy.
3. Shop Local – High gas prices were the catalyst; lingering interest in shopping locally is one result. Combine that with the falling economy, and we’re seeing more small towns start or revive hometown shopping promotions. Searches on Small Biz Survival for “shop local” have quadrupled over the last four months. As an individual business owner, it’s your job to constantly, repeatedly communicate what you offer to your local customers.
4. Online Shopping - High gas prices have had a second effect for small town businesses: driving sales online. Entrepreneur.com reported a prediction that online retail will rise 17 percent this year to $204 billion. If you can compete online, it’s high time you do. As a small town business, you have a chance to tell your unique story and create an online shopping experience that big businesses have to pay dearly to try to replicate.
5. New Residents – Small towns will continue to see an influx of residents, escaping from metro areas. If the economy slides seriously downhill, I expect this to accelerate. Have you thought about how your business would serve new residents?
6. Atwoods Effect - Many new residents will be of the gentleman-farmer type. They may only have half an acre, but to them it’s a spacious ranchette. They need all the farming and country accessories that go with a rural lifestyle. You can be the one who provides them.
7. Regional Tourism - Instead of flying out to the tropics, many city residents will be looking for chances to travel regionally. Expect to see more family driving tours. The big beneficiaries will be the businesses that offer a slice of rural life, or a connection to the culture. This can be anything from traditional food making, old time crafts, old-fashioned farms, and even modern but rustic wineries.
8. Wildlife Assets – 87.5 million U.S. residents fished, hunted, or watched wildlife in 2006, up from 82 million in 2001, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All together, they spent $122 million, primarily in rural areas where you find most of the wildlife. Small town businesses have opportunities to provide the individuals with more services, not only lodging and food, but also equipment, and even other activities for families.
9. Local Foods – Transporting food long distances costs not only dollars, but also has an environmental impact. Foodborne illnesses have been linked to imported foods and huge food processors. Put that together, and you have a growing group of people who are actively seeking local foods from smaller producers. (Do a Google search for “localvore“.) Small town businesses can take advantage of this by not only feeding local residents, but also by reaching the nearby metro areas. Local food businesses can band together to promote a regional food experience.
10. Millennial Generation - The millennial generation is bigger than the Baby Boomers, more entrepreneurial, more civic minded. You’ve never had a better chance to engage the youth of your community. These are the kids who will help many small town businesses adopt new technology.
11. Online Interaction - Even in my small town of 5,000 people, I’m seeing waves of locals on Facebook and other social networks, as well as reviews of local motels and restaurants on TripAdvisor. Not only should you be present in these places to interact with your customers, but you can also actively encourage your fans to post their reviews.
* * * * *
About the Author: Becky McCray is a small town entrepreneur, co-owner of a liquor store and a cattle ranch. She writes at Small Biz Survival about small business and rural issues, based on her own successes and failures.