Every year, I read the latest batch of trends articles: tech trends, small business trends, marketing trends. I find myself wondering, where the heck do these people live? Because it’s obviously not in a small town. That’s why I’m back with new trends that apply in rural places, small towns and any community under about 20,000 in population.
Rural and Small Town Trends for 2017
Instead of waiting for customers to walk in the front door, smart rural businesses are using the same omni channel tactics as big businesses. In order to reach more than just the local customers in their small towns, rural businesses are selling via their own websites, platforms like Amazon or Etsy, custom apps, automated deliveries and monthly subscription boxes.
Contingent workers, independent professionals, freelancers, and the gig economy are all converging as more people make their own way while staying rural, rather than moving to the big city for jobs. Because rural independent workers have a lower cost of living than urban ones, they are better able to compete in digital talent marketplaces.
Innovative Rural Business Models
Small town businesses are not just the mom-and-pop retail store downtown. We just talked about how those mom-and-pop retailers are going rural omni-local and how the independent workers are creating their own gigs. Other innovations are also taking hold. Smaller business experiments are replacing all-in bets on a full-size business, maybe filling only a couple of hundred square feet instead of 5,000 square feet. Temporary businesses pop-up for a day, a week or a season to test the waters. Mobile businesses gather up market share by moving from small town to small town. Shared spaces bring together co-working, artist’s studies and galleries, maker spaces and stores inside of other stores.
Local Stores Beat Big Boxes
Big box stores are tipping into a scale implosion of their own making, as they close stores, shed square footage and generally try to adjust to a retail future that is splitting around them. Their special skill used to be the huge selection and low price. All of that business will go to online retail giants. The other side is the return to customer service, curated selections and the enjoyment of shopping. That is where local retail eats their lunch. Sales at small retailers have increased faster than sales at big retail stores since 2012. They haven’t caught up, but they’re increasing faster.
Local Stores Beat Online — For Some Things
While local stores excel at customer service, curated selections and the enjoyment of shopping, they’ll need to adopt new technology to merge the immediate gratification of being close to customers with better information like customer reviews, personalized recommendations and in-depth product information. As online retailers make more forays into the physical retail world, they’re experimenting with technology to combine the physical with the virtual. Watch for local stores to copy their experiments from below.
Travel Motivations Favor Rural
Small towns excel at offering authentic experiences. Visitors can easily connect with culture, history and a sense of place all in a walkable-sized package in a small town. International travelers are starting to make rural regions like the Deep South their first destination in the US, skipping traditional big city visits. Instead of checking famous sights off a list in a guidebook, they’re seeking out for the local artists, authentic foods and hidden gems recommended by friends and fellow travelers.
“Urban” Development Trends Sound More Like “Small Town”
Placemaking, walkability, Strong Towns and public spaces are all “urban” planning and development trends, and they all focus on making urban places more like small towns. Small towns already have compact, walkable cores in their downtowns. They have walkable distances in their historic development, and they already have built public spaces waiting for revitalizing activity. In small towns, it’s easier to get involved and make a difference, and a smaller project can make a bigger splash.
Small Towns Crowdsource Their Future
It used to be just a few people were town leaders, and they could gather in a room to decide the town’s future. Today, everyone in town has the communication tools to organize themselves and create their own future. Smaller creative projects are emerging from the ground up, as people simply decide to start something and end up shaping a better future for their town.
The Next 30 Years …
These trends are either just now emerging or are already in full swing. What will the next 30 years bring? Deb Brown and I will explore these trends in more depth and look to the next 30 years in a live broadcast on Jan 18, 2017. The recording will be available on-demand throughout the year.
Small Town Photo via Shutterstock