At Your Service: June 2, 2010

When you think it through (and most of us don’t take the time) it is very hard work to sustain a retail business in a small rural community. The odds are stacked against you from the start. You must know your customer base and provide the goods and services that will keep them coming back time and again. Your profit margin is slimmer as you struggle to compete with those distant stores that have more buying power because of the volume of their sales.
In order to be successful, you must provide customers with a compelling reason to shop with you. One of the easiest ways to do that is to be open when they go looking for what they need. That means being open at least six days a week and maintaining consistent hours. A good percentage of our businesses are owned and operated by the same person or family and there are only so many hours that any one person can work. It is quite a challenge to work the long hours a store requires and maintain the life the business is meant to support.
In order to do it, most owners make the leap to hire at least part-time staff. These jobs represent a significant portion of those available locally; they make the difference for many a family. While their full-time jobs keep a roof over their heads, the part-time jobs put food on the table. They are positions critical to the local economy.
With summer now in full swing, many a business, retail and others, are poised to make the money that will sustain them through the slower off-seasons. They need our support.
I had a recent conversation with a woman who buys the plants for her garden at Home Depot. She feels that the higher costs charged by local stores are “too expensive.” She is sure that flowers bought locally average 50 cents more per plant. When challenged, she admitted that she had not figured her gasoline costs into the equation.
What she had figured in was the assumption that most of the perennials she purchased would fail to survive the winter season and they are easier to return to Home Depot. Those grown locally are more likely to be hardened to these Catskill winters and don’t have to be returned every spring. Instead, they grow where they are planted and thrive.
The plants are not unlike the rest of us living here. We have become a little tougher in order to get through the winter and work harder the rest of the year to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by the more lucrative summer season. Working harder is good; working smarter is better.
Local business owners are definitely challenged by the advantages higher volume gives to the ‘big stores.” When hidden costs are figured into the mix, however, local prices are at least equivalent and sometimes even less. Even more importantly, local businesses provide local jobs. As we move through this summer season, let’s keep in mind the advantages of supporting local businesses. They work hard to stay in business in order to meet our needs. It is easy to simply shop close to home.