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Small-Business Smarts: Rural, Retail and Tomorrow
By: Glenn Muske, Small Business Consultant - 06/16/2017

Retail can be seen in the news a great deal in recent times. Does any of this news have meaning for you, our rural small-business retail owners?

There are several lessons coming out of this rapidly changing segment of our economy.

The first observation is an opportunity. The struggles and loss of competition means new openings. Small retailers should look at gaps arising. Ask yourself if you can fill the opening as well as how long the opening may last.

Next, consider the various consumer segments mentioned in the news. Aging baby boomers and millennials both enjoy personalized service and shopping experiences. These two categories of shoppers have disposable income. They like doing business with people they know.

If you can fill a need and are local, you may have a profitable niche.

Yet, there are also more and higher hurdles that will challenge you.

Your business is not the only one in the hunt. Stores are building their ecommerce activity and offering free shipping.

Other technology allows me to check inventory availability and, at times, to have the store pull an item and set it aside. Perhaps your store will do the same if I call but can I get through? And are your staff prepared offer this service along with their other duties? It is easy to give priority to the people standing in front of you.

Another growing trend is loyalty programs. What are you doing to bring the customer back to your store? Some of these programs are quite sophisticated and, again, technology based. No more carrying a card. Instead it's often on our smartphone.

Rural retail stores have a big advantage. You are part of the community, the place where people come, not only for shopping, but for eating, events, and socializing. Use these to position your store but don't forget that the competition is nearby, physically and online.

Finally, never get complacent. The retail world continues its rapid change. Be prepared to move with it.

Information on starting, managing, and growing small business development can be found in many locations including https://small-businesssmarts.com/ and the ND Small Business Development Centers, http://ndsbdc.org/.

In addition, the Small Business Administration and the Service Corps of Retired Executives are available for assistance. Finally, resources can be found at Extension offices, your local chamber of commerce, powerofbusiness.net, www.eXtension.org/entrepreneurship, and from several state agencies.

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