One of my favorite Albert Einstein quotes goes as follows, "Logic will take you from A to B, imagination will take you everywhere". This quote especially rings true when we relate it to community leadership, vision, and innovation. On one hand, the first half of the quote accurately describes many city governments throughout the country, organizations run by good intentioned and well-meaning leaders. They are smart and very creative within the box they reside. They play it safe. However, it is the second half of the quote that best describes forward-thinking city governments. This group of leaders are few and far between.
What separates those communities in the second group versus those many communities within the first group? Simply put, it is their dedicated forward thinking toward revitalizing and transforming their communities for the new economy and future barreling toward them. Of course, most communities believe they have time and there are no worries. In reality, the economic transformation occurring today was moving rapidly toward us prior to COVID. The onset of COVID only accelerated the economic transformation, reducing the timeframe in which to transform being measured in decades or years to only months in many cases.
There are many discussions, points of view, thoughts, and opinions on what will make-up this new normal and economy. However, when we consolidate those into a couple points nearly everyone seems to agree on, we can see that regardless of one's point of view, rapid change is certainly upon us.
We all agree retail is undergoing rapid transformation. Getting the retail trend correct is critical. The retail world has become a situation of the haves and have-nots. In the middle, we have the national retailers such as Target, Home Depot, Walmart, and Dollar Tree which are doing well, and are in fact growing. Meanwhile, the two segments on both ends are struggling. For the sake of this column, we will exclude the high-end retail on one end and stick to the local community on the other end. This end is made up of our locally owned and operated businesses, many of which have been severely impacted by the pandemic. This hardest hit group is in a fight for their retail and service lives. Many are falling by the wayside at a faster rate than one can imagine.
The locally owned and operated business apocalypse is far from over, it will continue for years. The unfortunate issue here is that this hits the smaller and mid-sized communities the hardest. Many residents of these communities are flocking to the convenience of online shopping leaving their local communities hung out to dry. I don't believe all online shopping is bad, there are certain things that you cannot get in local communities. At times it makes sense to get those items the most convenient way possible. While some online shopping can be a healthy thing for a community, when the balance swings too far off kilter, communities can be devastated.
While the methods may vary, when it comes down to it, forward thinking communities understand one basic law of transformation: The Law of Local. They understand keeping every dollar possible within the boundaries of their communities is not only vital, but essential. They understand and commit all their time, resources, and energy on creating a vibrant local retail base, a local restaurant base along with a local experience-based and quality of life atmosphere. They understand with few exceptions, the continued courting of national chains and big boxes is a Trojan horse that can destroy their locally owned business base. They understand those same dollars devoted in years past to national chains suck your community dry slowly and steadily. Those dollars are better used to build their community's local business base. They make local entrepreneurship easy, affordable, and wanted.
Oftentimes when writing this weekly column, I am guilty of saying some of the same things over with slight variations. While this is true, I understand one of the major laws of marketing is that a message must be conveyed between six and seven times before the message begins to stick. Communities must look at it the same way, keep preaching the local message, keep conveying your shop hyper-local message ,and keep fighting for your future. If your community is to have a bright future, understand the economic dynamics of today are changing. Your ability to change with them is critical for your survival in a cruel and unrelenting economic environment.
-- John Newby, of Pineville, Mo., is a nationally recognized publisher, community, business & media consultant, and speaker. He authors "Building Main Street, not Wall Street," a column appearing in 50+ communities. The founder of Truly-Local, dedicated to assisting communities create excitement, energy, and combining synergies with local media to become more vibrant and competitive. His email is: [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.