How well do you know your community? The knowledge is invaluable to a business — it can’t be bought or sold. It provides you with one of the most valuable competitive advantages you can have. How do you use this knowledge on a daily basis?
Some in the industry think that retail drycleaning is mostly a real-estate venture: Picking the right neighborhoods, and the right locations, and the right drive-thru buildings nearly guarantees success.
Operators who spend their whole lives in a community can see areas evolve and forecast where continued demographic shifts will lead. You know which areas are growing and shrinking; where future growth areas might be; where the upper-middle-class, white-collar customers are; and the wealthy retirees.
You know these things from experience, not from demographic research. You may even know property owners who need to sell or lease their locations. And you likely know these things long before outsiders can find out about them in a public forum.
Pursue and use this information productively; it’s one of the strongest competitive advantages you can have. Spend time at Chamber meetings, stay close to the local professionals such as accountants, attorneys and real estate agents, and you will be able to jump at new opportunities as they emerge.
A history in the community can also give you valuable knowledge about its employees. You’ve hired plenty of people from the community over the years; some worked out well, and others didn’t.
Those who didn’t work out may have moved on to other drycleaners in town; they may even return to you to try again. With your knowledge, you can avoid making mistakes outsiders might make, and again operate with a competitive advantage.
Supporting community-oriented events helps your town and creates a loyal following among customers and prospects. Again, knowing the local community allows you to determine which activity is closest to their hearts, and which will build awareness for your operation best.
There is usually only one supporter in each business category for some events; if you’re the one, you can be at the forefront of your community. Large operators that move in may support more regional or national events, but not be as well received locally — again, you have a competitive advantage.
Marketing opportunities also exist with other local businesses. High-end and fast-food restaurants may be interested in participating in a cross-promotion with you. Your local knowledge will tell you which restaurant your customers might like to see you partner with.
As the market for drycleaning continues to shrink, midsized companies will need to expand geographically to see sales increases. And any midsized or larger company that can build local knowledge and use it effectively will make for a strong adversary.
Local operators are in a much stronger position to build and maintain these assets, however. Local owners have knowledge of the community’s real estate market, its employee pool and its favorite activities.
Larger operations have significant advantages, particularly in access to capital. The ability to talk to bankers and meet loan expectations may work in their favor as the local handshake agreement becomes increasingly rare. Likewise, a chain has an easier time designing and building prototype storefronts and plants.
But it’s tough for a large operation to build a local following, so you should make the most of what you have. Taking advantage of your knowledge isn’t as simple as it sounds. It takes effort, time and talent to exploit this information to its fullest potential.
Spend time in your community, and you’ll be able to see opportunities and follow through on them fast. Without that follow-through, you’ll lose a competitive advantage that exists naturally in every market dominated by a local operator.