By Nora Firestone
A vibrant local economy can stimulate communities and insulate a region from national trends – a concept that’s for long proven positive within Hampton Roads. But the area economy’s robustness has tapered some since 2006, said James Koch, Board of Visitors professor of economics at Old Dominion University. Higher unemployment, slow economic growth and uncertainty about the future have yielded caution regarding spending and hiring, he said. Within a competitive global economy, what’s to keep budget-oriented Virginians doing business close to home?
Sustaining a local economy “is a two-way street,” stated Jack Hornbeck, president and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce. As consumers aim to save, businesses have to profit to thrive. Those that prosper can then add value to their communities, re-circulating wealth via employment, purchasing, philanthropy, tax base contribution and more, and delivering the kind of attention that cultivates reciprocal relationships.
While Koch joins others in encouraging people to “look local first,” businesses “have to perform,” to earn the loyalty, and “to compete effectively” with outsiders, he noted.
Retailers of everything from package goods to electronics, automobiles and more can play a vital role in keeping dollars circulating here in the local economy, as can other businesses and those on whom they all rely. Competitive pricing will be the key for many.
“The expression, ‘half of something is better than all of nothing’ couldn’t be more true than in today’s economy,” said LyndaWaddell of Oceans of Notions gift basket shop in Virginia Beach.
A small business owner since 1993,Waddell’s prospered as the economy’s vacillated, indulging gift basket customers with locally produced treats byWissie Cakes, Blue Crab Bay Co., Virginia peanut growers and others. Oceans of Notions caters to personal shoppers and professionals to provide custom-created gift baskets for any occasion.
Waddell considers competitive pricing and exceptional service part of her advertising budget.
“We price to make a reasonable profit, not to take our customers to the cleaners,” she said. “If our customers find great (value) they come back and bring their friends.”What she doesn’t glean per sale, she recoups in volume. And “our customer-base gain?” she pondered . . . “Priceless.”
To keep competitive, experts recommend staying abreast of the competition’s pricing and trends within local and national markets and setting a brand’s value apart with exceptional service and enjoyable customer experiences. Think not only like a business person, but also like a potential customer; question how a business such as your own could best serve you as a discerning consumer, from initial reception to follow-through with every deal. Understand the value of respectful attitudes, friendly exchanges and attentiveness, which don’t cost more than a thought to offer, but could cost customer loyalty if withheld.
Business-to-business, the concept holds,Waddell noted. From banks to landlords to suppliers and beyond, everyone involved impacts the affordability of doing business today. Those who price goods and services competitively make it easier for their affiliates to spend, hire, grow and thrive, perpetuating the dynamic relationships that boost an economy.
Generally, “I think it’s reasonable for (local businesses) to expect us to look to them first,” Koch concluded; but businesses have to make the experience worth the loyalty. By respecting that your customers have choices, and by providing the best value for their time and dollars, you’ll be acting on behalf of a stronger, bolder local economy.
Correspondent Nora Firestone is a freelance writer who lives in Virginia Beach. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THE EXPERTS AGREE:
Seasonal businesses can create win/win deals to attract
customers during “off” months, when demand and cash flow
typically subside.When appropriate, consumers should
request price matching. Stimulate demand for locally made
products by requesting them of retailers.