Main Street Marketing
Relationship-building strategies boost business in small towns.
By Carolyn Bilsky |
Matt Redd, CCIM, owner of Redd Properties in Lake
Charles/Sulphur, La., doesn't remember what sparked the idea for his company's
trademark marketing strategy, but the effect on his small-town market has been
unforgettable. "It keeps our company's name in people's minds for
months," he says.
Redd's "Feed the Teachers" program is a
bimonthly catered luncheon provided by Redd Properties for local schoolteachers
and staff. Through the program the company gives back to the community as well
as garners noteworthy publicity. The local newspaper has covered the event,
earning the company word-of-mouth referrals. "Businesswise it definitely
helps us out. It really gets our name out and the teachers really appreciate
it," Redd says.
The program not only has made Redd Properties popular
with local teachers, but luncheons have helped it land some deals as well.
Teachers and school staff remember Redd's generosity and refer family, friends,
and colleagues to the company.
Redd's relationship-building marketing strategy is
ideally suited to his nonurban market. Unlike the cutthroat business
environment of major metropolitan markets, doing business in small towns often
includes a service or volunteer component. "In a smaller community
relationships are very important - you see the same people on a daily or weekly
basis," Redd says.
Building a good reputation in local markets is more
important than ever today. Small-town America continues to change its face from
farmland oases to commercially oriented economies. In increasing numbers
residents are leaving urban areas for more peaceful small-town living. The population in America's rural counties
increased over the past 20 years for this reason, according to the Population
Reference Bureau. During the 1990s, nonmetropolitan areas of less than 50,000
increased by more than 10 percent, adding 5.2 million people to rural America.
Where populations grow, so too does commercial real
estate development. In a 2003 CCIM Institute marketing survey, more than half
of respondents revealed that they primarily conduct business in markets of
250,000 or less. This was true for all real estate sectors except corporate.
With more opportunities arising in small-town markets,
how can CCIMs make sure they get in on the action? While many current marketing
strategies center on technology skills, small-town America is one place where
high-tech isn't necessarily better.
John Jantsch, a marketing coach and creator of Duct Tape
Marketing, a Web site with affordable small-business marketing ideas and
strategies, tailors advice to clients according to their market size. "In
a big market your message can get lost, so I tell people to narrow their focus
and concentrate on a niche. In small towns you need to broaden your reach and
get involved in as much as you can," he says.
In this sense, Redd's community-oriented marketing
strategy serves as a good example. "In a smaller market you really need to
plug into everything going on in the community," Jantsch says. For
example, getting involved with schools, sponsoring
sports teams or clubs,
volunteering with churches are all good strategies, he says.
Local organizations are another great source of community
involvement. "It is absolutely essential to be involved in [local
directors'] boards. It shows that not only do I live here and go to church
here, I am really involved in shaping the community," says Alton Lee Webb,
CCIM, sales director of Alton Webb & Associates in Shelbyville, Ky., which
has a population of approximately 10,000.
As president of Shelby County Chamber of Commerce, Webb
found the experience rewarding for both his town and his business: He was giving
back to the community by participating and also making profitable business
connections, he says.
Along with the teacher luncheons, Redd found another
community niche by hosting events that lend his company credibility and gain
market presence with other commercial real estate professionals. "My
company cosponsors a four-hour wetlands seminar that educates people in the
community about the process of acquiring a wetland," he says.
Creating a solid reputation through community connections
eliminates most of the need for advertising. "We don't do any print media.
We feel like all value is in word-of-mouth and proven reputation," Webb
says. But small-town markets do respond to one type of advertising: outdoor
signage. "Our firm is diligent about promoting our 'Another Successful
Transaction' program," Webb says of his company's marketing campaign.
Instead of placing simple sold signs in front of properties, the company uses
signs bearing its name and logo and information that updates passersby on the
properties' progress. "We use status-changing signs to introduce the new
development, business, or end use. In this way, the transaction participants
get ownership of the process and the community has a story to tell," he
New developments are front-page news in small towns and
the updated signs help keep the community informed and spark conversations,
Webb says. "It usually creates a real buzz and identifies our firm as one
that is fueling economic growth and is thriving. People like to see success and
things happening in the community."
Another way to keep community members informed of
commercial real estate news is to garner publicity without paying for it. For
instance, many local papers feature regular real estate columns. Commercial real
estate experts can create a name for themselves in the community by
contributing a column or volunteering as a source.
Word-of-mouth travels extra fast in small towns, so
establishing a positive professional reputation, especially among other businesses
in the community, is important. "Commercial real estate professionals need
to align themselves with local insurance companies, banks, attorneys, and
accountants, and form strategic partnerships," Jantsch says.
Building a network with other local businesses can
generate referrals and create new leads, as well as build an influential
network. "Realtors are in a good situation because clients planning to
open a business in town will ask themselves first thing, 'Where am I going to
locate my business?' This puts commercial real estate pros in a good position
to influence them in later business decisions," he says.
CCIMs naturally have a leg up in these situations. As the
only CCIM in Shelbyville, Webb didn't have a hard time generating an impressive
reputation. "Having my CCIM designation has been very beneficial. It makes
me stand out against other brokers. A professional designation really makes me
seem more credible," he says.
In fact, as Shelbyville has grown over the past few
years, several large national companies such as Lowe's and Walgreens have
turned to Webb due to his designation and good reputation. "They can
justify working with me because they see I'm a CCIM and we've established
ourselves as a knowledgeable local brokerage," he says. In addition,
"When brokers in Louis-ville or Lexington are working with retailers
looking to expand to Shelbyville, they refer them to me."
from the speed of life to small towns' sights and sounds are different from
those in a big city, and doing business in these environments reflects these
variations. Understanding that commercial real estate in a smaller market is a
relationship-based business can help a brokerage company earn esteem and, in
turn, more prospects and profits.