How to make your retail brand local in a hundred places

One of the most significant challenges retailers face today is finding the optimal balance between implementing a unified strategy across all store locations, while also working to ensure that each store offers an authentic local shopping experience for the regions they serve.

Not only does a robust local strategy help improve the effectiveness and profitability of your stores, but it also helps establish your brand as an important presence in your locations' communities.

Especially in recent years, consumer trust toward larger corporations is scarce. A 2017 Gallup poll revealed that only six percent of Americans trust big corporations “a great deal,” with an additional 12 percent trusting them “quite a lot,” leaving a whopping 82 percent of Americans who are dubious about big businesses. A solid local strategy can position your organization as a reputable community member wherever your brand calls home.

Here are a few actionable ways to position your brand as a local presence in every single one of your stores.

Listen and research before you open new stores

The Amazon HQ2 search has been a well-documented saga that was intended to end with one of the online retailer's new headquarters opening in Long Island City, Queens. But local lawmakers — who had initially supported Amazon's move to the city (and the investment in infrastructure they hoped would come with it) — began openly opposing the surprise $3 billion in tax incentives later offered to the company, driven by the organizing of local activists. Why the shift in favor? Too much happening behind closed doors without the community's input.

"The plan had been negotiated among Cuomo, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Amazon without going through the traditional public approval process that normally governs development proposals in New York City," wrote Eli Rosenberg and Reis Thebault in The Washington Post. "Local elected officials said they and community groups had been kept out of the process."

Corey Johnson, New York City Council Speaker, said in Fast Company regarding Amazon’s presence: “I find that lack of engagement and the fact that negotiations excluded the City Council – which is elected by New Yorkers to guide land use projects with communities in mind – extremely troubling.”

After significant and consistent pressure from activists and government representatives, Amazon decided to pull out of New York in February. It’s a cautionary tale worth noting when opening new locations.

Making a clear effort to understand a community's pain points and frustrations — and to include them in the conversation — goes a long way in building local customer trust from the start.

It doesn’t have to be a year-long residency study, either. Simple ways to connect include:

  • Register for membership with the local chamber of commerce or business development organization
  • Use the chamber's email list to start networking before you open the doors
  • Grab lunch or host a happy hour with other retailers in the area
  • Read recent retail-related headlines from the local paper
  • Connect with local universities' career centers and employment offices for recruiting
  • Send online surveys encouraging community leaders to share feedback with your executive team
  • Attend city council meetings (or stream online); note themes and priorities

You’ll likely find crucial pieces of intel through these connections — such as traffic bottlenecks that don’t show up on the map, which neighborhoods are best for your new locations, what issues (transit, composting, job creation) are most prescient and more.

A little bit of listening goes a long way

Showing that your brand aligns with the priorities of the community can ensure a smoother arrival and a more successful store in the long run.

  1. If you intend on opening your location in a historic piece of property, requesting input from historians and local leaders can ensure you can honor the history of the building while also moving forward with the community's full support.
  2. Instead of simply hiring outside contractors to design and decorate your store, consider employing local artists to create inspired pieces of art that carry meaning within the community. You can even partner with a local arts organization to manage the entire process together. A splashy mural on an accent wall goes far in showing community members you’re invested in being a good neighbor.

Leverage social media locally

Establishing your brand locally doesn’t stop at opening of your store. Leveraging the power of social media to engage, interact and provide excellent service to customers is an effective way to continue building trust over time.

Here are a few ideas to help get you started.

Survey and understand which social networks are most used in your local community

If local customer demographics are older in age, it doesn’t make sense for your location to be only on Snapchat. One size does not fit all: Understanding whether your community is more engaged on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or elsewhere can help you shape individual content strategies and provide a better experience when your employees are interacting with your customers.

Empower your store employees to post on your local accounts

Instructing your store managers to empower top-performing employees to post directly to a local social media account can also go a long way in helping create a strong brand and community connection.

Your local employees are far more in tune with what their community values, and with a few simple guidelines in place, that will show up in the content they help produce. It’ll show your brand from a ground-level perspective, which is to say, from the same perspective your customers see you.

Use social media to highlight important community events

You don’t sell in a bubble — you’re part of a community! Celebrating something other than your own products and services on social media shows your brand’s best angle. Consider creating a post when the local football team has a big win, or give a shoutout to small businesses in your location’s block or mall.

To keep getting inspired to tell store-level stories using social media, check out our latest webinar with practical tips about how to set guidelines to make that content great.

"We’re transforming how we’re interacting with our customers, interacting with them outside the four walls of our store."

Hold local events

In addition to empowering your stores to be active on social media, holding events to both educate and entertain the local community is another effective way for your brand to get involved.

Fitness apparel brand Outdoor Voices does an excellent job of hosting diverse events that further connect their community while also driving business objectives. Peek at any OV location page to find a slate of interesting events like a jogging club or Pilates class, engaging a variety of fitness types and skill levels.

West Elm also has a fantastic reputation for interacting with their communities and customers outside of their store. Whether they're providing art welding lessons in a metal work studio or hosting a natural fiber indigo dyeing workshop, they clearly have a pulse on what their customers value.

Mo Mullen, director of West Elm Local, recently shared with USA Today: “As a retailer, we’re transforming how we’re interacting with our customers, interacting with them outside the four walls of our store […] Customers want experiences, and this is an opportunity for us to help create those experiences for them in a very authentic way.’’

When planning local events, be sure to gather employee suggestions, since they have a strong pulse on what local customers are interested in and may have ideas for potential partners.

Understand your consumer at the local level

Ultimately, employing a successful local strategy in every single one of your locations comes down to including each community every step of the way. It takes a little bit more time and effort, but in the long run, understanding the needs and pain points each individual store can be answering in a tailored way can help you deliver a better overall experience to all of your customers.

When implementing your local store strategy, it would be wise to heed these wise words from Vans: ”From the beginning, the company recognized its fan base of customers as the owners of its brand. Its self-appointed role was to stay close enough to the fans to understand where they were headed and then pursue the directions that would strengthen the community.”

Watch the on-demand webinar to learn more about localizing your strategy