By Tina Lahti
“Do you have a good local Pilsner?” I was having a drink with a business friend. He’s a laidback guy who lives in a suburban development, genuinely enjoys Applebee’s 2 for $9.99 special and buys his fashion at Kohl’s. Two years ago, he would have ordered a Coors Light. People who used to get excited about the opening of a Chipotle are now talking about a new independent bakery, coffee shop or pizza place. The desire for something unique and local, something you can’t get anywhere else, has hit mainstream America. This isn’t something new. It’s a return to something old.
I live in an urban neighborhood that time forgot. The buildings that housed the butcher shop, bakery and shoe store 50-plus years ago still hold these same businesses. A generation or two ago, when many left the city for new developments with more square footage and bigger yards, people in my neighborhood just stayed. They finished their basements and sent their kids to the park. Now the children and grandchildren of the people who left the city are moving in. They have a high appreciation for local businesses, perhaps because they grew up largely without them.
Some consumer trend analysts would say a return to local goods and services is inevitable; that mass consolidation leads to homogenization of product and experience, and consumers won’t accept that for very long. Eventually, we all want something new, we all need to express our individuality. In many ways, the same technologies that some expected to kill local small businesses, are now leading to their resurgence. Anything you can buy from a giant mass merchant you can buy online at Amazon, often for less money, delivered to your door. But local businesses allow you to discover something new. And anyone can now find a good local business online. Your friends will post photos of the specialty item on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. Yelp, Google or Trip Advisor will give you instant access to business reviews. Apple Maps, Google Maps or Waze will navigate you to that local business, so you can get there easily, even when you don’t know the neighborhood.
For those of us who supply other businesses in a complex industry like ophthalmic optics, the world has changed as well. Our industry has also seen mass consolidation, and from that, a homogenization of products at the consumer level. We know our goods and services must allow our partners to really set themselves apart so their customers can do the same. If you want to be one of the businesses that succeeds in this new world, choose your supplier partners carefully. They are the key to providing your customers with unique products and experiences to talk about online.