Expansion of the shop local movement beyond the food category (eat local) was one of SmallBusiness.com’s predictions for 2014. Nearly 95% of shoppers say it’s important to support small businesses, with 56% of those shoppers indicating their reason is related to a desire to support their local economy. With those kind of stats, you’d expect it to be easy to get neighbors to support a hometown business. But you know it’s not. Big companies with big resources often are able to make shopping online or in big boxes more enticing to shoppers.

A major opportunity to differentiate yourself from the national chains is to make local community involvement a significant part of your customer outreach efforts. Chances are, you are already involved in civic activities without ever thinking of it as “marketing.” But in the battle with big boxes with deep pockets, local community support can be both your sincere commitment to a sense of civic duty–while at the same time, a competitive edge over the big guys.

For the benefit of your business, as well as your community, it’s important for you to be a local leader. Here are just some of the ways to help build your community while also reminding your neighbors why they should shop local:

Sports marketing


(Photo: Bad News Bears)

You can’t buy naming rights of an NFL stadium? So what? Get your company name on the backs of youth soccer teams, at any level—recreational, middle school, high school. Get naming rights of the local church basketball league. Or show up with Gatorade.

(Your name here) Annual Festival



People love looking forward to something each year, so why not spearhead an annual community celebration? A lot of towns have interesting (and sometimes historic) pasts. Perhaps do a little digging; find something that you could start a festival around and sponsor it. Don’t be afraid to have fun with it either–or inventive. The name of the game is to get creative and get people out there.

Walk, run or ride


(Photo: http://thecolorrun.com/)

Like hosting a festival, hosting an annual walk, run or ride (bicycle or motorcycle–or motor scooter) is a great way to get community recognition. But also like the festival, get creative with it. There are too many regular 5K’s out there: Do something different. If people will participate in “color runs,” we’re guessing they are looking desperately for something fun to do on a Saturday morning. Don’t be afraid to start small.

Attend municipal meetings


(Photo: Mark Sardella via Flickr)

One of the best ways to display your commitment to the well-being of your community is by attending (or joining) community governance meetings (councils, boards, town meetings). These are most often attended by neighbors, local law enforcement, local government, and will offer valuable insight into community trends, consumer needs or concerns, and upcoming events.

Make an event out of volunteering

Finally, host a volunteer day. One day a year (or, a half-day, to start), close your business and volunteer your staff to help the community. Fundraisers, clean-ups, building projects: Make it an annual event. You can even team up with other non-competitive businesses. It’s all good!

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