Local Merchants and Adapting to Change

A very interesting post by John Kelsey at The Kelsey Group. Very outspoken and candid reality check for small businesses, and I happen to think he’s right on the money here. I’m reminded of a conversation I had a couple weeks ago with a gentleman in New Hampshire, who was referred to me by a mutual contact. This gentleman was shopping for a Christmas gift for his wife and was at a locally owned jewelry store in the seacoast region of NH. He went in looking for a watch and didn’t quite find what he was looking for.
<!–break–> He still purchased a watch anyway, because it was a matter of convenience. He had an idea, which he shared with me, about an inventory management and distribution system for which a business, such as this jewelry store, could access their distributors’ inventory and special order items. It was more complex than that, but that’s the gist of it. He was aware of my involvement with Citysquares and wanted my opinion on whether or not he thought there was a market for this sort of thing. I explained that while I thought there was certainly a market for it, the reality is that getting local merchants to conform to the requirements of the new technology is a tough sell. Local merchants have their own ways and methods for running their business. Surely there are some standards, like Quickbooks, or Peachtree, and some standard POS and inventory systems, but at the end of the day, they use what’s easiest and most convenient. Asking a local merchant to adapt to the pace of technology and changes around them is like asking a third world nation to adopt environmentalism – it’s a stretch. Unless you can really point out the benefits and make the proposition that they can justify a quick and measurable ROI, it’s really an uphill battle. Unless it directly affects their bottom line, they will resist change. So while I agree with John’s reality check, reality is relative. There are movements all across our country, to prevent the invasion of big box retailers and the homogenization of our communities. Ones that comes to mind is Local First and BALLE. These are not fleeting ideas run by hippies, these are serious and business minded individuals who are doing it, and doing it well (to quote LL Cool J).