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Sep 24, 2019

A look at small-town America

Written by Tobias Mikalsen

The done. team recently returned from a trip through several Western states to meet with local business owners in person. We left Silicon Valley looking forward to learning more about our customers by seeing them and talking with them, face to face. We knew that the towns we were going to visit would seem like […]

The done. team recently returned from a trip through several Western states to meet with local business owners in person. We left Silicon Valley looking forward to learning more about our customers by seeing them and talking with them, face to face. We knew that the towns we were going to visit would seem like a different world from what we’re used to in the world’s tech capital, and we returned more confident than ever that we’re serving the right cause.

It’s no secret. Small-town America is struggling, and have been struggling for quite some time. There are of course a combination of issues that lead to this development, but it’s safe to say that one crucial factor is an invasion by major chains and franchises. As we explored towns and communities in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona, one thing we noticed again and again—particularly when traveling along the interstate highways—is that most restaurants, hotels, and convenience stores were owned by major corporations, and often by companies you regularly find online, on TV, and on radio. As soon as you travel as much as a couple minutes along the main street of some of these towns, you start noticing how local businesses have closed or gone bankrupt. When driving down the main street of one of those towns, we saw no less than 7 motels and 4 other businesses that were shut down; most of them recently.

When discussing the issues surrounding running local-owned businesses today, many business owners seemed to understand the importance of digital marketing, but did also explain how they didn’t know how to proceed. With all the other issues associated with running a business, digital marketing was often not prioritized. It was soon apparent to us how many businesses lacked an online presence. When searching around for local businesses while traveling around these towns, using Google, major chains always appeared on top. Not being familiar with digital marketing technology, business owners were often surprised about their position and did not know where to start when trying to get themselves up that list.

When traveling through turist-heavy areas, it was apparent that local businesses were doing better. However, many of them still lacked a clear online presence. Talking with local business owners, some of them explained that they did not see the value in doing additional online marketing because they believe their business is already successful with plenty of customers and a good revenue stream. In some towns, business owners said that they didn’t think they needed additional online presence because turists were traveling through the area and would generally stop by their business simply because there were no immediate options in the area. Some of them were surprised when confronted with the fact that other businesses, that did have a local presence, would appear online when searching for food or hotels, even though those businesses were located in other cities, sometimes 20-30 minutes away.

Upon our return to Silicon Valley, it is clear to us that small-town America is diverse. Some towns are in fact doing good, while others are not. We saw the major differences between the towns found along interstate highways, and those located in more rural areas. One overall conclusion is that local businesses located in areas where there are few or no major franchises were clearly doing better than those in areas where major corporations were available. That confirms our suspicion that major franchises are likely stealing customers from local businesses through the strength of their brand marketing, much of which happens online.

We believe, however, that smaller businesses can grow and thrive by getting a clear online presence. That is supported by statistics which show that 97% of customers use search engines to look up which company to do business with, whether they’re looking for a hotel, a restaurant, or a local auto repair shop.

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