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Downtown Salisbury presentation helps small businesses in ‘the age of Amazon’

SALISBURY — Larissa Harper wants downtown business owners to think of her as their advocate.

“We decided it was really important to show business owners in the downtown the variety of ways that we can support them,” said Harper, director of Downtown Salisbury Inc.

To show that, the agency asked national consultant Hilary Greenberg to give a presentation at the Salisbury Business Center on Tuesday morning.

Harper said she saw Greenberg make the presentation — “Competing in the Age of Amazon” — at this year’s North Carolina Main Street conference in Clayton.

“And I thought, ‘Well this was the perfect topic from what we were hearing with business owners downtown in our talks and conversations with them,’” Harper said.

In her presentation, Greenberg talked about five ways small businesses can compete in the modern era.

One of her five tips was to know who your customer is.

“I ask a business, ‘Who’s your customer?’ and they go, ‘Oh, honey, it’s everybody,’” Greenberg said. “And I say, ‘Well, what do you mean by that?’ (They say,) ‘We have folks from 200 miles away.’”

Greenberg said if customers come only when they are visiting out-of-town relatives, they are not a target market.

“So a lot of us really don’t know our customer. We started knowing our customer, but over time that customer has changed,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said businesses could get to know their customers by gathering focus groups, getting demographic reports or doing sales gap analyses.

“You need to know whether what you are selling matches their lifestyle and behavior,” Greenberg said. “And you need to know whether that behavior is going to be changing over time and how do you adjust to it.”

Greenberg said customers are gravitating more toward experiences and personalization than in previous years.

“And these are things, thank God, we actually kind of do have some competitive advantage,” Greenberg said. “So it’s not all doom and gloom. We may not be able to do the same delivery and technology, but we can do other things.”

Greenberg said one of the most important things downtown businesses can do is work together.

“I think there’s beauty and power in working as an organization that far transcends what any one of you can do individually,” Greenberg said.

Greenberg said having a “game plan” would be the first step.

“That is something that DSI is working on right now, and they’re still fine-tuning. But you want to really understand who you are and what you have to work with,” Greenberg said.

After her presentation, Greenberg said it was meant to “kick off DSI’s commitment to supporting small businesses.”

“One workshop is not going to solve anybody’s problem. But the idea being is that they’re starting to focus on what we can do in Salisbury to protect, because you guys actually have a lot of good small businesses,” Greenberg said. “So the question is how do we support them and help them if they want to grow, expand or change?”

Harper told business owners gathered Tuesday that, as a former small business and restaurant owner, she understands their concerns.

“I’ve been up 24 hours. I’ve had a cook not come in and had to throw on an apron and get to cooking,” Harper said.

Harper said she wanted to meet with downtown business owners one-on-one to see where Downtown Salisbury could help them.

“Let’s set some time when you don’t have customers, when you’re not having to stock inventory, and let’s have some one-on-one time. Because I’d love to talk with you,” Harper said.

Harper said another DSI presentation on marketing businesses on Google is planned soon.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.



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