A few weekends ago my boyfriend and I found ourselves strolling around downtown Shelburne Falls, MA. The town was hosting an “art walk” – a day when all the local galleries and studios and shops get all dressed up and hope for lots of tourists. It seemed to be working ok – there were certainly scores of tourists meandering from one shop to the next studio.
There were many beautiful things to look at, but it was at the end of our tour that we had the best experience. We decided to stop for ice-cream and were delighted to find this little gem – Mo’s Fudge Factor.
Totally funky in a hand-painted-home-grown kind of way. Every little display had some “touch” to it. Plastic flowers, hand-made clouds hanging from the ceiling, hand-written labels, thrift-store furniture repurposed with color. Things were a little incomplete as the store was undergoing renovations, but the personal touches were everywhere.
A painted bathtub filled with buckets of candy.
More hand-written labels and plastic flowers.
“All I want is peace and a chocolate bar as big as my head.” Amen.
You know what? After all the fancy art studios and galleries we had visited, this was our favorite spot of the day. Even over another ice cream shop we visited. Why? Because even though the galleries were supposed to be about art, they were focused on retail, not experience. Everything was shiny and displayed so beautifully in the galleries, but it was formulaic.
With many small towns across America looking to stimulate their local economies, how to draw people and keep them coming back is pretty important. A “nice” store or restaurant with quality products is not enough. It’s not memorable, and people can buy most of that same stuff everywhere else – around the corner, or online.
You know what they can’t get just anywhere? Experience! Whether it’s the “wow” factor, or stellar customer service (as Chris Brogan points out in a recent post), or creative novelty, local businesses are uniquely positioned to boost their own business and local economy right now. It just takes a little effort.
But Just What is “Experience”?
So, can every local business slap some funky, colorful paint on the wall and call it a day? Ah, if only it were that easy.
Creating experience is the art of understanding the consumer within the context. What are they really looking for? Because it’s almost always something emotional.
Take the ice cream/candy shop example. Why do hand labeling, plastic flowers, and bright paint work for Mo’s, but not for, say, a used car dealership? Maybe that’s too obvious an example, but the subtleties are often lost. The consumer looking for ice cream and candy is either, a) bringing children along, or b) bringing their inner child along. Sure, the draw of the sugar high is often enough to get people to buy sweets no matter the venue, but add the contextual elements that satisfy the emotional cravings and now you have experience. An experience that is memorable, noteworthy, word-of-mouth-worthy, and will draw people back again and again.
And THAT’S how you win in local!