5 Tips for Engaging With Your Community in a New Location

Chipotle understood the value of community engagement when it aligned itself with the local food movement. But you don’t have to roll out a large-scale campaign like Chipotle to forge connections with the local community.

By Cris Burnam

There’s a lot of strength behind big brands. They can set up shop (or stock the shelves) in almost any market, and consumers know exactly what they’re getting when doing business with that brand.

Take Apple, for example. When consumers see the monochromatic logo, they know what to expect: a product that’s made well and easy to use. Coca-Cola has a somewhat similar advantage in the marketplace. As do Ford, Budweiser, Subway and General Electric.

But that’s not to say there isn’t value in being a local business. By and large, consumers want to support their local economy. They see small businesses as customer-focused, reliable, consistent, committed and just plain easier to do business with.

Obviously, you can’t do much to convince a community that you’re local when you’re not. It would be foolish to even try. But you can involve yourself in the community and in the activities that support that community. In fact, 82 percent of consumers consider the corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts of a company when making purchase decisions.

Chipotle understood this when it aligned itself with the local food movement. As part of its “Food With Integrity” campaign, the fast-food chain committed to using 10 million pounds of local produce throughout its restaurants in 2012. It also supported family farms that raise animals naturally without antibiotics or added hormones.

Get involved

You don’t have to roll out a large-scale campaign like Chipotle to forge connections with the local community. Here are five key techniques you can utilize:

  1. Treat every new city like it’s your own. Your main store may be in a different city or state, but don’t let that prevent you from building valuable connections in your new “home.” You want to be seen as part of the community, not separate from it.
  2. Involve yourself in the conversation. Take the time to get to know your new community and its needs. If the area is lacking a park, needs help getting a festival off the ground, or is lacking proper supplies in its public schools, for example, offer assistance in those arenas. Pinpoint what people want, and find a way to help them get it.
  3. Align your involvement with your interests. It’s hard to be passionate about CSR efforts when they don’t align with your interests. Trust me, your indifference will be quickly recognized by the community. So make sure your involvement aligns with what you personally value. For example, if you’re passionate about helping children, integrate it into your core business model and find a way to help children in need in every community you operate in.
  4. Relate your efforts to your business. Along with your personal interests, your efforts should relate to your industry, as well. However, you can usually find something you’re passionate about that naturally fits into your business model. If you’re a paper company, for instance, consider making recycling part of your banner. You want it to make sense.
  5. Make your involvement part of your story. It may sound self-serving to tell consumers about all the good you’re doing for the community. But if you don’t, who will? Let the community know your values and how they shape your efforts to improve your surroundings, and find a way to let your customers (and potential customers) know how their patronage at your business comes full circle.

Bottom line: When you involve yourself and your business with the community, you set yourself apart from the competition. But you also increase trust and loyalty in your customer base — two things that can significantly boost your bottom line.

Image credit: Flickr/themastershakesignal

Cris Burnam has been working in the self-storage industry since 1987. He has served as president of StorageMart since founding the company with his brother Mike Burnam in 1999. Cris grew StorageMart from a single self-storage facility into the world’s largest privately owned self-storage company with 149 locations across the U.S. and Canada. Cris was named a 2014 EY Entrepreneur of the Year in the Services and Real Estate category — one of the highest honors an American entrepreneur can receive. Connect with StorageMart on Twitter.

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