5 Key findings of analyzing over 2,500 Viennese small businesses- part 2
The pain felt by small business owners these days is well known to me personally. I’m a small business owner myself, a tourism company which had to shut down due to the government’s measurements. My personal case shows that sometimes the crisis is indeed bigger than us, no matter how much we thought we were prepared or capable in facing it.
This experience was quite humbling for me and pushed me to dedicate my quarantine time to support local businesses in Austria.
Together with 5 dedicated team members, we founded the Corona Support Board. Our goal is to share the stories of Austria’s businesses and become an additional marketing channel for them. We then plan to connect them to each other and to hotels in their area and thus establish a cooperation between them. We are also working on a small business tool kit with some easy to implement steps which are based on our research conclusions and knowledge. So far we have analyzed over 2,500 businesses in Vienna and are working on expanding to other cities across Austria.
Our analysis has produced 5 key conclusions which will be the basis for the toolkit we intend to produce. These 5 conclusions are:
- Lack of branding
- Lack of online presence
- No collaboration with other businesses
- Minimal interaction with customers
- Lack of focus on what makes the business special
A serious lack of branding
A brand is a story told in pictures, colours and words. a good brand lets us, the customers, connect with it, with its story and with the values it stands for. It gives us reassurance of the products’ quality and makes us feel special. As we found through our research, stores and small businesses have incredible stories to tell which are unfortunately unutilized. Their stories involve everything we look for- A dream, a vision, passion, struggle, pain and perseverance. In Vienna, many small businesses have also a historical elements as they are run by the same family for generations. These businesses have been through Austria’s brightest and darkest days and survived to tell their tale.
Sadly the stories are rarely incorporated into a branding strategy. Such lack of strategy often impacts the structure, design and visibility of the store. Basic branding elements such as high quality image pictures, consistent colours or flagship products are too rare to find.
Not enough online presence
Perhaps the best solution to the location and risk problems i mentioned in the previous article is online presence. If a store is located far away, has too many products and lacks an inviting interior design, it can still sell well if it has a proper website. Even if these small business owners lack the human resources and overall capacity to operate an online store, having a website and a social media presence is not merely recommended, but a must.
- Website– Having a good and clear website is like designing an attractive display window. It must be elegant, clean, offer a clear view into the store and present the key products the shop wants to sell.
Despite not having high expectations to begin with, we were negatively surprised by the quality of the websites and the lack of any clear online strategy. Most websites we found were generic, limited with a broken functionality and a challenging navigation which could frustrate the average customer.
- Social media– Having a Facebook or Instagram profiles is a good start but never enough. We know how tough it is to maintain active profiles on several platforms, yet without consistency these profiles can never truly reach their potential. Our analysis showed not only a lack of such consistency but also a one way communication stream. Businesses often failed to engage the customers, offer special deals or give a certain benefit for their followers. As social media can be a wonderful tool to build a loyal community, engaging the audience properly makes a big difference.
- Google– Possibly the most important finding in regard to online presence came from Google. Most of our research is conducted through Google Maps where we search each and every street to find as many businesses as possible. This incredibly important tool is almost entirely neglected and that definitely adversely impacts the business. Upon our search we found that businesses tend to have a very low amount of reviews and almost no replies by the owners. Instinctively we do not want to go to a store which has 3 or 3.5 stars rating, even if this rating was given by only 3-4 people. This can seriously hurt the chances of small businesses to attract new customers and can instantly be improved. Generating reviews must be a focus of every business owner. Also, bad reviews must be viewed as an opportunity to community with every potential customer as we almost always look for the bad reviews and would expect a proper explanation. This can then convince us to actually come and support the store and even add a positive review of our own.
Lack of collaboration
On an average shopping street you can find many small shops one right after the other. As you walk down the street, you might pass by clothing stores, a beauty salon, a hairdresser, a florist and several cafes and restaurants. Around the area, you will most likely find several hotels and Airbnb apartments. For me, this observation has always raised the question- Why don’t they all work together?
As seen in our research, there is little to no cooperation between stores, hotels, community centers or touristic attractions. Some business owners didn’t even know who their neighbor is. This is an incredible opportunity which is simply ignored. Currently, each business fights alone to acquire new customers and alone the struggle is much greater. In these modern times, when competition is fierce and customers are hard to get, collaboration is key.
In our project, that is exactly what we intend to work on- connect shops, hotels and other businesses to each other to improve both their customer acquisition and retention. This will require a big change of attitude from the small business owners which may not be easy at first. Sadly, the motivator which will most likely lead to the desired mental change is the devastating financial crisis.
Minimal interaction with the customer
One major advantage shop and businesses have over online shopping is the physical interaction with the customer. A positive meeting can produce loyal ambassadors while a negative one can have terrible consequences. Throughout the customer’s visit to a store, a lot of information can be learned about their behavior and needs and this should be the basis for establishing a mutually beneficial relationship.
True, it requires effort and consistency but doing it right can and will pay off. Sadly, it is rarely implemented and the interaction with customers in stores is often short and unproductive. For instance, i have never received an email from my bike store about new gear i can purchase. I have never received a message from my neighborhood’s pet store even though they know i own pets and could return to buy more. Despite meeting them in person, i have less of a relationship with them than i have with online businesses and that’s a shame. In times of quarantine, many customers realized that all they need can be found online and without any commitment to the local small shop, there are simply not enough reasons to buy from it and not from the comfort of our homes.
Lack of focus on what makes the business special
After analyzing over 2,500 businesses, one of the keywords which can sum up our experience is confusion. Just like the local kebap-pizza-schnitzel fast food restaurant which lacks speciality or identity, so are many other shops and small businesses. In fear of losing customers shops stock themselves with as many products as possible. Cafes and restaurants create menus with more pages than a novel and the overall experience becomes exhausting and frustrating. With the vast majority of analyzed businesses it was not at all clear what is their flagship product, what makes them special and why should i visit them. This perhaps is the result of local culture, but standing out and having a unique offer is crucial, today more than ever.
Choosing key products to sell should also be done with the shop’s finances in mind. The key product to promote should be attractive, unique and with good profitability margins. Other products should complement the key products which should be focused on both inside the store and on the website. As the saying goes- more is less and less is more.
As our project and research continue, we invite you to follow our work. If you want to participate as a small business or as a volunteer, please contact us via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We invite you to visit our website (coronasupportboard.com) where we share the stories of Austria’s small businesses.