A dialogue bubble portrays in bold letters "shop local" atop a bright, sea-green brick wall.
5 ways to go local with your customer base

Going local is smart business. It is a huge trend in buying across the board. “Locavores” are people who choose to shop, buy and eat food that is grown within 100 miles of its final destination.The purpose is to cut down on transportation costs — including the cost to the environment — of shipping goods long distances. Plus, there is the added benefit of supporting people within your community.

Localization works for propane dealers as well. Although your merchandise isn’t (in most cases) manufactured locally, you can still be part of this trend in several ways.

1. A Sense of Place

Almost every city and town in the United States has something that sets it apart from the neighboring towns. In Sisters, Oregon, there are the Three Sisters mountains that are seen from all locations. In Portland, there’s Mount Hood, the eight bridges that cross the rivers, and the proliferation of roses (Portland is called the “Rose City”), just to name a few.


In another town in the middle of the country — Poplar Bluff, Montana — I found a charming reproduction of a European village complete with a windmill, the Iron Horse Festival and a full-scale downtown revitalization project.

Think of Pawnee, Indiana, and their little horse mascot from the television show “Parks and Recreation” as an example of something that sets it apart. There may be a scenic overlook nearby that is well-known to locals and tourists as the place to go for picnics. You can use this scene in your store to identify your place as being a part of the community.

Framed photos of significant people in the history of your town or city can also be part of your localization décor.

Photo blowups can be printed in wallpaper form for reasonable rates. You could (ideally) find a local print company with a large format digital printer that can do all of the work for you at a reasonable cost.Work locally with a wallpaper hanger as well, and position this photo blowup in a clearly seen focal area.

Add warm LED wide spotlights or floodlights on tracks 3 feet up (if possible) from the top of the focal area, and 3 to 4 feet out from the face of the wall or from the face of the fixture. Don’t even bother with less expensive incandescent lights. You will pay for the LEDs within a year or two, with lower bulb replacement costs as well as lower electric bills.

Make sure that whatever you add to a wall or window is large enough to be seen. Go big or go home!

2. Connect With Local Events

Most towns and cities have major events that bring people together. Rather than just taping a poster to your window at the request of someone who stopped by with a stack of them, see how you can participate in the event in a more connected way.

If the event is near your showroom and during good weather, consider having a DJ play dance music in the showroom or on the lot. Offer (limited) beer and wine and a grill with hotdogs or burgers. You can limit the beverage intake with tickets for drinks — no ticket, no drink, and two is the limit. Weather permitting, this could be a lot of fun on semi-cool days and nights. Invite all your customers, friends and family. Invite the local press. Give them two tickets as well!

Signs and good marketing are vital for this to work, and every sign should have your name and logo on the top or top left to remind people who is sponsoring the fun. Stick to simplicity with the signs. Bigger is better here. Make sure to use clear fonts and good contrast along with your identifying store color(s). The same goes for your invitations, email blasts and website notices.

3. Donate

Chances are good that you are asked for either money or a donation of a product at least three times a week for local charitable or fundraising organizations. It’s not likely that you’re going to be giving away propane, but you probably have items in your accessories area or smaller equipment that would be decent donations. There are several ways to deal with these endless requests.

One idea is to pick five local organizations a year to which you will donate product. You can let the other organizations know that you will put them on your list for the following years. Each year, you will pick five organizations out of a hat and those will receive contributions. Consider not including the most recent year’s recipients to be fair to the others. Look at your products and see what will work for people who aren’t your everyday customers.

First-aid kits are a great giveaway for anyone. You can plan ahead by ordering a bunch just for these organizations, plus for your store. Make sure they are good quality — don’t skimp. If your donation is being held up in front of hundreds of potential customers and it looks like something from a discount store, that’s the impression all those people will have of your dealership.

4. Buy Local

If possible, buy all your store supplies locally. Contract with local service people, work with local contractors and get your printing done locally. Let customers know on your website (yes, they are looking at it) and in your advertisements that you source as much as possible from your local area. If you can do this, you have genuine bragging rights. Put a “Made Locally” sticker on each of these items.

5. Localize Your Windows

If you have see-through windows into your showroom, think about adding a local image to your window display. Once again, a photo blowup can be printed on inexpensive vinyl or fabric and hung from the ceiling.

Consider making the photo double-sided so it enhances the inside of your showroom or store area as well. Have one or two flexible mannequins wearing clothing and safety equipment working on a job, standing in front of the photo blowup. Google “foam flexible adult mannequins” or check out Etsy.

If there is a school in your area that has fashion marketing or visual merchandising students, ask their department director if you could work with one or two of them to style your mannequins for the window, and possibly create a “local” window display for you as extra credit or as part of an assignment.

Go local, even when you have more than one or two stores or are a regional marketer. Customize the shopping experience in each of your locations with local images. Do so not only to do more business but also to support and be a part of your chosen community.

Linda Cahan is the president of Portland-based Cahan & Co., a consulting firm that works with retailers of all sizes and categories to improve their bottom line through creative, affordable and appropriate visual merchandising, store design and renovations.


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