Rural business entrepreneurs in Alberta have advantages that are often overlooked. They are smaller in size, which enables them to respond quickly to economic boom and bust cycles, and they also have the benefit of being near rural economic development. The advantages of being a rural entrepreneur in a small town are mutually beneficial to one another and create a strong partnership in the sustainability of rural life.
There are three major advantages to starting your business in a rural area: you can access your customers immediately and directly, you can deliver niche market services, and your business can be flexible when shifting to meet new business needs. Let’s explore these a bit further.
You Can Access Your Customers Directly
Rural businesses can offer personalized service, so you can meet your customers face-to-face. In rural areas, this is how customer bonds and consumer confidence are built. For example, farmers, ranchers, pipeline clients, and local homeowners can walk into your storefront and discuss their needs with you without having to drive too far or play a game of phone tag. On the business side, rural businesses offer intimate knowledge of the services and products needed in their geographic area. Business owners also know their customers’ names and remember details about former transactions. Being local also gives you the inside track on what is happening in your immediate area. Being in tune with your immediate area can also help you adjust your stock availability and have a close ‘handle’ on your monthly cash flow – key elements to a small business thriving.
On a social level, as a way of contributing to the sustainability of their community, many business owners often sponsor local events like ball tournaments and local festivals, purchase hockey team uniforms, donate funds for ski hill operations, or also hold volunteer positions on town council demonstrating social accountability. In other words, rural business owners are not anonymous and absentee landlords. They directly contribute to the social fabric of the rural community and encourage strong viability, sponsoring population retention necessary to keep essential services available and operating full-time. They are an essential component of sponsoring a sense of community for rural residents.
Your Business Can Deliver Specialized Services
Many rural business owners are experts in their fields. As a business owner, you have discovered a market niche where your services and expert skills can be used. You can compete with businesses in big municipalities thanks to lower operation costs and product prices, and delivery of front-line services by you, the business owner. In other words, you are right there behind the counter waiting to say, “How can I help you?”
One current example of this situation is an autobody shop near Coronation, Alberta. This shop has developed services for body work out of a desire to respond to general customer needs and a personal passion for custom work. This rural business owner has created a name for himself where he is sought after and produces custom work. His work is represented in North American competitions where owners spend in excess of $100,000 to have him create award-winning vehicles. Like so many others in rural Alberta, this owner is right in the shop garage performing autobody repair, wiping his hands to greet customers who come in the front door or the garage bay door to request his services. The demand for his services has created a need for an apprentice to be hired to support the additional workload. This is that mutual benefit rural business generates within small towns – it keeps the community alive by creating jobs and retaining local talent. This example demonstrates how success can be found when delivering quality, specialized work while charging reasonable prices for your services.
Rural Businesses can be More Flexible
Rural businesses are usually a small enterprise and can be more flexible to meet the changing needs of their rural economy. This flexibility fosters confidence and loyalty among customers. In other words, as a rural business owner, you can make changes in your inventory, billing, offer new products, or change processes more easily. Why? Because you are right there when the customer comes through the door and makes a request or shares feedback with you. You can make decisions or changes in the moment! That is customer satisfaction at its best. You do not have to consult multiple levels or parties to make changes or decisions. The ability to meet customer/client demands on the spot means customers are inclined to seek out your business services first.
In rural Alberta, a current example which captures the flexibility and responsiveness of small business to rural economic development is in Oyen. In this instance, with provincial government sponsorship, the Keystone XL Pipeline recently resumed construction. Work crews in rural areas require an accommodation to perform jobs which are project-based and often shorter-term and infrequent in duration. In these circumstances, when there are fluctuations of how many workers are on-the-job and the duration of their stay is uncertain, small rural motels often offer and negotiate on-the-spot room rentals and meals with pipeline crews as the project moves through its stages. By accommodating work crews to stay near their work location, spin-off sales also occur for other local businesses, like at small independent restaurants, the local grocery store, and even for tire maintenance centers. This is where rural business demonstrates its ability to be flexible at all levels of increased demand for its services – to expand when necessary and return to their original size later when the project is completed.
The key to excelling in a rural environment as a small business owner is to deliver and offer services that are meaningful to the needs of your customers, and to do it consistently. Some important advantages have been highlighted here: the size of your business, location, and being nimble to changes. Other factors to keep in mind: while you are located in a rural area, away from a municipal center with a large population, your business size and location can compete ‘squarely’ against businesses in urban centers by drawing on customers from a larger geographic base – allowing you to survive, thrive and grow! Keep these three advantages in mind to outmaneuver and out-service urban competition every time and win the game of having customers come to your rural business first.
Christine is a champion of small rural business entrepreneurs. In today’s world where the big city is the draw for diverse shopping needs and online shopping is taking commerce in a new direction, she believes that rural businesses have a lot to offer and can compete squarely. She grew up in a small family business in a remote resource-based town in Northern Manitoba which succeeded even during fluctuating economic cycles. With this personal background, she pursued advanced education in business, studying in the field of entrepreneurship. Christine’s passion is writing blogs for small business with the goal of highlighting important elements these owners can use to succeed and expand.
When Christine is not composing blogs, she works in student affairs at the University of Calgary and on her days off is hiking in the mountains where she can disappear into natural beauty, smell fresh air and enjoy open spaces.