Clayton Christiansen, a great business mind and Harvard Business School dean once said, "The reason why it is so difficult for existing businesses to capitalize on disruptive innovations is that their processes and their business model that make them good at the existing business model actually make them bad at competing for the disruption."
When you couple this statement by Christiansen with an article I recently read in Forbes, you will have a recipe for disaster that is looming for many local communities.
The article in Forbes encouraged readers to take advantage of shopping online via e-commerce. While it touted Amazon and its Wall Street friends, no reference to any local community was to be found. If this was a one-off piece, one could ignore it as an oversight but, unfortunately, that is not the case. I've seen and read similar pieces in Bloomberg, Reuters, AP, and countless other mainstream media sources, imploring readers to spend money with all their Wall Street cronies.
Make no mistake, when I selected the column title, "Building Main Street, not Wall Street," it was for a very distinct reason. Communities will have difficulty building Main Street while being pummeled by Wall Street. Whether intentional or not, Wall Street is coming after every dollar from your community it can get its hands on. The pressure from shareholders is increasing. This e-commerce attack which is in its infancy will spell disaster for many local communities across the country.
Don't think for one minute that big government with sweetheart deals from Wall Street lobbyists will come to your rescue. As the lockdowns showed, by in large, local businesses were forced to shutter their doors while many of the Wall Street and corporately owned businesses were deemed essential and continued to stay open, and in most cases, thrive.
The real kicker is that many local governments blindly followed this path, unknowingly destroying their local business base while becoming a major exporter of local dollars to Wall Street. Communities must view this as war! Rest assured, your opponents on Wall Street do.
What can local communities do, in light of this e-commerce assault on their local base?
First, sustainable community initiatives need to be led from the top. Community leaders must lead, and they must act now. By community leaders, this means city leaders, business leaders, the chamber, civic clubs or organizations, media, and other city influencers. They need to convene a special meeting with "saving local businesses" as the sole topic and begin to strategize their path forward in support of local businesses.
Secondly, leadership needs to come up with communitywide initiatives to assist locally-owned businesses. At this point, it may prove difficult to enact something that is effective by the Christmas shopping season, but getting the process started is a must. Always remember, even if you fall a bit short, anything will help.
Thirdly, these initiatives should be employing year-round efforts, not just a token "Shop Small Saturday" or "Christmas Bucks" type of program. Those programs are a start, but won't do a thing to build loyalty, habit, and long-term sustainable shopping patterns throughout your community. Think of year-long promotions, incentives, games, contests, and so forth. This is where a solid partnership between local chambers, news-media companies, and businesses can create synergies and build foundational support.
Lastly, don't be afraid to reach out for help. Many communities have done some outstanding things in support of their local business base. Most are more than willing to share their ideas and strategies. In fact, simply send me an email and I will provide many ideas, suggestions, and thoughts to get you started.
The key to success is to get started. Commit your community to answer the battle cry and not succumb to inaction and lack of initiative. Anyone can lead during the good times; the mark of great leaders are those leaders who step up during the tough times and lead.
Six-time MVP Michael Jordon always wanted the ball when the game was on the line; he was willing to carry the team when it needed him the most. The role of community leadership is to provide that leadership during crunch time as well. The time has come to lead!
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John Newby is a nationally-recognized publisher, community, chamber, business and media strategy consultant, and speaker. His "Building Main Street, not Wall Street" column runs in more than 60 communities around the country. As founder of Truly-Local, he assists community leaders, businesses, and local media in building synergies and creating more vibrant communities. He can be reached at [email protected]