National Trends Influence Local Businesses

What’s trending in the economy on a national level trickles down into local economies, Todd Tranum, president and CEO of the Chautauqua County Chamber of Commerce, pointed out, and local outlets have been feeling the impacts of growth and an evolution in retail.

“At the national level, retail is growing at a clip of about 4 percent annually,” Tranum said. “That has been the trend since 2010.”

While the prevalence of online sales have disrupted the brick-and-mortar retail industry, online sales still only make up 10 percent of all total retail sales, Tranum said, “meaning there is 90 percent of a $3.8 trillion industry … not online.”

Tranum wanted to make clear that on-site retail is not dying off; he said an estimated 2,000 retail stores opened nationwide in 2018. While last year chain stores like Bon-Ton and Sears closed shop in the Chautauqua Mall and elsewhere, including the official closure of the local Sam’s Club, there are still remaining opportunities for retail outlets that have survived last year’s multiple closures.

Data analysis, a focus of which has only increased with the advent of the modern internet, has helped on-site retail locations keep up with digital competition. “Big data,” Tranum said, has helped businesses better understand consumer tendencies.

Even small businesses can collect data and learn more from their consumers, and they can begin doing so by looking at engagement online, including analytics from official webpages on Google, Facebook and more. Even the traditional survey can go a long way, he said.

“(Data) is helping these brands understand where there are growth opportunities,” Tranum said. “Some of the large box store chains have also leveraged big data to help them determine their next strategical moves.”

To capitalize on a growing tourism industry and the following economic impacts, Tranum said local businesses can focus further on data analysis, customer service — such as promotions and discounts — and expanding brand presences through websites and social media in order to promote engagement in the modern day.

“To survive and thrive, local retail has to have an internet presence,” Tranum reiterated. “At a minimum, a retailer must have a good website and social media presence. Ideally, an online store and aggressive social media strategy. These are today’s tools of the trade.”

Tranum elaborated further with the observation that many consumers are using smartphones to find shops and restaurants through GPS. Search engine optimization, through key words and social media branding, points potential consumers in the direction of stores and other outlets as well, now more than ever.

“In Chautauqua County, retail spending is growing consistently with national trends, but among fewer retail establishments while tourism spending is increasing,” Tranum said. “Chautauqua County retail sales have been growing at a rate of approximately 4 percent per year since 2010. Notably between 2005 and 2016, the total number of retail establishments declined from 583 to 482.”

The number of businesses locally has decreased; however, tourism spending has increased by 15 percent within the same time frame. Reaching $261.5 million in the county in 2017, the tourism industry continues to supplement the needs of local businesses, and Tranum said that following modern mindsets regarding involved customer service and using the internet as a critical tool will help just about any business get a leg up on the competition.

“From our observation, local retail establishments who have a good and desired product, are in a good location, provide excellent customer service, provide a unique and positive customer experience and stay in touch with their consumer base tend to be successful,” Tranum said. “These traits along with a strong web-based and social media presence, sharing best practices and information with other local businesses and good old-fashioned hard work often lead to success.”