Small businesses cannot compete with big companies on price alone. Instead they are focusing on getting back to their roots: customers and community.
The Daly Waters Pub, an iconic 86-year-old establishment about 600 kilometres south of Darwin in the Northern Territory, is the kind of place that stays with you. Just ask any of the thousands of visitors that are drawn in every year by its uniquely “Occa” flavour and fascinating history.
The pub’s owners, Lindsay and Robyne Carmichael, estimate they have worked 16 to 17 hours every day of the week for the last 17 years. During that time, they have had about eight months’ break from the place – which equates to less than two weeks’ leave a year. “Work”, however, is a term Mr Carmichael uses loosely. The Daly Waters is a lifestyle, a part of his identity and not work in the traditional sense, he says.
For the Carmichaels and millions of small business owners like them, small business is more than an income or a job. It’s a part of their individual identity and the country’s culture. Shop Small, a movement founded by American Express, is supporting small businesses and the people behind them such as the Carmichaels throughout the month of November. But with more than 60 per cent of consumers now actively choosing to shop at large chains, business owners are forced to work harder to attract and retain customers and protect local businesses.
The 2016 Economy of Shopping Small: Customer Counts report – commissioned by American Express – found that 78 per cent of respondents felt they had been “profoundly touched” by small business during their lives. But despite their nostalgia, just 37 per cent of respondents increased the number of times they shopped at small businesses over the last year. Moreover, over 60 per cent increased the amount of shopping they did with larger chain stores.
Brian Walker, retail guru and CEO and Founder of consultancy Retail Doctor Group, says many consumers have good intentions when it comes to small business, however they need to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to providing meaningful, long-term support.
“We have to go used them week after week after week. Alongside servicing Australian consumers, the small business community is essential to protecting the spirit of our national spirit,” he says.
For business owners, remaining relevant to their customers’ needs and having the ability to change is crucial to their long term success. In The Daly Waters’ case, while it has many traditions that won’t change – such as visitors’ leaving bras and other paraphernalia to “make their mark” on the pub – other aspects of the business are constantly evolving to keep up with the times.
“For example, we have a different menu and different nights of entertainment depending on whether it is ‘peak’ or ‘off’ season for the tourists,” explains Mr Carmichael. “The peak season is full of grey nomads, who are generally aged from about 59 years. They’re usually retired and have a few pennies to spend, so we focus on having more upmarket food and some nicer wines. But in the off season, it’s mostly younger travellers and backpackers, who have a limited budget. At that time of year we have more happy hours, cheaper food and more of a focus on younger people.”
Vice President, Small Merchant at American Express
Shop Small is a nationwide movement that brings together support from the business community, governments and consumers to support small businesses. Shop Small began on October 31 and runs for the entire month of November.
To celebrate Shop Small, American Express sent cultural archivist and photographer, Eamon Donnelly on a trip around Australia with a brief to capture images of the dynamic and diverse small businesses who play a large role in our community and to help tell their story.American Express Facebook Page
Keeping up to date with social media is also something that The Daly Waters, along with many small businesses have found to be extremely beneficial for the growth of the business. The pub has more than 34,000 Facebook “likes”, no mean feat for any business, let alone a small business in the middle of nowhere in outback Australia. It uses its Facebook page for everything from a community noticeboard to a platform to tell the occasional bad Aussie joke.
While change is important, so is nostalgia. Long standing family-run businesses such as Paragon Café in Goulburn, Opalios Opals in Coober Pedy, Tilley’s Devine Café in Canberra and Lindbeck’s Butchery in Queanbeyan, owe much of their success to the old fashioned businesses practices that they are known for.
Lindbeck’s still uses the same old-fashioned butchery practices that previous generations used and Paragon’s retro atmosphere is one of the things that draws locals and visitors to the restaurant. Opalio’s is known for having two generations working side-by-side in the business every day – with its elderly owners, Stella and Andreas still actively working in the shop and out in the mine.
Lindbeck’s Butchery’s owner, Peter Lindbeck, says while his shop does a lot of things “the old fashioned way”, staying up to date with changing customer tastes is equally as important. Constant changes to product offerings and keeping up to date with social media are an important part of Lindbeck’s business plan.
“Getting around in the community is also important when you’re a small business owner, particularly in regional towns. You get involved with everything from the local sporting groups to the schools and other clubs,” Mr Lindbeck says.
“You find as a business owner it becomes a part of your identity. It gives you a purpose in life.”