Main Street our final connection

Paula & Wendy at Grays Furniture & Giftware are learning to run eCommerce and bring zipPay into their business.

I don’t know if anyone is watching the change sweeping rural communities.

Did anyone think ahead as the switches were flipped to give us high speed broadband? The cost saving ability of a disruptor dictates how quickly it will be taken up. So imagine placing the discounted, fast & easy world of online shopping into our hungriest rural communities?  The uptake is huge, and digital gaps are quickly overcome in a drive to embrace crucial household savings.

That’s why I wince when I hear about digital skills training for residents. Deloitte economics says that while 50% of sales will involve digital tools within 5 years, only 20% of SMBs are using social media to engage customers. (SMBs in the digital race for the customer, Deloitte Access Economics, 2016)

There is a huge chasm opening up in the digital equality world, and it’s the small business owner who is at a crisis point.

Exhausted & time poor, these clever, down to earth people are definitely a late adopter of technology. The phone isn’t ringing, because their customers want to do business in Facebook messenger. The staff are having hours cut, and the Main Street is getting quieter.

So what do we lose here? Is the decline just a normal evolution toward shopping in big centres? Should our towns either become convenience strips, or chase their own next big development?

Firstly, the social benefits of keeping independent retailers must be taken into account. Losing them means removing another source of human relationship in an increasingly isolated world. What impact will that have on mental health in rural Australia?

Business skills, trade skills & entrepreneurial mindset are being personally fostered into the next generation inside our rural shops, cafes & beaticians. 

Secondly, the heartblood of our Australian culture pumps from our towns. Everything it means to be an Aussie is normal life here. Helping out a mate, looking out for each other’s kids, meeting each week with people outside of your “social set” are just normal life. The essence of this comes from our connectedness to each other, and our perception of belonging to a place.

That just doesn’t happen in a big centre. There is nothing that compares to buying directly from a business owner, having them on the floor training our youth, and seeing the saltiness of their character displayed in the DNA of their shop.

It seems ludicrous to me that we could lose this over such a small gap in learning. My work over the past four years, with hundreds of business owners, has opened my eyes. In just 4 training sessions, an average person can learn:

  • To produce their own live video, blog & photo content, that generated 16 new jobs for one tradesman, all booked through messenger.
  • To boost out content to local people, at an extremely cheap cost. One targeted ad cost $7.50 and sold 5 products for a local phone shop.
  • To embrace eCommerce & digital transactions. Two local shops are hiring young people this month, specifically to run  their eCommerce sales. Another two are training existing members.

That’s a pretty short timeframe, and low cost for such dramatic change! The reason? Late adopters are able to embrace the new user-focused tech world. Once the mental hurdle of “I can’t do this” is overcome, the learning is quick.

 Intuitive apps & cloud based technology mean a low investment in hardware & learning. A $20 plan to any telco gets you a tablet and data. The eCommerce & fintech tools are often free to use, with a smaller transactional cost than traditional eftpos.

The whole point is to embrace new consumer shopping habits, while also wooing the buyer back into town. A vibrant shopping strip, with quality cafes & boutiques gets mum out of the house, gives a new couple somewhere to date, and provides a village of support for our older folk.

The businesses owners are so keen to learn, as long as there is the personal support. Real, sustainable change comes from a spark in each town. It must be grass-roots. 

Shop My Town has now finished our research & testing stage and has entered a scale phase. We are currently providing the new tools to our first round of members, to implement in a big new growth phase.

Because small town life is so valuable, and it risks being lost. My life work is to hold these precious people tight, steer them through the change, and hopefully pass on a better world to my children in rural Australia.