Posted on 15 June 2007 by Cristian Dorobantescu
As I live in our capital city, Bucharest, and I always wanted to know how business is different in a small town. I had some genuine questions I always wanted to ask another entrepreneur. Becky McCray from Small Biz Survival had some interesting answers.
Becky McCray is an entrepreneur and rancher in a small town in Oklahoma. She writes about small business and rural issues. In her spare time, she enjoys photography, safaris, and spoiling her niece and three nephews.
Cristian: For the readers that don’t know, Becky shares multiple roles under the same hat. She is co-owner of Allen’s Retail Liquors, rancher and business/marketing consultant. I know from my own part time entrepreneurship experience that doing multiple jobs in the same time requires excellent focus and time management, so how do they all work together? What’s the biggest challenge?
Becky: Thanks for inviting me to talk with you, Cristian! I must enjoy handling multiple roles, because I’ve been doing it a long time. The store requires me to work certain hours each day, but all the other things I do are more flexible. My husband takes care of most of the ranching, and I fit in my other work where I can. You’ve identified the biggest challenge: focus.
Cristian: So, you co-own a liquors retail store in a rural area. As I’m working in the software market (where market and consumer demand are virtually unlimited) there is a question I always wanted to ask a regular “brick and mortar”entrepreneur. Is it possible to expand your business (liquors store) in a limited geographical area, or if you need more action you have to open a totally different business?
Becky: The liquor business in Oklahoma is restricted by law. I can only have one store, so I grow the business through improving our customer service, selection, and by marketing. I listen to what customers ask for, and try to meet their needs. I think that improving our product selection drives most of our growth. The more we have, the more we seem to sell.
Cristian: What about the competition and marketing, do you need to advertise, print flyers participate to conferences or it’s mostly word of mouth?
Becky: For the liquor store, I maintain a website, advertise in the local papers and the local radio, and support word of mouth. One innovative word of mouth technique we use is teaching wine tasting classes. I’m thinking about trying cell phone marketing, especially for the college students.My consulting work is advertised strictly by word of mouth.
Cristian: How do you attract, train and keep skilled workforce in a small town?
Becky: A great question! That issue is really becoming more important for entrepreneurs who require a local team. Seldom will you find a person who already has all the right skills and experience. Hire people with the right attitude, train them with the right skills, and pay them well above the average.
Cristian: Do you think that in order to “make it big” you have to live in a big city? Or rural areas are offering more or less the same opportunities?
Becky: I think technology allows us to be more or less independent of the big city, depending on your business. I strongly feel you can succeed in a small town. I’m sure the opportunities are different from big cities, but the potential for success is great. I just talked with a small town entrepreneur who is employing 5 part time people and sold over $15,000 worth of product this week. It can work!
Cristian: We all learned big words like Globalization, outsourcing, social networking and so on. How did the rural business environment change in the last 5 years?
Becky: Small towns now offer fewer opportunities to succeed with a local retail store, but more opportunities to reach the world through a niche product. For example, a small town appliance or clothing store faces a world of competition from online competitors and bigger towns. On the other hand, a small manufacturer in Alva, Oklahoma, can now sell their airplane interior parts all over the world by using the internet wisely. The other growing category of local business is service. Computer and other high tech services are in great demand all over. Some low-tech services are, also, like plumbing and electrical services.
Cristian: Where do you see yourself and your business(es) in the next 5 years?
Becky: In the next five years, I plan to continue transforming my retail store into more of a destination and experience, even in a small town. By dreaming of what would be the ultimate store, I keep thinking of smaller ways to improve my customers’ experience everyday. I also intend to revitalize our ranching business over the next five years.
Cristian: Was there a critical moment when you considered giving up on having multiple roles?
Becky: A couple of years ago before we bought the store, I had a job that took more than full time hours. I seriously cut back on all my outside businesses at that time. Since that ended, I’ve been rebuilding my businesses. I like having more than one thing going at a time.
Cristian: How does blogging affect or help your business? I (for example) read and enjoy your blog, but considering that I’m from Europe, it would be a little hard to take advantage of your business/marketing services. What about the local folks, do they know you are blogging and use your services because of that?
Becky: Actually, I have a marketing client in Namibia, Africa, so it’s all a matter of communication. I don’t blog to build my business. I blog to share the wonderful community development and economic development information that I receive by email and that I find online. Locally, I’ve promoted my blog to the community and economic development professionals, but I don’t think very many other locals know about it. My liquor store website is also a blog, and it does attract a few customers.
Cristian: What advice do you have for small business entrepreneurs from small towns?
Becky: Learn to perceive opportunity, learn the courage to take action and create a new venture around that opportunity, and learn basic business skills. Constantly work to improve your skills in those three areas. Thanks again for inviting me, Cristian!
And thank you Becky for answering my questions! Read more on Small Biz Survival, by and for small business people in rural areas and small towns.