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.
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 simultaneously requires excellent focus and time management, so how do they all work together? What’s the biggest challenge?
Becky: Thanks for inviting me. I must enjoy handling multiple roles because I’ve been doing it for 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 most significant challenge: focus.
So, you co-own a liquors retail store in a rural area. As I’m working in the software market (where the 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 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.
What about the competition and marketing, do you need to advertise, print flyers participate in 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 college students. My consulting work is advertised strictly by word of mouth.
How do you attract, train and keep a skilled workforce in a small town?
Becky: A great question! That issue is 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.
Do you think that to “make it big,” you have to live in a big city? Or are rural areas 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 excellent. I just talked with a small-town entrepreneur employing five part-time people and sold over $15,000 worth of product this week. It can work!
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 worldwide 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.
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 a more destination and experience, even in a small town. By dreaming of the ultimate store, I keep thinking of smaller ways to improve my customers’ experience every day. I also intend to revitalize our ranching business over the next five years.
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.
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 extraordinary 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.
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 necessary business skills. Always work to improve your skills in those three areas. Thanks again for inviting me!
And thank you, Becky, for answering my questions! Read more on Small Biz Survival by small business people in rural areas and small towns.