Yes, you can show the way with ideas in your downtown
“We’ve always done it this way.” These are the six deadliest words for every small-town downtown seeking to move forward.
Pssst! It’s also a slap in the face to millennials who weren’t even born when you were still doing it that old way. Um, you are trying to attract millennials, right?
The problem hits the crisis stage when this mentality becomes embedded in the culture of a downtown. Resistance to change will create irrelevancy fast. The public notices when a willingness to change, get creative and adapt, becomes non existent. It’s hard to build back public confidence and a sense of a place if it is allowed to slide.
There’s two common threads that drive the “We’ve always done it this way” syndrome that throttles the need to grow and adapt.
First, there are the leaders who have worked there for decades, probably even before a microwave first appeared in the local coffee shop. These folks are in comfort mode. Change is tough or even seen as not needed. They’ll complain about anything that changes routine. Yes, people do approach with ideas, but it usually ends the same way: “I talked to them about that idea and it went nowhere.” When more and more people have this same refrain, you can see an unfortunate stereotype has developed.
Second, there are leaders who believe they’ll find a way because they, after all, are the leader. This, of course, is a smokescreen. Change invites scrutiny. It’s always easier to fly under the radar. So change rarely happens. “If it ain’t broke, we don’t need to fix it.” I always describe it as the George Costanza syndrome: Someone can look really busy, attend meetings, talk a good game, but the actions are never there.
So, if you are a store owner, what can you do to encourage change in a downtown?
Here are a few suggestions:
Schedule a time to meet with your leaders
I know, I know…. if leaders are a problem, then why go to them? Well, you can be a leader yourself by showing ‘leaders’. You’re lucky if you work in a downtown where people can suggest ideas in passing and it generates a response like “Great idea! Let’s meet to talk about that more!” Or better still, “Great idea! Run with it!” But this isn’t most downtowns. If you meet with your leader, don’t say “I have this great idea that I’d like to talk to you about.” Just say you have something that’s important that you would like to talk about. Bring along another shopkeeper who is supportive. And then take ownership of your idea (it’s your idea!) and talk about how YOU will move forward with it. You’re not being a rebel. You’re being a do-er. Your downtown probably needs more do-ers.
Focus on doing
Sure, an idea with information, a strategy, benefits to the downtown, and outcomes is the basis for selling action. But, let’s be honest, don’t get bogged down in all that stuff to the point of an idea’s enthusiasm getting killed by time wasted. There’s nothing wrong with doing and learning at the same time. Doing 25 things and learning that 15 were awesome, is generating Idea Capital and creating progress vs doing nothing yet continually studying, doing reports, and forming committees. An idea-friendly downtown can be contagious and spur others. You WANT this kind of downtown.
Yes, you can still talk about benefits and improvements
If you know fear of change from leadership is an inevitable response, then be prepared with how you’ll deal with it. You need a solution to move beyond that hurdle and keep a conversation going. Often it starts with baby steps. That’s because small steps can win over fear of change. They help ease into new ways. If you go in and attack current methods of doing things in your downtown, some people will take it personally and become even deeper entrenched against change. So Rule 1: Don’t trash existing methods. Focus on improvements.
Remember that deep down, the resistance is often based on the mindset “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” To that, I say, Kodak thought the film camera would last forever too.
Do you need BIA approval?
You’re not going to see every leader or board member jumping up and down shouting “Hooray! We’re going to start doing this tomorrow!” You’re far more likely to get a “We’ll take a look at it.” Which, unfortunately, may result in you never hearing another word about it. But here’s the thing: Do you even need your BIA or downtown association to approve? Not every idea needs to pass through the bureaucracy and red tape of your BIA. What idea can you put into action to make a difference? An idea is just an idea if it never gets implemented. Get the ball rolling so others can see a can-do mindset does exist.
Stay the course and stay positive
No doubt, if you got rejected, you left a meeting feeling demoralized and muttering all kinds of negatives about the downtown culture. That’s natural. But snap out of it. Stay focused on you. You are trying to be positive. You are trying to help main street. That’s why you’re bringing forward new ideas. Cultures that don’t want change will be banking on you simply giving up on presenting new ideas. That’s why it’s essential to get back in the saddle and remain positive. Never forget that change is a long game. It doesn’t happen immediately.
A final note….
Every downtown has other businesses, even if it’s only a few, that probably see things the same way as you. Change often begins because someone like you or a some small group of store owners said “Let’s do this!” The public will see the effort you are doing. And let’s be frank: that’s who the target audience is, anyways. It’s not downtown leaders who are resistant to doing new things.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Based in the woods and working far beyond, Gregg McLachlan is recognized as a leading trainer, creative marketing rethinker and rural social media strategist in southwestern Ontario. He works with small businesses and organizations who want to elevate their branding. He has been a conference and workshop guest speaker for rural downtown business associations, provincial government agencies, municipal economic development departments and tourism organizations, as well as provincial and national nonprofits. His new conference and workshop talk for 2018 is entitled, 2017 Is Sooooo Yesterday, and helps organizations understand how social media is evolving and how to stay ahead and be effective. Contact Gregg at email@example.com
Learn more about Your Town Rising, a new initiative co-founded by Leslie and Gregg McLachlan and find out how you can bring them to your town