I’m involved my family-owned real estate management and development company in a smaller town (about 50,000) in the Kansas City area.
Doing business in a small town has a lot of positives: It can be easier to establish your presence, there is usually less competition, and it is less political.
However, fewer people can also mean fewer opportunities. To combat these shortcomings, we use a few strategies to keep customers, win business and succeed in the shallower end of the pond.
For me, being visible isn’t as simple as having the biggest signs or well-labeled vehicles. Being visible in professional organizations, serving on boards and being involved in the community is the type of visibility that money can’t buy. There are a lot of conversations that happen before and after meetings that lead to immediate business or at least allow you the opportunity to establish yourself as a local resource. We recently leased a space based solely on my relationship with someone on a board, due to our visibility as a “go-to” landlord. On the flip side, I’ve also become involved in organizations due to a landlord-tenant relationship. Visibility isn’t about “What can I get?” In this case, it became “What can I give?”
Don’t make your customers work to find you. You’re not a scavenger hunt. We’ve found that contact and communication preferences vary between customers, so we should vary our channels as well. Being accessible by the customer’s preferred method has allowed us to better communicate. In addition to the phone calls and emails, we’ve leased apartments via Facebook messenger, confirmed square-footage discrepancies on commercial spaces via a YouTube video, and showed vacant spaces on Sundays.
Not all customers are created the same. And, since not all customers fit in the same proverbial box, the more flexible you can be, the more objections you can overcome. In our property business, if the issue is up-front costs, we consider fronting the improvement expense and getting reimbursed over the course of the lease. If the issue is building up new customers, we’ll consider abated or progressive rent at the outset.
We are still working with a customer who has carried a balance with us for over three years. It’s taken a lot of communication and refinancing, but we’re a few short months away from being paid in full. I think this sort of understanding of your customer’s situation can make deals happen that otherwise might not, and will keep the us-versus-them mentality of business-client relations to a minimum.