In episode 31, I talk with long-time friend, rural small business expert, liquor store owner and cattle rancher, Becky McCray. If anyone one knows small businesses and the challenges of eCommerce, it’s Becky.
In this show, we are looking at Omni Local and how rural businesses are using this powerful tool to take advantage of multi-channels to reach their customers. Becky brings some valuable insights into how to take advantage of this tool, as well as perspectives on small rural businesses and important survival on tips.
This show will help not only small rural businesses but anyone in the eCommerce space. Whether consultant, developer, or designer, I can guarantee you will be picking up valuable nuggets to help you better understand your clients.
We chatted about:
- What defines omni local
- The top challenges for small town businesses looking to start using eCommerce
- Strategies that small rural businesses can use with omni local
- How one small town business has grown through implementing the concept of omni local
- How, focusing on their existing customers, small town businesses are ahead of the game in this market
Thanks To Our Podcast Sponsor: Pronto Marketing
Bob Dunn: Hey everyone, welcome to episode 31. Bob Dunn here also known as Bob WP on the web. Today I have the pleasure of having my long time friend, small town business expert, cattle rancher, liquor store owner, Becky McCray on our show today. Hey Becky, so glad to have you here.
Becky McCray: Hey Bob, I’m really excited to be with you again.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, it’s been a long time since we’ve actually talked to each other, other than on social hasn’t it?
Becky McCray: It has and it’s good to get back with you. I know that you’re always so active in this space and I always gather good stuff out of your Twitter feed so it’s good to be connected.
Bob Dunn: I’m glad at least one of my followers is getting something good out of my Twitter feed, that’s good to know.
Becky McCray: That’s me.
Bob Dunn: All right, well as much as I’m sure our listeners would want to know about Becky’s ranching and liquor store owner skills today we are going to focus more on her role with helping small town rural businesses succeed using Omni Local, a very interesting and intriguing concept and approach to eCommerce but before we dive into those questions and learn a little bit more about what Becky does I’d like to thank our sponsor today, Pronto Marketing, who offers internet presence management.
Pronto understands running an online business and presence is more than putting up a site and saying it’s good to go. There’s a heck of a lot more effort, time and cash needed for the business owner and it can be overwhelming hiring people for design, development, SEO and all those other needed services to make your site a success and most importantly this is even more critical for the store owner. This is where Pronto Marketing comes in, they become your partner to develop and manage your online presence while you spend your energies working on your business. You can see them at ProntoMarketing.com. I’ll be telling you more about what they can do for you later in the show.
Now, back to our guest Becky, as much as I would love to spend half of our show, probably we could talk the entire show just catching up and hearing about all the different diverse skills you have. Can you tell our listeners in a nutshell a bit more about yourself and what you do with that passion you have for small town businesses?
Becky McCray: I am a retail liquor store owner and a cattle rancher. My husband and I have both of those businesses here in Woods County Oklahoma and people laugh when I mention we have a liquor store and when I’m a tech conferences they look at my a little funny when I say we have cattle. They go, what are you doing here, why are you here and it’s because I have a long time interest in entrepreneurship. I’ve been an entrepreneur since junior high when I started my first business and I have a long term interest in small towns and rural places, smaller communities, little neighborhoods within big cities. In the smaller areas where community really happens.
My interest in that is because this is where I live. I look out my window that’s next to me here and I see a pecan tree and a wheat field. Most people when you look out the window of your room what you see is another house, another building, more urban area. This, in our small places is where community really happens and because of that that’s where my interest lies. I have put that together, I have a site called SmallBizSurvival.com that’s been around for ten years now that is dedicated to small town business because we do things a little differently in small towns. We have a smaller group of customers to draw from. We’ve always dealt the idea that reputation is forever. We’ve dealt with all the issues of customer service on a direct personal basis in small towns. That’s the focus of the site, SmallBizSurvival.
Then recently I’ve been working with Deb Brown, who is a director of a Chamber of Commerce in a small town. She and I have a site called SaveYour.Town where we focus on the tools, the practical steps, the things that you could do right now that are going to prepare your town, your small community for the future.
Bob Dunn: Very cool. Yeah, I know the passion you have for that and I just think it’s … we’ve lived in small towns, we lived on a little island which was pretty much considered a small town since we were surrounded by water and yeah, it does have its unique challenges and businesses and stuff. I just think it’s great that somebody is out watching for those businesses because it can definitely be tough and even small downtowns that are struggling to stay alive that is a constant challenge as well.
Now, back to what we were talking about, Omni Local, this is something that Becky, give me a, an idea for around the eCommerce and the small rural business. I know that there are probably a lot of listeners that are saying are saying what the heck is Omni Local and what does it mean? Can you enlighten us what it entails or just give us an introduction as we move into the other questions?
Becky McCray: The very short version of Omni Local is it means using multiple channels to reach your customers. Now, in big retail world they talk about Omni Channel where they are using as many different channels as they can to try to reach their customers everywhere they are, everywhere they shop so you can think of bricks and mortar stores like Walmart or Lowe’s that are developing their own website. They’re developing apps, they are trying to develop new channels to reach the same customers. You can also think of the eCommerce giants like Amazon who are building bricks and mortar book stores right now.
It’s this using of multiple channels to reach your customers wherever they are. IBM technology did their five and five predictions and said that in five years buying local will beat buying online. Now they don’t mean buying online is going to go away and they don’t mean that there will be more buying local. What they mean is that experience of taking those tech tools that are available and putting them within reach of all businesses. That any small business that has a bricks and mortar presence can actually use the same information and tools that are available for an eCommerce site.
You can use those and integrate them into a physical location so that you bring that rich data that you’re used to of wish lists and customer reviews and recommended additional products and deep rich information about every product. If you bring that to a physical location you’ve created a hybrid kind of experience where the technology enhances that in-person experience. It’s a new frontier for folks that are used to focusing on eCommerce but Omni Local is going to be this convergence of the technology and it’s going to completely change the way small town businesses do business.
Bob Dunn: I love that concept and I’m going to get into you telling us a little bit more how it ties into the small rural business before we do that, to set the pace here when we are talking small rural business can you give me their top two or three challenges that they face when they decide to take on an online store? I’m guessing typically that most of them start with the brick and mortar shop. What is it that really stumps them or puts up that brick wall when they start thinking hmm, I want to go online and put my store online.
Becky McCray: This is something I understand pretty well. I own a bricks and mortar store myself and I talk to a lot of bricks and mortar owners. The top challenges start with just knowing what is available. They’re aware that they could have a website and maybe that they could sell online but they’re not aware of the kind of tools that have evolved and the amazing technology that is at the fingertips of those of you that are listening, you’re used to working with these tools and you’re familiar with what they can do, store owners are not. They don’t know and since they don’t know about that they have an idea in their head of what a website could do for them that is tied to a 1990’s type of experience or maybe a 2000’s level of experience so knowing what’s available is the largest challenge.
They don’t spend everyday keeping up with what’s available in technology. They spend everyday keeping their business going and so understanding that technology is the next challenge. When you try to explain to a bricks and mortar business owner what kind of technology is available it’s hard to translate from the technical language into the technical language of retailing because the technical language of retailing is a different language so to understand the business owner’s perspective and take that technology translate it into business language they can understand is a high art, definitely a skill worth developing if that’s the market that you want to work with.
I think the final big challenge there for the businesses that are thinking of going from bricks and mortar into the online world today is finding someone to work with that they trust because they don’t know who to trust. They don’t know how to evaluate who is trustworthy. They don’t know how to tell who knows anything about this technology and they are constantly bombarded, constantly bombarded with pitches, marketing messages, advertisements, emails, phone calls of people who claim they know what they’re talking about. They have no way to evaluate who they should trust or can trust so they are like anyone else that doesn’t have information, they are fearful of making a decision that will haunt them for years.
That’s a human reaction, when we don’t have enough information to make a good decision our response is to not make a decision. These are some of the challenges that the business owners face but it’s also I think helpful for those that work in eCommerce all the time, work with these tools all the time to understand that mindset and to understand that challenge of not knowing the technology is available, not understanding it when it’s explained to you in technical terms and not knowing how to evaluate who they can trust and how to avoid making a big mistake.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, I can so relate because of the small businesses I’ve worked with especially when I was designing websites and stuff and those three things were, yeah, I was constantly dealing with those and so many people in the tech assume everything. You understand every little nuance, every little acronym and stuff and you just throw stuff out there and they’re like deer in front of the headlights, what?
Becky McCray: We could switch that. We could switch that because I could throw all sorts of retail terms at you that you or may not understand unless you’ve worked in retail and I can do the same thing with cattle so if you knew all about the retail then I can probably confuse you with some cattle acronyms. If that won’t do it, I’ll dig around, I probably got some stuff from somewhere else that I could throw at you. We all are like that, we know our field and we forget that we are not our target market, we do this as retailers but we also do it as technical people, that we forget we are not the target market. Our target market doesn’t think like we do.
Bob Dunn: Yeah.
Becky McCray: It’s our job to understand and empathize with the people that are our target market.
Bob Dunn: Exactly and that’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned in training for so many years, empathy, it’s like I take it back down. I remember those times when I first started WordPress, it drove me nuts and I’m not letting myself forget those times. There’s still times it does drive me nuts but I’ve made an extra effort to be able to step back in their shoes and think okay, what are they thinking right now rather just assuming that okay, we’re ready to move on, you get it all, let’s go, so.
Becky McCray: Or why don’t they get that, they’re so stupid, no. We’re all that stupid at one point. We just don’t know yet.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, right. Now, wrapping back around what I said before Omni Local, how does it fit into the small rural business? Where have you seen it fit the best?
Becky McCray: I think the advantage is that we have as small rural businesses when we’re thinking about Omni Local is that we know our customers. Small rural businesses really know our customers very, very well and we have the right approach. We focus on customer service. We put our emphasis on each person as an individual. This is at the best, we all know of some small town stores that have not lived up to the standard. We all know some stores everywhere that have not lived up to these standards but think about the best small independent businesses no matter where they’re located. Think of the best of those that you’ve ever dealt with. They treated you like an individual person, they got to know exactly what you needed. They got to know the things that you liked. They got to know your preferences and they would actually tell you, okay, that is not right for you. What you actually want is this instead.
That kind of personal approach to customer service is a huge advantage when you’re thinking of going Omni Local. When you’re thinking of adding a new channel. Taking the best of your retail skills and knowing how to work with customers and translating that into how could we do that online? How could we provide them with the wonderful wealth of information that our sales staff has developed over the years? How could we provide the recommendations? How can we tailor this to each person? If you take that approach from the real world and into the virtual world and extend that customer experience from bricks and mortar into an app or into an eCommerce site then you have really brought the right approach to make it human, to make it personal, to make it effective and really this goes back to what IBM was saying about their five and five prediction in five years buying local would beat buying online because it will be nexus of these technologies working together. I think that approach is what makes that work.
Bob Dunn: The customer service part especially that, like you said, their experience with it knowing their customers I think that is something they’ve hold onto and so many businesses have lost because of online and stuff and yeah, it totally makes sense for them to wrap back around to that and that’s the advantage that the small business does have and I love that, that’s perfect. Now I’m sure you’ve worked with, I can’t even imagine how many of these small businesses you’ve worked with, is there any one real life example you can give us of a business you’ve worked with or dealt with that’s really made this Omni Local work for them?
Becky McCray: You warned me to pick an example and so I’ve picked somebody and it’s not someone I’ve worked with or that I have personally done business with but they are such a terrific example and that’s the Missouri Star Quilt Company. Now some of you have heard of The Missouri Star Quilt Company and that can only be for one of two reasons. One is they get written a lot, written about a lot in the technological field because they’re so good with technology. The other reason would be you’re a quilter in which case you definitely know the Missouri Star Company because they are a small local business, started by Jenny Doan and her family in Hamilton Missouri, very small town, eighteen hundred people and yet they are huge. They got huge because Jenny would do quilting demonstrations and they started posting them to YouTube. That was a really simple step initially.
The magic that made that work was you could watch her demonstration on YouTube and then you could buy online. That’s what made it work and then of course, they have a beautiful store and a wonderful location and so people are glad to purchase from her. Now they’ve gone on with that over and above just the simple step of eCommerce site, YouTube channel for outreach, bricks and mortar site. Now they use every possible social network that they could use for outreach and they’ve built their own app with quilting demonstrations so you can set your phone next to the sewing machine, watch the demonstration, hit pause, actually execute the maneuver, go back watch it again, make a correction, that kind of providing of information using as many different channels as they could and making it as easy as possible to order things means that they ship hundreds and hundreds of packages every day out of that store. It’s not just one store now, it has become a global destination. They’ve had people fly from Australia to visit their store in person.
This is where we’re talking Omni Local, it’s not enough to see you’re online, to watch the demonstrations, to connect with the store online, order, receive the package, we want to see her in person. We want to connect in a real way and so now they have not just one store. They’re too big, they’ve had to start taking … originally they moved from their warehouse that was downtown to, they built or took over an existing building downtown well that’s not enough. Now they’ve actually split up, they have a dozen different locations that include, there’s one just for machines. There’s one for different kinds of, several different kinds of fabrics. There’s a gentleman’s area so that guys can go and lounge and watch the game. Then they have cafes and restaurants that they have funded to have happen because they needed cafes and restaurants because they’re bringing so many people to town.
Bob Dunn: Wow.
Becky McCray: That’s the ultimate end of oh my gosh, hugely successful but remember it started online very small with I’m going to post a demonstration of something I know how to do very well and I’m going to tie that to an ability to make a sale. Using that as a starting point any business can take leveraging what they know, put it online so that other people can see it and tie it to the ability to make a sale so you can watch the demonstration or read the lesson or receive the information and right there you can make a purchase. That is something that is easy to accomplish with today’s eCommerce tools. Business owners don’t know about it, they don’t know how to make it happen. They don’t know how to take that approach. It’s the job of the technology people to make that understandable and to show how easily it can be done.
Bob Dunn: I guess I’m thinking of somebody getting so enthralled with them that they’re thinking okay, if I’m ever in Missouri or near Missouri I’ve got to make a note to stop by and check them out because I’ve got to see this in person. If you built it to that point where somebody really goes out of their way to say this is great online but I need to experience this, that’s something that they build, it’s pretty incredible.
Becky McCray: That’s Omni Local, that’s where you bring it all the way back around to man, I really want to experience this in person.
Bob Dunn: Wow. Is there any tip that I haven’t really touched on? I know we could probably talk for hours and of course we’re not going to talk for hours but something I’ve missed when the small rural business looking to move into that eCommerce realm, something that, words of wisdom that you could give us?
Becky McCray: I would say to focus on your existing customers because every rural business has existing customers. Every independent business has customers right now who visit them in person but also use, believe it or not, the internet and their phones and they do other things. By focusing on your existing customers and just making life easier for them to do business with you, that’s the best place to get started on an eCommerce question. If you own a women’s clothing store in Alva Oklahoma, the easiest way to get started with eCommerce is to think how do my existing customers use technology? I know they go online to order things so how could I make a site that’s just going to make it easier for them because you don’t have to go acquire new customers which is, it seems like a daunting prospect. You don’t have to think about that mass of people that you don’t know and don’t understand.
Just think about your people you know so very well and how can you make it easier for them to buy from you? That might be having a website where they can order online. It might having an app so that they can make a purchase from their phone or it may be integrating with existing apps. Maybe there’s an easy way for you to exist, integrate with existing tools through messenger channels or other types of technology that are available now. Maybe the best way is to do a monthly subscription box. You want to set that up so people can pay online, deployment is handled automatically, they don’t have to come to the store every month to pay. Using eCommerce tools you can set up that monthly box that you know your customers, you know what they want so how could you setup that kind of monthly subscription that, it ties that eCommerce tool in such a way that it serves the needs of your existing customers.
Bob Dunn: It’s amazing because I know we always tell everybody put your energies into your existing customers because of all you have to do to get new customers and tying that into the eCommerce part, that’s beautiful, I love that. I love how it’s almost, I don’t want to say a no-brainer but it is. It’s the way that you can tie in those existing customers and I’m thinking exactly what you just said, making payments online. That’s right there, I don’t want to say simple thing that necessarily technical wise but also it’s making it more convenient for your existing customers.
That is a perfect example of how to use eCommerce to actually improve your relationships with your existing customers and not just always focus that I want to go online because I want new customers and I want the world to see everything I have, that you don’t step back and think I’m going online because I want to make my existing customers more happy, love it Becky, thank you.
Becky McCray: That’s a good one and a lot of people can use this because we know so much about our existing customers. It’s easy to analyze their habits to figure out what’s a better way to serve them whereas when you start thinking of I just want to reach those unknown masses out there, you don’t have any data on them. You don’t know who they are. You have to start from the perspective of okay, well how many consumers are there in the US? What’s their average spending? Those customers you have right now, you know everything about them and you can find out a lot more that, of what you need to serve them better just by looking at your existing customers, asking some questions, talking to them. You have access to them, they’re your customers so it’s a much better leverage point than the generic mass of people that might be out there somewhere.
Bob Dunn: You did save a nugget for the last, let me tell you, good nugget, love it. Before we move on to my questions that I ask every guest I’m going to pop back over and give you a little bit more information about our sponsor, Pronto Marketing. As I mentioned before they are all about developing and managing your online presence and as Woo experts, via Woocommerce, they can do the same thing for your eCommerce site. Developing your website and online store, they’re a team of over one hundred people will help you with unlimited support 24/5 which is huge, someone to talk to, someone to help you when you need it, everything is done in-house. The info-management, development, design, copyrighting, updates and a lot more.
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Becky, now we’re going to talk to Becky after she’s finished all those things you do which I don’t know if your day ever ends between the cattle and the liquor and the small businesses, just keeping those running smoothly has made me tired even listening to that, so.
Becky McCray: Come on, it’s not that bad.
Bob Dunn: Anyway I’m sure you do get those few opportunities to get online to do some shopping and I want to hear if there is anything you find online over and over again when trying to buy something that just frustrates you to no end?
Becky McCray: As somebody who lives in a town of thirty people I don’t have a lot of local stores right here in my little village now nearby my big town of Alva Oklahoma has almost five thousand people so we actually have a shopping district, a downtown and we have a lot of options but rural people do tend to rely on buying online because we need to supplement those gaps that we don’t have filled in our own community. I do actually do probably more shopping online than many other people.
The thing that really frustrates me is failure to explain and that’s this failing that we talked about earlier that we know these tools. We deal with them all the time and so we just, when we tested it we know how it works and so it seemed really simple to us because we already knew how it worked but someone that’s never seen your site before doesn’t know what to expect in each step and we don’t know anything about your company.
When I land at your home page and I look at what you have to describe who you are, where you’re located, it’s all hidden, you just presume I know who you are. I don’t know who you are. I just got here and then you presume that I know everything about how to place an order and then what’s going to happen step by step as I go through the process, the necessary process of eCommerce. There’s always stages and steps. You’re not explaining to me what I’m going to do at each step and I know you think I’m a moron because I don’t understand each step but you know what, there are so many different tools out there, so many different eCommerce systems, they’re all different.
We all go through them and stop at a step and go, okay, I wonder what’s happening next. Do I get another chance to review my order or was that it? When am I going to get to input my address and see what the shipping is going to be? Are they charging sales tax? I don’t know if they’re going to charge sales tax. I have to figure all that out from your site. You could actually do me a favor and explain all of that in words of one syllable because you might even want to explain it more than once because maybe I was going through quickly and I missed part of it and maybe I wasn’t paying attention.
This is something that I have to work on myself because through SaveYour.Town we sell webinars and we sell memberships and so I work very hard at providing a lot of explanatory text so that people know through each step. When somebody emails me a question that says where’s the download for the thing I just bought? I go, okay, so they missed it. Now I’m going to figure out where they missed it and I’m going to figure out how to add more text, add more explanation and make it simpler. Any time I get a question from a customer I start tracking down how can I prevent this question from ever coming up again and normally the answer to that is just explain more.
Bob Dunn: Okay. Don’t ever assume anything.
Becky McCray: Just explain more, and explain more, just do it.
Bob Dunn: That’s a good one. I’ve hadn’t heard anybody have that particular frustration or maybe explain it as well as you did. That’s good food for thought. Now, since you’re shopping online a lot and you have limited access, is there anything that is available online that you would never buy online?
Becky McCray: You warned me about that question and I have been thinking about it and I have not come up with something that I would never buy online except I’m not going to buy any liquor or probably beef because I have access to those wholesale, myself so I probably won’t be buying those. I didn’t think of anything that I would never buy online. Do you have a good example for me that somebody else has said that I can, so I can say that’s my answer?
Bob Dunn: Some of the people have talked about one person it was furniture. Actually which I guess you could buy something, this online without actually visiting it, somebody said the house they would never buy online without …
Becky McCray: That’s smart.
Bob Dunn: Walking through it. I’m sure there are some people that maybe moved to another country and they don’t have the opportunity so they do something like that but …
Becky McCray: Here in farm country I’ve heard of sales going through just over the phone without ever actually viewing the property so that’s probably going to happen at some point. When we get to the next question that I actually have a, I’m going to reflect on this because I have a point.
Bob Dunn: Okay, good, so now if you have no issues of resources, time and money was no object or any concern of even really making a living doing it, is there something specific you would love to sell online yourself that you haven’t done yet?
Becky McCray: This is where we reflect back on what would I not buy online and I would love to go and find those things that are made locally somewhere in a rural community or a small town or a small city and help those be made available to more people.
Bob Dunn: Okay.
Becky McCray: Because I love, not just to shop in independent businesses, which I do love to do, when I talk about the women’s clothing store in Alva Oklahoma I’m talking about la-de-dah, that’s women’s clothing store in Alva Oklahoma, the one I shop at. I love shopping in small independent businesses everywhere. Every time I visit a town whether I’m going to speak or I’m going to attend an event or I’m just traveling through I love to find the independent businesses.
What I really like to find are those local finds, the things that are made locally that are a unique local product. In Estill County Kentucky they were very big on their, they locally made soda pop that was called Ale-8 and that stuff was pretty good by the way but it’s hard to find anywhere else so I’d like to make that more of … if I had all the time and money in the world I would help local independent businesses reach a larger, wider audience based on everything that they know.
They know about their customers but they know local and I would like to help them take another step, reach more of their local customers. Then I do know, I actually know a gal that’s from Kentucky who used to love Ale-8 but she’s moved now she is living in Oklahoma and she can’t find the stuff. Everybody, every little tiny local brand actually has fans all over and if you can just make it easier for them to connect I think that would be awesome.
Bob Dunn: It’s like the Becky McCray online, what would it be, it’d be like the Amazon for the unique small rural business or something, I don’t know.
Becky McCray: We’re going to call it Rural Omni Local.
Bob Dunn: Yeah, yeah, perfect. You got that domain already purchased, right?
Becky McCray: I need to, don’t I?
Bob Dunn: Yeah.
All right, well Becky, I can not tell you how great it was to have you on the show and I really want to thank you for taking the time to bring all this expertise to our listeners.
Becky McCray: Thank you very much I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you, to learn from you and just to take the conversation forward.
Bob Dunn: Very cool and where can people find you again?
Becky McCray: You can find my small business articles at SmallBizSurvival.com. You can find my how to shape the future of your town stuff at SaveYour.Town and if you want to find me personally I’m almost always on Twitter @BeckyMcCray.
Bob Dunn: Once again a big shout out to our sponsor, Pronto Marketing. Looking for help to build that online store presence, look no further than the team over at Pronto and check them out at ProntoMarketing.com. As we wrap things up, give some thought on this concept of Omni Local as it may be the key to your success for the part of your business that is online or should be online.
Until next time, take care and don’t forget to support all those small town businesses any time you have the opportunity both online and in person and swing back around for our next WP eCommerce show.