How to Leverage ‘Local’ to Compete with the Big Guys

We’re living in the age of “local.” For a number of reasons, people are now choosing to support local companies instead of large, national chains that have, until now, dominated a variety of industries. James Gill, an Austin attorney and small business owner, is a prime example of how being local can give you the edge over larger competitors. Keep reading for James’ tips for leveraging local to gain major success in any market.

Successful criminal defense attorney James Gill had no prior background in construction rental before he started Austin Rent Fence, LLC. What he did have was the determination to create the first locally owned and operated alternative to a national company who had been dominating the fence market in Austin, Texas. He also had business partner Matt Beahm, who had six years of prior experience in a related construction field, on which he could rely for insight into the market.

After months of extensive initial research, James and Matt co-founded Austin Rent Fence, LLC in 2008. The company’s mission? Simply to “outperform the national chains that dominate the local industry, with materials that stand up under Austin pressure and service that runs circles around the ‘big dogs.'” Nearly three years later the company is still going strong with three full-time employees and dozens of part-time employees who’ve helped contribute to the company’s success.

How can one emulate James’ pathway to success and beat the odds against small businesses trying to compete with large, national companies? Use the following strategies that James has used successfully to leverage the power of “local”:

Know Your Market

Three years ago, James knew very little about construction rental, but he knew that only one service provider existed in Austin: a large, national company that had the monopoly on the local market. Before diving headfirst into launching Austin Rent Fence, James was adamant about taking the time to properly research the market. He spent time studying the general industry, his competition’s marketing strategies (and their related failures and successes), weaknesses and possible opportunities to differentiate their brand from a well-known dominant player.

Through his research, he also discovered that he needed to build a website that would generate leads from search engines and help him achieve the following point, which is

Get On Top of Local Search

Getting on top of local search means ensuring that your company is listed at the top of the search results when someone searches for a local company in a specific industry. For instance, searching “rent fence Austin” will return a page with at the top and at least three top 10 results linking to the company’s site. If you get to the top of your local search results and your competitor is national, you can easily siphon customers, who prefer to deal with local merchants, from bigger, remote companies.

Succeeding at local search requires you to have a properly optimized website and a strategy for promoting your site online. For more help with these topics, check out our handy guides:

Network with Local Connections

Networking with local connections is key to expanding your business and becoming well-established in your local market. James not only networked with friends, family and acquaintances in person and on Facebook, but he also became active in local trade organizations, such as the Austin General Contactors Society.

Through friends and family as well as local organizations, James was able to land major deals with local clients like the South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival. Business partner Matt Beahm even networked inadvertently and successfully with a seatmate on a plane back to Austin, which led to Austin Rent Fence servicing another major Austin festival: Fun Fun Fun Fest. Moral: Simply engaging in a friendly conversation—”networking”—pays off.

Expand Your Referral Network by Offering Good Customer Service

Good customer service can be crucial for local businesses, as it is the most important differentiating factor between small companies and large chains. James credits the engagement of Austin Rent Fence with customers on a more personal level as a critical factor in the company’s success. From the moment Austin Rent Fence landed its first client until now, James has made following up with customers his main priority. He makes sure he receives feedback from customers and does everything possible to ensure customer satisfaction.

He has also provided discounts and other incentives for first-time customers, in an effort to expand his client base. James believes that Austin Rent Fence’s excellent service coupled with unbeatable incentives was the primary reason people spread the word about his business.

“Everyone wants great customer service, he says.  “People will tell their friends and colleagues when they experience it and refer them to you.”

Cater to Local Culture

Everything that is Austin oozes out of Austin Rent Fence. The company’s branding/promotional material puts Austin institutions and hallmarks on parade. For instance, the Austin Rent Fence logo—a hippish squirrel with obligatory dark shades, musical instrument, facial scruff and burnt orange sandals—appeals to Austin’s love of The University of Texas, outdoor culture and omnipresent music scene. Instantly recognizable and ethos-inducing, the references seem to work. James recommends using similar hallmarks of your local community to appeal to potential customers.

Utilizing the strategies above will help you to not only survive your first year in business, but also help you to become a fixture in your local market, despite all of the “big dogs” threatening to run you out.

For any other criminal defense attorneys (or doctors or office workers or born entrepreneurs) who want to start a local business, James Gill offers one last piece of advice:  “At a certain point you have to stop listening to everyone who tells you you can’t do something and just do what you believe in.”


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