The current generation of hometown businesses can’t rely on the success of past generations. New challenges mean new tactics and rethinking business operations.

“If you’re coasting along, relying on that small town monopoly, your days are numbered,” says Becky McCray, who blogs on Small Biz Survival. “That new competitor in town is a wake-up call.”

People are willing to travel to nearby towns for larger product selection. Additionally, online shopping has become much easier. Service-oriented business also have challenges.

“The retail sector is an endangered species and a lot harder than it used to be,” Michael Elmendorf, New York director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, told Crains New York.

“While the current crop of owners are respectful of earlier generations’ wisdom, they never rely solely on long-ago decisions and tactics to keep their businesses going,” the same Crains article states. The most successful businesses have looked at their businesses and decided which new directions to implement and which previously successful lines to drop.

Price may drive many decisions, but there is much more involved.

“Gallup research has shown that customers only shop based on price when price is the only thing that separates competing offerings. In other words, customers shop based on price when there is no emotional connection to a particular retailer— when they are not engaged,” the Gallup polling organization says.

This is especially true for large retailers who respond to reduced foot traffic by reducing prices further.

“If you have things in stock that people want and your salespeople are really helpful and deliver good service, that’s when you hone in on driving engagement,” a Gallup leader said. “We have abandoned the talent profile of having great salespeople, who want to take care of customers who drive things forward in the store.”

For the past several years, Ace Hardware has been marketing their message of being a place for a “more personal kind of helpful” service. Hy-Vee stores in the Midwest have long talked about offering staff smiles in every aisle and Apple made a success of computer stores by offering personal service in a niche that had been failing.

So, how can Staples Promotional Products (SPP) help you to develop new relationships and bolster old ones?

And, yes, we recognize that it may sound contrary to offer online and phone services to a market that relies on face-to-face transactions.

Our only answer is that we are small town people, too. Our largest office is in a town of 6,000 people. We understand small towns and just as importantly, we understand promotional products.

Now to get back to the question of what the “Pro Time” people at SPP can do for you. SPP’s role is to help you get better engaged with your customers. Our desire is to help you select gifts and larger distribution items that will give you a strong connection to your customer.

New research from the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) reveals just how much consumers want, love and keep branded promotional merchandise. And that connection is growing. People want to be appreciated. Here’s a summary of five major points in a recent survey:

     Reach (delivering adequate exposure): 89 percent of those surveyed reported receiving a promotional product in the last six months, up 16 percent from 2012 and nearly 30 percent from PPAI’s first study in 1992.

     Recall (remembering brand or message): Nearly 90 percent remembered the branding of promo products they received, while 80 percent recalled messaging from at least one product.

     Resonance (transferring a favorable attitude): Eighty percent reported their impression of a brand positively changed after receiving a branded item.

     Reaction (stimulate change in buying behavior): 83 percent said they are more likely to do business with brands that give them promo items versus brands that don’t.

     Relativity (effectiveness against other channels): Consumers across all age groups rated promotional products as the advertising medium “most effective at moving them to take action.”

Another data point, length of exposure, reveals that consumers typically keep a promo product from one to five years, but that women may keep an item for up to 10 years.

Whether it is promoting a new direction or reminding people of what you have to offer, promotional products are a way to be front of mind when the customer isn’t face-to-face. Promotional products for each business must be practical and relevant. Staples Promotional Products consultants have worked with businesses similar to yours and can offer advice that works.

Visit StaplesPromotionalProducts.com to learn more.