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The Liquor Store Model for Social Media Marketing Success

by Becky McCray  |  
February 4, 2013

I really do run a liquor store in a small town, and it really is a useful model for how all businesses could behave online.

Because my store is in a small town, I've always dealt with instant communication among my customers: If we burn one customer, he can go down to the coffee shop and spread the word all over town in short order.

Now that every business faces that same pressure online, consider how my small-town liquor store experience so clearly applies to social media.

Your customers want the "small" treatment

An American Express 2011 survey found that 75% of customers think they get better service at small businesses, and an overwhelming majority say small local businesses are key to their local economy. The conclusion: at least three-quarters of your customers want that "small business" feeling.

You can give that feeling to them, no matter your size. Social networks are the perfect place for doing so, but you have to start thinking like a small business.

Taking on a new way of thinking can seem daunting. Sitting in front of your computer, or holding your smartphone, staring at a mention from a customer, you can be at a loss for words, or unsure of your direction. What to do...?

Pretend you are the owner of a small-town store. Build a little storefront in your mind. Stock it with all the things your business sells. Put your products and services in boxes, and put the boxes on shelves. Put yourself in a storekeeper's apron, and walk right in there. Look around. Make sure it feels like a great place to shop. Keep that image firmly in your mind.

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Becky McCray shares useful lessons for urban and rural businesses in her new book, Small Town Rules, written with Chicago entrepreneur Barry Moltz. Becky publishes the popular website Small Biz Survival. She also owns a liquor store and a cattle ranch in Oklahoma.

Twitter: @beckymccray

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  • by Stephen Rappaport Mon Feb 4, 2013 via web

    These are all very good principles. I worked in our family business, a restaurant, on a small island of similar size, about 5,000, and agree with them. My one suggestion is that anyone trying to apply these principles - get a job in a retail or service establishment. Without that across the counter experience, careful listening and actually dealing with people when they're happy or upset, these principles will only be concepts about people and how best to serve them.

  • by Mary Schmidt Mon Feb 4, 2013 via web

    Good perspective. I'd add "Dust the bottles." (real and virtual.) Having shopped in liquor stores in Oklahoma (and my uncle owned one - a package store.:), I really appreciated this article. If it looks like you've not restocked (or upgraded your website) since I really want to buy that?

  • by David Cohen Mon Feb 4, 2013 via web

    Becky clearly cares about people more than profits, which is a beautiful thing and it seems like the way forward for businesses large and small. I also love this idea of speaking your customers' language. I don't think people actually want relationships with brands or businesses, but they can appreciate when the brand knows how to relate to them. Solid post here that hopefully gets as much attention as it deserves.

  • by JBT Mon Feb 4, 2013 via web

    This really hit home. I am a marketer for one of the biggest companies in the world and my dad owns a liquor store in our home town. I used to put myself in my dad's shoes when I would craft a communication, but I have somehow forgotten that practice along the way. This article serves as a great reminder to go back to my roots.

  • by Mark Linder Tue Feb 5, 2013 via web

    Nice article Becky. 100% right on.

  • by Carolin Geissler Wed Feb 6, 2013 via web

    Becky, I think those are fantastic guidelines. Like you, I am convinced that businesses acting like "small town liquor stores" have better marketing strategies. I used to work at a local bakery while I was at university and that really taught me a lot about how customer loyalty can make or break a business.

    Mary, I absolutely agree with your addition. Keeping an up-to-date website is one of the most important aspects of online business. I recently wrote an article about that, too (, because I feel like that's so often overlooked.

    One thing that Becky didn't explicitly state but that's heavily implied is that a business serves a customer. The customer wants a solution for their needs and the business' task is to find the perfect product (in Becky's analogy liquor).

  • by Stephanie Ward Wed Sep 3, 2014 via web

    As usual, Becky nails it on the head. A powerful reminder that it's the motivation and values, not the tools (social media), that matters the most. Some things never change, connecting and serving your clients well. Thank you for your wise words, Becky.

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