One of the limits we deal with as small town businesses is our suppliers. Rural retail businesses depend on wholesale suppliers for inventory, manufacturers need raw materials and restaurants need food to cook. Then we all have basics, like cash register tape, circuit breakers, and those 8′ long light bulbs you can’t seem to find anywhere. Services like linen deliveries can also make or break a rural business.
In a small town, you may only have one or two wholesale suppliers who deliver, or maybe none! Your local hardware or office supply stores may be open limited hours. You may or may not have a local superstore or big box that can cover some basics at all hours.
In short, you have to prepare for supply shortages. Here are two strategies I heard about from local businesses in Lake Arrowhead Village, in California.
Group up to share wholesale supplies
A group of restaurants banded together to share wholesale supplies. If one runs out of a basic supply, they can borrow from the others. Even though they are apparent competitors, they made the decision to work together. They know they can’t get a delivery of wholesale supplies on a weekend, even if it is their busiest season. So they choose to work together and support each other.
Hoard some basic business supplies
One of those restaurant owners also mentioned that he keeps a supply of electrical circuit breakers on hand. He buys them at the little local hardware store during the limited hours they are open. Then if his restaurant, or any other local restaurant, blows a breaker during the dinner rush, he can help them get back up and serving customers quickly.
What you can do
- Find similar competitive businesses and ask about sharing wholesale supplies when you need them. Consider reaching out to ones outside your town limits, maybe into nearby towns that also struggle with suppliers.
- Make a list of extra basic supplies you could keep. Brainstorm with unrelated businesses to think of basics you could share with each other. That way, you can spread out the cost of keeping the extra stock. Order a few extra things on your next supplier order.
- Invite your chamber or business association to get involved. Maybe they can help spread the word to other local businesses.
- Publicly praise your local suppliers when they go above and beyond, open up late or help you after hours to keep your business going.
How do you cope with limited suppliers in your rural business? I’d love to hear about it.
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.