What is a small town business?

Last week, when I said, “If you want to save your small town, open a small business,” what kind of business did you picture? 

Did you picture a downtown retail store? One of a row of brick-fronted business, like in the logo up above? That seems to be the kind of small town business most people think of first. And I think that stops a lot of people who have great potential as business owners or entrepreneurs, but really have no interest in the traditional small town business. But business in small towns is much more than Main Street retail. 

Businesses in small towns are high tech

Headway Themes is a premium WordPress theme company, based in Clay Center, Kansas (population 4,300). Grant Griffiths started Headway a few years ago with his then-still-in-high-school son doing the programming. Now they have associates based in Europe and Australia, and they sell to customers worldwide. And it started from Grant’s basement in a small town.

Businesses in small towns are low tech

My neighbor in Hopeton, Oklahoma (population 30 or so), repairs quilts. People mail her damaged quilts, she fixes them, and she mails them back. Simple. 

Businesses in small towns are ISO certified

Lisle Corporation in Clarinda, Iowa (population 5,500), is an ISO 9001:2008 certified basic manufacturer for the automotive industry and many others. (That means they make high quality products, and they can document it, so they can work with much larger manufacturing companies.)

Businesses in small towns are global

Grasshopper mowers are manufactured in Moundridge, Kansas (population 1,700), a town the interstate passed by. Today, mowers leave Moundridge bound for over 40 countries. Groundskeepers everywhere from the White House to the Leaning Tower in Pisa have Grasshopper mowers. 

Businesses in small towns are big

L.L. Bean is a billion dollar business. For over 100 years, they’ve kept growing and growing, and they’ve never left Freeport, Maine (population 7,800). 

Businesses in small towns can be hard to count

I was chatting with a more-or-less retired man who used to live in Alva, Oklahoma (population 5,000). Turns out he was still an active chemical engineer. He created special coatings, including one he sold to an airline for a hefty sum because it saved them 1/2 of 1% on their fuel efficiency. I don’t think the chamber of commerce had him on their list of local businesses. 

Businesses in small towns innovate

Jason Kintzler’s company PitchEngine is headquartered in downtown Lander, Wyoming (population 7,500). PitchEngine created “one of the PR industry’s most transformative innovations.” Now they’re moving into a new world connecting companies directly to their interested customers. I think they may transform small business, social marketing, and advertising, all in one. 

Businesses in small towns come and go

Amy Falken said after the last newsletter that her town (if I remember right, it’s Sonora, population 4,900) has seen a number of businesses open and close in the last couple of years. Amy said, “I see it as breathing. If there were no startups, this would be stagnation. There should be movement in business, of people and identity. This is the flow of life.” 

Enough? I could go on, but just remember this:  

Small town businesses come in a much wider variety than the traditional mom-and-pop retail store. 

Now get out there. Start a successful small business (any kind of small business). It is your best way to help save your small town. 


P.S. It’s the one year anniversary of my book with Barry Moltz, Small Town Rules. It’s kind of hard to realize it’s been a year since it came out. If you’ve read it, I’d like to ask you a favor, to help me show that these are not just here-today-gone-tomorrow fads, these are timeless business principles.