How to become a local institution

in Growing by The Business Room
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local institution

They’re memorable, charismatic and always talked about. Businesses want to be them and customers want to be seen in them. We’re of course talking about “local institutions” – also known as your community cornerstones.

We all associate a personal history to the places we love. Many local institutions have something in common – a sense of history or memory. It could be that 1950s Italian coffee shop your nonna goes to or the neighbourhood fish ‘n’ chip store that hasn’t changed its signage since the 1970s.

If you’re lucky enough to reach “institution” status, you’ll receive all the benefits of that coveted title – credibility, customer loyalty, and significantly a cross-generational appeal. But, how do you get it? Local institution status is not something you can attain – it’s something you earn through hard work, by being helpful and servicing your community.

Here are five ideas to help you become the toast of the town.

1. Host a party

Take part in street parties or any local festivals on the community calendar, or better yet throw a block party and get other businesses involved.

The event doesn’t need to be directly related to the services your business offers because you’ll be building your reputation as a community leader by association. It could be as simple as a barbecue, food festival, business dinner, networking event or a holiday-related party. If you do this regularly enough, you’ll become a permanent fixture in the local calendar and in the neighbourhood.

2. Start conversations

According to a trend report, 92 per cent of small businesses say that social media is an effective marketing technology tool.1 It’s not surprising considering social media is cost effective. It’s also a great way of building community engagement.

When talking to people in the community, be authentic and genuine. Don’t just post or tweet about your business. Instead, ask questions, respond to customer comments and have an opinion and interest in local affairs. Showing that you care about the community will help you build trust and h3 relationships with the locals.

3. Think outside the box

Embracing extracurricular activities can help bring people together and create a sense of community. This helps build your reputation as an institution.

So if you’re a design studio, consider running a life-drawing course in the evening. And if you own a bar, why not run a speakeasy cinema at the back? It might even bring in new customers!

4. Tell a good story

What’s the narrative behind your business? Who are the local faces in your company? The people in your business are probably some of your biggest assets, so why not make them the main protagonists?

As Susan Gunelius of Forbes writes, “Brand storytelling requires that you create [real] characters your audience will like and cheer for.”2

The other upshot of creating a h3 business or brand story is you’ll stand out from the crowd – always a good way to beat the competition.

5. Give back to the community

When times are tough, small businesses are the first to help their community. According to an industry source, SMEs provide higher cash donations than their larger corporate counterparts, and reports that two-thirds of small businesses surveyed supported the community and “small firms give over $1.1 billion in cash and $2 billion in kind to community organisations.”3

Being generous in spirit and in goods and services, also known as cause-related marketing, goes a long way, and people will remember you being there when times were tough.

Be patient

Remember that great cities weren’t built in a day – the same idea applies to your business. So focus on creating valuable products, giving unparalleled customer service and being an active community member.

In doing all of this, you’ll be growing your reputation as a cherished local institution.

This November, American Express – along with Principal Partners EnergyAustralia, MYOB, NAB and Virgin Australia – are committed to bringing customers to the doors of small businesses. Visit and join the Shop Small movement.


1 Effectiveness of Small Business Technology Tools, eStrategy Trends, 2013.

2 5 Secrets to Using Storytelling for Brand Marketing Success, Forbes, 2013

3 Mixing Business with Philanthropy, Public Accountant: The Official Journal of the Institute of Public Accountants, 2012,

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This article represents the views of the author only and not those of American Express.

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