Reaching Generation Y with Your Small BusinessWith the rise of online shopping, old school franchised brick and mortar retail shops are finding themselves increasingly outmatched. Fortunately, this (and perhaps the hipster counterculture) has seen to a new appreciation for small businesses that appeal to a different audience for a different reason, like local coffee shops, barbershops, hole-in-the-wall restaurants, little bookstores, and small import stores that were until recently only frequented by homesick immigrants and refugees.

So what exactly attracts this new type of consumer and what are they looking for?

The answer, of course, is atmosphere. People today, more than any other time, want to travel, to experience new things, escape from everyday life and get away from the soul-crushing mundanity of their desk jobs, even if it’s just for a half hour. The millennial generation was raised with the idea that they could achieve whatever they want, and the realization that this isn’t going to happen has created a market for escape. There are, however, companies that want to help be a part of helping their consumers go on a mini vacation with their stores. One of the main ways they do this is by designing their establishments in a way that helps capitalize on that need for young people to escape.

Creating Your Atmosphere

Decide What You Want Your Space To Be – Your business needs to have a certain amount of character, and that character comes from you, the entrepreneur. Merely attempting to cater to your perceived customer will give you and your business a soulless, faceless, ‘90s shop atmosphere. What is your vision?

Think beyond your product, and bring in your own personality. Do you prefer clean, modern design layouts, or dimly lit, cozy nooks? Hang up your favorite art, or don’t, and get a custom wall mural (and yes, that’s a thing). Wear a suit every day, or show up in flip-flops. Every action or inaction you make contributes to your atmosphere, so be intentional about what your business says to the public.

Define Your Audience – Note that this doesn’t happen until after you plan out the previous step. First think about who you are and what your business is, then think about what kind of person would visit your shop if they knew it existed. Write out what defines this group, use them as your focal point for all of your marketing efforts, and resist the temptation to branch into other demographics.

Why Limit Yourself?

Common practice for businesses in the past has been to try as hard as possible to reach as wide an audience as possible. Unfortunately, trying to please everyone all at once ultimately makes your business bland, and drives away exactly those people who are already pre-disposed to like you and your business when it has that character – Gen Y. Generation Y doesn’t want to be a part of the faceless masses, and they don’t want to spend their money at a faceless shop, with a faceless person behind the counter.

This new generation was raised on the concept of self-expression, and seeing expressionless people and businesses is a heart-breaking and alienating experience for them. Come out of your shell, show them what you’re really like and what your dreams are, and you‘ll have loyal customers for years (and even decades) to come.

Chris Garrett is a designer and marketing consultant. He began his career in art and has made it his mission to bring art into mainstream marketing.