Showing hospitality to visitors

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 27, 2017. The start of baseball season, young green leaves on our trees and hints of warmer weather are signs that we’re on schedule to experience an upswing of visitors to Alexandria. Our Visit Alexandria… Read more »

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This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on April 27, 2017.

The start of baseball season, young green leaves on our trees and hints of warmer weather are signs that we’re on schedule to experience an upswing of visitors to Alexandria.

Our Visit Alexandria colleagues tell us that tourism generates millions of dollars in revenue for local businesses and city government and supports thousands of Alexandria jobs. Alexandria gets 3.5 million visitors per year, and they spend $771 million in our community. That generates $25.5 million in local tax revenue, which reduces the tax burden for each of our households by $350.

While there’s definitely an economic return associated with crowds of visitors, there’s so much more. Alexandria’s vitality and cultural richness is sustained by tourist dollars, and our residential quality of life is enriched by the appealing places where we can shop, dine and explore.

Cities that are tourist destinations tend to also spur creative economies. Alexandria attracts these highly desirable creative businesses, and the very charm and vitality that lures owners to move here also helps them recruit skilled workers. Alexandria’s economy is becoming more diversified and less dependent on the government, and our hospitality industry has helped nurture this positive trend.

Our assets also nudge us to be better citizens. We live in a highlydesirable location – Extraordinary Alexandria, as described by Visit Alexandria — and we are compelled to be good stewards of our treasure. We have worked hard over the years to enhance and promote our community’s history, culture, infrastructure, and quality of life. Without the stimulus of tourism, we might be more complacent.

You don’t have to drive many hours to find those communities where tourists used to visit but now streets, stores and run-down hotels are empty. Those townsfolk try many approaches to lure visitors with contrived festivals and quirky museums. We are fortunate to have an authentic atmosphere that draws visitors and it bodes well for our future to embrace those visitors and their support of our city.

What can we individually do to enhance this tourism good fortune we’re blessed with? The first step is to be welcoming in every way possible. When you’ve traveled, you’ve perhaps appreciated locals giving you a welcoming nod and stepping up to offer directions or recommendations. This goodwill and ambassadorship goes a long way to promoting Alexandria as a tourist-friendly community.

Our merchants can work with Visit Alexandria to educate their employees on the city’s highlights. When an employee shows enthusiasm and directs visitors to “don’t miss” attractions or restaurants, that’s not just friendly service, it’s branding that results in visitors staying longer, spending more and heartily recommending Alexandria to others.

We residents can also be encouraging to the businesses and organizations that work very hard — in a highly competitive arena — to make Alexandria an exciting and memorable destination. When hospitality businesses express common needs, we ought to pay attention and give support.

Spring has sprung, and it’s a great time to get out and enjoy our community — and let our enthusiasm become contagious to visitors.

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Wire Management is a Design Issue

The cash wrap in the photo above is in a medium high end fashion boutique in a trendy “New Urban” style shopping center with other similar competitors up and down the center. I noted the problem during a site visit I made to meet with the shop owner who was, at the time, planning a second store. Two years later, motivated by recent discussions in these “Insights” about the importance of integrating technology into a store design, I returned and took this photo. Needless to say, the problem was never addressed, neither did I ever work with this retailer.

I see mismanaged wires a lot, often in places that should, and do, know better. I listen to marketers go on about the importance of creating a shopping experience; of integrating technology into the store design; of carefully selecting technologies based on actual individual data driven market research, all the time wondering by what trickery retailers like those in the photos are able to make out that these much touted market strategies are somehow not germane to their particular retail environments. Further, I can only guess at the impact on sales – at least the place in the photo is still open – and I actually worry about the tripping hazards just waiting to happen. There is really no accounting for this when a solution is easily accomplished and not expensive.

Lest I be accused of “dis without fix,” I offer a solution here. First we are not talking store remodel or even new equipment. All that is required is some planning. Consider this cash wrap, a version of which was originally designed for a project, and which has since morphed into one of my “go to” opportunities to offer design variations on a functional theme. It is 5′ wide by 2′ deep by 3′ high at the work surface and 3’6″ high at the top of the display case. Close examination of the equipment housed in the unit will show that virtually every device housed in the badly wired cash wrap in first photo is accommodated in a compact cabinet. No wires show. The only connections are, as in the subject image above, power and data supplied by a floor outlet below the cabinet. Also, if necessary this fixture can be supplied with “knock outs” for power/data access from either side and it is on casters for mobility.

Clearly this is not a cheap piece of furniture, probably costing upwards of $1000 to build from scratch, yet when considered in terms of value added to the retail environment, it is not a lot to spend. Certainly, in terms of public safety and reduced liability it is a downright bargain. Neither is it necessary to build one of these from scratch. The rustic bench being used for the cash wrap above could easily and cheaply be remodeled by addition of an equally rustic back panel. We do this type of thing all the time.

Something else a retailer might want to consider when planning a store is that wireless technologies and newer devices are drastically reducing the amount of space needed. These are part of more than just cash wraps too. It is really important for a retailer to examine their options and choose their system(s) early. I cannot over emphasize the advantage of selecting and working with a qualified technology consultant who can help with system selection and provide a designer with device specifications including related sizes to be used in store planning and fixture design.

One more point worth noting, I see this problem show up in many showroom and public environments, not just retail stores. Because these are places where the public meets a business or organization they can, and do, impact a brand and may affect sales. I often work in these types of environments and likewise advise a client to carefully manage the wires.

Bridget Gaddis, is a Licensed Architect and LEED-accredited Professional practicing nationally, and locally in the Washington DC area. She holds professional degrees in both Architecture and Interior Design, and with a comprehensive background in commercial retail design, planning and construction has completed projects for such for such well known brands as Chloe, Zegna, and Bvlgari. Her career began in tenant coordination and site planning for two well-known Cleveland developers, followed by six years in store planning for a national retailer. After a move to New York City in 1997, she spent the next years working for architecture firms specializing in retail projects. In 2011 she started her own practice in Alexandria, VA. Ms. Gaddis is the author of two blogs dealing with architectural subjects.

What’s the Industry Coming To?! Let’s Put Online Recruiting in Its (Proper) Place!

If the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results, the world of online job recruiting is certifiably bonkers. I encounter one or more of the following scenarios EVERY day. Disillusioned recruiters post job oppo…

If the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results, the world of online job recruiting is certifiably bonkers. I encounter one or more of the following scenarios EVERY day. Disillusioned recruiters post job opportunities online knowing that A-list candidates rarely submit resumes online. Frustrated hiring managers express disappointment over the quality of candidates sent to ...

Business Finance 101

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on March 17, 2017. For many of us, understanding financial matters is a challenge, and options for financing the startup or expansion of a business may be difficult to grasp. This is a perfect example of a… Read more »

The post Business Finance 101 appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on March 17, 2017.

For many of us, understanding financial matters is a challenge, and options for financing the startup or expansion of a business may be difficult to grasp. This is a perfect example of a great time to contact the Alexandria Small Business Development Center for help. Financial guidance is among the free services offered by the Center.

Astute business owners know that having a financial expert routinely review their financial statements with them makes them better managers. They know that it makes sense to do an annual fiscal check-up. They know that, at the first indication that they need working capital, an expansion loan, or even a startup loan, the most efficient approach they can take is to work through their business plan and loan request with an expert. Some have equated this process with getting coached for an interview.

Alexandria Small Business Development Center Business Analyst, Jack Parker, has been an independent contractor with the Center for 19 years. In that time, he has worked with owners to help them better manage the financial aspects of their business. Over the years, he has helped more than 265 business owners and start-up entrepreneurs obtain loans or investments totaling over $71 million.

As a retired banker, Jack knows what loan officers expect to see in a loan request. He knows that they want those requests to clearly show how that loan will be repaid, and they expect the applicant to provide sound financial projections supported by written assumptions. Some bankers indicate they have greater confidence in the requests that come through working with the Center. Their experience is that Center-assisted applicants are typically much better prepared and are therefore much better credit risks.

Thanks to the Center’s strong partnerships with local banks, bankers often refer prospective borrowers to the Center to obtain guidance. Nine Alexandria banks are currently financial supporters of the Center, and many of their lenders work closely with Jack to connect business owners with the right services. This could include helping business owners develop strong banking relationships, establish lines of credit or seek financing.

Being unprepared for a loan application can have far-reaching effects. Many prospective borrowers might not realize that, anytime your loan application is turned down, it can affect your credit rating. At the Center, Alexandria business owners have access to a free resource who can work with them to fine-tune their loan or line of credit application so that it answers almost every question that a loan officer will ask.  That way, when they approach a lender, they will have confidence in the plan they’re presenting, and have a much greater chance of it being approved.

Whether or not a business owner needs financing, it behooves them to have a strong and confidential relationship with their bank. The Center is glad to have a resource to help Alexandria business owners develop such relationships and better manage the financials of their business. We welcome your contacting the Center for such guidance.

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Spinning Your Wheels on Marketing?

The following blog was written by Heidi O’Leska, Vintage Juice Brand marketing, who presented a workshop on this subject for the Alexandria SBDC last week. More than likely, it’s not the marketing, it’s the message.  I often hear from clients, we spend tons of money on direct mail (or print advertising or social media) and… Read more »

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The following blog was written by Heidi O’Leska, Vintage Juice Brand marketing, who presented a workshop on this subject for the Alexandria SBDC last week.

More than likely, it’s not the marketing, it’s the message. 

I often hear from clients, we spend tons of money on direct mail (or print advertising or social media) and results are less than 1% ROI. No bueno.

So, what’s the answer? 

  • What’s your Why? People don’t buy what you do, but instead, why you do it. They want to be inspired, appeal to their gut feeling/intuition.
  • Pinpoint what your business does differently and better than competition (based on your why).
  • Define what audience is eager for that offering, and within that audience, which is the most profitable
  • Create messaging around that offering that is bold, creative – a true stop them in their tracks and make them think, want to learn more
  • Research and develop a marketing plan to deliver that message or series of messages to your most profitable target audience using the communication tools they are most likely to use.

Differentiators – Best Quality, Best Service, Lowest Prices are NOT differentiators, most people say that, most customers don’t believe it until they experience your product or service, don’t waste time saying it, especially in the 8-10 seconds you have to first catch their attention. What’s the true differentiator? The intersection between what competitors are NOT saying and the true, genuine WHY you started your business. I facilitate messaging workshops with business owners and executives that includes taking an objective look at what competitors are saying and compare that to the true WHY of the organization, as well as its weaknesses. The methodology always results in a differentiator resonates – as well as creative ideas to communicate it.

Most Profitable Target Audience Your business cannot be all things to all people, unless you have a boatload of money to spend (throw away). The most successful businesses start with one very specific target audience and offering. Reaching 10,000 high-income residents within 1-2 miles of your business with a message that appeals to their lifestyle has resulted in 30% response rates vs. a generic message to the entire population with less than 1% return. Even if 1% of a larger population nets the same number of individuals reached as the 30% of 10,000 (3,000) a generic message to all falls flat, resulting in:

  • Lower sales per person
  • One-time customers, never to return
  • Often, bad online reviews. Why? They don’t understand your WHY, they aren’t your audience

As part of our methodology we conduct focus groups and one-on-one interviews with our clients’ various audiences. With data in hand, we narrow down the most profitable audiences and develop personas for each, as the go-to for all new marketing initiatives.

Bold Messaging  – Don’t wimp out. And, don’t try to develop it yourself. Shameless plug, but, creative agencies are objective and well, creative!

Targeted Marketing – With your most profitable target audience in mind…

  • Millennials? – Facebook and even your website is a thing of the past to Millennials, concentrate on Instagram and getting great Yelp and Google reviews. Don’t even consider print advertising.
  • Baby Boomers? – Facebook, Facebook, Facebook – the MOST targeted advertising available. Print in a local magazine that is well respected by residents, with your BOLD message, remember, don’t wimp out.
  • Generation X or Y – A combination of the above, dependent on your product and what is available in your region.

Interested in a 30 minute, complimentary assessment of your brand? Call me (Heidi O’Leska, President, Marketing Strategist, Vintage Juice Brand Marketing), (703) 922-2442.

Branding & Marketing Agency based in Alexandria VA.

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Recognition: Great to Get – Even Better to Give!

On March 23rd, the Alexandria SBDC will celebrate the fact that our colleague Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources has won the award as the State of Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year. (click here to attend the celebration – all are welcome!)  We nominated Patra for this statewide recognition several months ago… Read more »

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On March 23rd, the Alexandria SBDC will celebrate the fact that our colleague Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources has won the award as the State of Virginia SBDC Small Business Veteran of the Year. (click here to attend the celebration – all are welcome!)  We nominated Patra for this statewide recognition several months ago because not only is she a decorated Air Force Veteran who paved the way for many military women who came after her, but also because she is an outstanding small business owner who never hesitates to help others, give advice, etc.

Patra’s award is a formal award that had a formal nomination process, etc.  But how many folks do you work with who could use a little recognition themselves? Most of us these days are overworked and underpaid – that is, sadly, a fact of life.  However, most of the small business owners that I know, especially those in Alexandria, realize the benefits of promoting all of us.  We just don’t always take a few minutes to do it. What is the culture of your company?  Do you “work and play well with others”?  Do you empower your employees to act positively either to your customers or to each other, and do you recognize them when they do?  A “good job on that project”, said with genuine appreciation, can go a long way to making an employee feel good about their job.

Likewise, it never hurts to publicly appreciate the other small business owners around you.  If customers in your shop are talking about where they will go for lunch, do you encourage your employees to suggest some of your neighboring restaurants? If one of your vendors does a particularly timely or efficient job, do you take a minute to acknowledge that and thank them?  Did one of your colleagues, or competitors have a really terrific window display or put out an extra-informative newsletter this week? E-mail notes are easy and effective – brief handwritten notes are even better (and many of our local shops have very attractive Alexandria-themed notecards for a reasonable price). Let them know that you recognized their extra effort.  It really only takes a few minutes, but it will make both of you feel great!

Register for Patra Frame’s celebration at this link: https://nvite.com/BunkerBrews/eoerym

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Phone Interview Therapy: How to Solve the Compliance vs. Connection Conundrum

What activity comes to mind when you read this description: A thoughtful conversation with a professional who draws out a person’s passions and goals to evaluate the next best step. If a good therapy or coaching session was your first thought, I don’t blame you. I’m sure a telephone job interview didn’t cross your mind. In fact, people rank job …

What activity comes to mind when you read this description: A thoughtful conversation with a professional who draws out a person’s passions and goals to evaluate the next best step. If a good therapy or coaching session was your first thought, I don’t blame you. I’m sure a telephone job interview didn’t cross your mind. In fact, people rank job ...

Save yourself grief: Ask questions and seek advice

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 23, 2017. Savvy entrepreneurs recognize that their expertise has limits and that they don’t know what they don’t know. Surviving and thriving depend on learning how to ask questions and knowing where to look for… Read more »

The post Save yourself grief: Ask questions and seek advice appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 23, 2017.

Savvy entrepreneurs recognize that their expertise has limits and that they don’t know what they don’t know. Surviving and thriving depend on learning how to ask questions and knowing where to look for help. We hate to see businesses run into serious problems that could have been prevented with a simple conversation.

From their earliest business concept, entrepreneurs benefit from objective feedback and learning about approaches they might not otherwise consider. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center has expert consultants who are adept at identifying problems that even the best of plans might overlook.

Careful planning is always enhanced by a fresh perspective. With comprehensive feedback at the earliest stages, strategies become much better defined. Best of all, services at the center are without cost, so precious resources are conserved for other startup and growth expenses.

During these early-stage consulting sessions, entrepreneurs often learn about issues that require further research. These include zoning or other locational considerations, licensing, permits, and potential restrictions. Forewarned of these requirements, entrepreneurs can make better plans with fewer expensive surprises.

The City of Alexandria has designated small business facilitators to help entrepreneurs with preliminary and detailed planning — hopefully before leases or other obligations are signed. Their focus is on helping people through permitting and licensing processes. They can be reached at 703-746-4213 or 703-746-4268.

The Alexandria Economic Development Partnership’s expert staff is familiar with the city, the real estate market, rental rates or sales comps, and can assist businesses with the site selection process. Its services are free and an essential stop before anyone considers, much less signs, a lease.

Additionally, the small business development center has further leasing guidance and a Leasing Checklist on its website. Both economic development and small business center staffs are able to advise entrepreneurs on Alexandria neighborhoods, their civic and business groups, and how to make the best entry with their business.

Financing is another area where entrepreneurs often need expert advice before making a formal application. Every application you make could affect your credit score, and being declined reduces your prospects with other lenders.

Meeting with the small business center’s business analyst — a former banker — can help strengthen your presentation to a loan officer, much like being coached before an interview. The earlier that preparation takes place the better.

There are other professionals whose expertise will save new entrepreneurs many headaches — and dollars — if they are consulted early on. Attorneys and accountants should be part of your management team from the start.

Human resources consultants can help you avoid potential pitfalls as you start hiring employees. Marketing professionals can advise you on your branding and social media presence. The SDBC keeps lists of reliable professionals for a broad range of small business matters and it can advise you where to get help for a variety of circumstances. Feel free to contact us for referrals.

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