Workshop Recap: Marketing Trends for 2018

Small business owners packed the room at the Alexandria SBDC last week for Maurisa Potts’ annual update of the latest trends in marketing.  As always, content is king, and the focus is on how to connect with customers in a way that the “big box stores” and online sales cannot. The first step, of course,… Read more »

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Small business owners packed the room at the Alexandria SBDC last week for Maurisa Potts’ annual update of the latest trends in marketing.  As always, content is king, and the focus is on how to connect with customers in a way that the “big box stores” and online sales cannot.

The first step, of course, is to really know your customer.  This includes, but goes way beyond their age, gender, and whether they are a tourist or local.  What are their desires, their expectations?  What life-changing events are happening in their lives?  You get to know this by going back to basics – talk to them!  If someone knows that you have taken the time to get to know them and what they are looking for in a shopping experience then your place becomes their place.  In addition, repeat customers talk with their friends, and they will bring in more customers to show off their special place.  Integrated social messaging is enhancing engagement and the customer experience.  There are messaging apps and tools that can help you to communicate one-on-one with customers in real time and specific to that customer.  These tools, such as WeChat, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp can be both scalable and cost effective for small business owners.

Once you have established who your target customer is, it is important to develop a content strategy, and establish a budget to carry out that strategy.  More and more this will be by way of visuals – video, infographics, photos, charts, etc.  Make it authentic to your target audience – what do they want to see?  One of the hottest new platforms for this is virtual and augmented reality.  Customers would love to be able to use their computer screen to see what the fashion piece on the hanger would look like on their body, even if they are not in the store to try it on. While this is not mainstream yet, Maurisa sees it as the next big thing.  She urges those who are already allocating resources to developing more live video (a big trend) to continue to experiment with different formats – including virtual reality – to see which audiences respond best to.

One platform that is increasingly popular is Instagram.  In 2017 the platform had 800 million users, who found that it offers better engagement and advertising controls than other platforms.  Maurisa told the story of a beer keg tap maker with a small manufacturing operation.  A short time on Instagram and he was getting orders from breweries all over the country.  Local real estate broker Mike Porterfield said that he has seen the value of Instagram in just a short time using it, and expressed the following:

I have been hearing people talk about its potential in the business world and since I started actively in Jan. of this year I have already received one prospect call from a space user and have been solicited by a possible service provider that I might consider using.  The only cost to Instagram is your time and imagination.  Until I learn otherwise I am going to keep promote my business interests and interacting with other Instagram users.  If that’s where the people are that’s where we need to be.

Continuing the trend to more engagement with customers, the attendees at the workshop discussed ways to create curated special events and experiences – this is what can set small independent businesses apart from the big chains and online shopping.  Partner with complimentary community businesses and nonprofits to expand the reach of all of the organizations.  Think ahead and establish a calendar-year budget for these events, and keep track of the most effective methods of transferring events and experiences into customers goodwill and eventually, sales.  Keep track of who showed up, and whether they became a repeat customer.

With all of these tools it is crucial to keep data on what you have tried, and what worked.  Most tools have analytics built in to their software – learn how to use them!  It is often important to try something a few times to see the patterns of your audience response. Measuring the impact allows you to set targeted goals and measure success. Metrics can take time, but they are important!

On a final note, Maurisa revisited a prediction that she made at the beginning of 2017 – that Twitter was losing its usefulness as an effective tool for small business marketing.  While certainly popular among politicians and journalists, the platform was unable to grow users in 2017. She again predicted its inevitable demise.

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Networking Best Practices

This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. The topic for discussion at the February 20th Roundtable will be “Dealing With Challenging Customers”…. Read more »

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This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. The topic for discussion at the February 20th Roundtable will be “Dealing With Challenging Customers”.

Does this sound familiar to you?

You recognize the value of professional networking for your business. However, you might be a little bit daunted by the idea of going out there and doing sales and professional networking for your business. But, you persevere and register for the next upcoming Chamber of Commerce professional networking happy hour.

You go to the event. You collect a bunch of business cards. You return back to your office and put them in a drawer never to be seen again.

This is a story told to me by business owners time and time again.

At the January Business Development Roundtable at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we discussed strategies and techniques for better professional networking. I believe many of us can agree that professional networking is tough; as is overcoming the reality that most often you have to be your own salesperson. You have to be likable. You have to be knowledgeable and willing to help people. So, it’s not easy. Over the years, among my many mistakes, I’ve learned some of the practical things you can do to be a successful small business owner through professional networking. Here are three suggestions for establishing an effective professional networking practice within your business for greater profitability and generally feeling good about your business and the community you’re building around it.

  1. Business cards, along with Facebook Page fans, LinkedIn connections, Instagram and Twitter followers, are not collectibles. These are hearts and minds that need to be won over requiring human connection, investment, and interest. Follow-through is the key to building these relationships. When you leave a professional networking event, take the next step of connecting online and offline. Send a LinkedIn connection-request, but also invite people you believe to be valuable new contacts to join you for coffee, or lunch. Get to know them as a person. These are the genuine connections that make you memorable and make them more likely to refer you new business when the appropriate opportunities arise.
  2. Next, make a list of five people you know and five people you don’t know. Then, for those you know, ask yourself whether or not you know what that person currently needs or wants the most in their professional or personal life. These can be customers, clients, vendors, colleagues, students, friends, and family members. For those who you don’t know, why is it that you would like to know them? As well, what is it that you believe is their most important goal currently for themselves professionally or personally?

Now, go out and find out those answers. By doing so, you will truly be developing connections with people who are important to you for professional reasons but approaching them in an angle that reaches their hearts and minds. For better or for worse, people are inherently self-interested when it comes to professional contacts. If you can find out what speaks to them and what they can get out of a relationship with you, that builds authority, credibility, value, and reciprocity in attaining or retaining new or existing business.

  1. Finally, meet people in peer networking opportunities as much as possible as opposed to professional networking opportunities and events. Go to social networking sites and other platforms, such as Meetup.com, in order to create social connections that lead to offline interactions. As much as digital interactions are important for establishing and even maintaining social connections in today’s workaday world, the importance of offline connection (even face-to-face video if in-person is not possible) is to creating human connection and the bonds that allow us to deepen relationships with people cannot be understated.

You’ll be best off if you create a system and use a tool to collect and manage the contacts and the latest time in which you have made contact with a professional or personal contact for professional networking purposes. It’s simply a way of managing what information you know about that person, when the last time is you contacted them, what information would you like to share with them on occasion in order to stay top-of-mind, and perhaps the next time you intend to make contact with that person. People get to know, like and trust you from the repetition of contact with them. So, you need to manage this like you do any other operation within your business. A friendly email with an article that you believe will be of interest to them on occasion can sometimes be enough to keep you top-of-mind. Making the effort to meet someone for coffee or tea a few times a year may be more effective. You need to figure that out based on the person or persons you are attempting to establish within your professional networking community.

With these few suggestions, you can have a stellar professional networking system that brings new and repeat referral business. Don’t simply collect business cards and online contacts, but connect with people genuinely. Find out what makes people tick, what they truly want and need, then go out and find ways to make that happen. Last, meet people in not only professional networking events but also peer networking environments to create lasting, sustainable relationships. This all requires systems and tools in place to support keeping track of your professional networking contacts and opportunities. And, remember, professional networking pays dividends in the long run; don’t expect immediate results.

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Alexandria SBDC AMPLIFY – A Success!

Do you ever wish that you had the time to work ON your business rather than IN your business?  Eight local entrepreneurs have been doing just that for the last several months, as the initial cohort in the Alexandria SBDC’s AMPLIFY program. The group met for six 90-minute sessions over a three month period that… Read more »

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Do you ever wish that you had the time to work ON your business rather than IN your business?  Eight local entrepreneurs have been doing just that for the last several months, as the initial cohort in the Alexandria SBDC’s AMPLIFY program. The group met for six 90-minute sessions over a three month period that also involved some significant homework assignments. The “graduation certificates” were handed out last week, and all agreed that the program had been worth the time and effort.

AMPLIFY uses worksheet and other tools from Growth Wheel, a 360 degree strategic way of looking at a business that has been adopted by the Virginia SBDC Network. The Alexandria participants were all small businesses that had been around for a few years and were ready to grow. They started by revisiting their Mission statements and determining if they needed to be tweaked or updated since their business had started. In the second session participants reviewed their current brand and typical customer with thought to how both fit into their future vision for their company. In the third session they looked at the trends in their market and their place in their industry. They discussed different ways of following the trends for their industry and the various resources and tools that are available to assist. In the fourth session they worked on solidifying their ideas for growth and discovered the many different ways that a small business can grow.  They brainstormed ideas for growth and considered how each of these ideas would affect the SWOT analysis that they had done for their business. At the fifth session each of the participants presented their plans for how they wanted to grow their business, and received feedback from their peers in the group as well as a few successful entrepreneurs who had been guest speakers at earlier sessions. At the sixth and final session participants worked on a timeline for their growth plan, determining what could be started now, and what steps they still need to take to prepare for future growth.

Participants had several comments at the conclusion of the program. All felt that one of the biggest benefits was in taking the time to actually step away from the daily operation of their business and look at the bigger picture. They expressed interest in the common challenges that they shared, even in very different industries. They enjoyed the Growth Wheel worksheets and tools used in the sessions and are interested in exploring more of them in other aspects of their business.

In all aspects, this first cohort was a success. The Alexandria SBDC credits much of the success to the commitment and dedication of the eight participants who enthusiastically dived in to the exercises and group discussion, cheered each other on, made suggestions and worked together to support all of the businesses in the group, not just their own. Particular thanks go to Amy Shields of Mull Consulting who worked up the structure of the program, chose the worksheets, and was the real catalyst to Alexandria SBDC’s taking on this project. We are glad that she did, and look forward to offering a second cohort in the spring!

 

AMPLIFY Cohort #1, left to right: Marilyn Patterson, Joyous Events; Kathryn Taron, Refresh Yoga Center; Amanda Sozer, SNA International; Kat Zajac, Ascend Cycle; Vivek Sinha, Belleview Medical Partners; Carolyn Alexander, Momease; Eugene Bounds, Bounds Associates; Gresham Harkless, Blue 16 Media

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Shop and celebrate locally this holiday season

This post is written by Bill Reagan, Executive Director of the SBDC and first appeared in the Alexandria Times on November 23, 2017. Much of our celebration of the holidays over the next few months is experienced through shopping, dining and entertainment. The goal each year is to minimize stress and fill the coming weeks with… 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 November 23, 2017.

Much of our celebration of the holidays over the next few months is experienced through shopping, dining and entertainment. The goal each year is to minimize stress and fill the coming weeks with the most enjoyable activities possible.

This year, there are even more neighborhood saround the region vying with Alexandria for shoppers and diners, but our community still compares favorably with the best of them. We are, after all, the authentic waterfront attraction whose stores, sidewalks and neighborhoods are steeped in history and distinctive character.

Our Visit Alexandria colleagues note that Alexandria was named one of America’s Top Holiday Towns by USA Today and a Top 10 Christmas Town by HGTV. They note that strolling historic King Street is like being in a real-life Dickens Village, and that throughout the city, shoppers can visit independent boutiques and chef-driven restaurants.

Rather than struggling through crowds in nondescript shopping centers, an Alexandria outing includes distinctive architecture and neighborhood character. Schedule breaks for lunch or refreshments, and imagine how many generations have shopped and dined along the same sidewalks or in the unique shopping nooks and crannies.

Your store experience is likely to be distinct, too, when you shop in genuine neighborhoods rather than in large malls or contrived town centers. In small stores, you’re more likely to be greeted when you enter, and you’ll find that the sales staff knows its stock and responds thoughtfully to questions. The prevalence of independent boutiques means you’re likely to meet the makers, get expert advice and find products curated by local owners who are often on site.

Alexandria retailers tell us that their staffs are not only more knowledgeable; they are typically more enthusiastic about working during the holiday season than their mall counterparts. Another added bonus — your gift purchases in these smaller stores are likely to be unique finds, and not something your recipients will see everywhere.

Alexandria’s “Black Friday” campaign on Nov. 24 and the “Small Business Saturday” promotion on Nov. 25 are great opportunities for all of us to make an extra effort to shop local this holiday season.

On Friday, more than 50 independent boutiques kick off the holiday season with one-of-a-kind deals. Enjoy special discounts throughout the day and stay for the Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony at 6 p.m. On Small Business Saturday, parking meters in Old Town and Del Ray will be free. There will be in-store activities, a Santa stroll on King Street, pop-up stores, surprise giveaways from an Elf Prize Patrol and holiday caroling.

The next day, visit your favorite historic Alexandria museums for the first-ever Museum Store Sunday. Find unique and historically inspired gifts with special offers, seasonal refreshments and more.

Don’t miss this opportunity to explore our local attractions, and we don’t have to limit our “shop local” focus to a few days around the holidays. We have an opportunity to support local businesses year round, and our community benefits every time we choose an independent retailer.

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What is Your Competitive Advantage?

What makes a potential customer want to buy your goods or services from you rather than from someone else? If you are a small business you may not be able to compete with the “big guys” on price.  So what sets you apart?  This is something that all small business owners need to think about… Read more »

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What makes a potential customer want to buy your goods or services from you rather than from someone else? If you are a small business you may not be able to compete with the “big guys” on price.  So what sets you apart?  This is something that all small business owners need to think about and cultivate. What makes you special?

At a recent Small Business Roundtable, several of Alexandria’s small business owners discussed what might differentiate their small business from a competitor. The first thing to recognize is how to make your product or service superior to that of competitors. Often it is because the customer experience is superior. Not too many folks worry about the “customer experience” when they buy paper towels or other ordinary goods – let the online services and big box stores deal with those. However, if what you sell is a product that people want to try on, touch, or feel, or taste, then you can offer what a big store or online service cannot, a pleasant experience for the shopper.

The same is true for most services. There are apps and online services for everything from banking to web design, and most of us do some purchasing online.  However, if your printer or designer had their shop around the corner, wouldn’t you consider that they would have a better “feel” for your business that some anonymous online presence? If you can offer the “local touch”, and are able to communicate that to your potential customers, than you have found a competitive advantage. Remember this when you do your own business-to-business purchasing as well. For your business and for the small business community around you, be sure that the word gets out to buy small and buy local.

The personality of the small business owner and the employees can also be a competitive advantage or, unfortunately, a disadvantage. A pleasant greeting on the phone and in person can go a long way. Know and advertise your neighborhood and your connections. People like to do business with folks who “know people”. If you can recommend the ice cream shop around the corner on a hot day, a great coffee shop where someone can rest for a few minutes during a busy day, or a great local dry cleaner, your customer will see you as a part of the local community. Reinvigorate the experience of doing business with your company, and with your business community — that is your competitive advantage, and it will bring the customers back time after time!

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Know Yourself

This post was written by Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director, Alexandria SBDC I attended two programs last week – one was the Alexandria Small Business Roundtable discussion on work spaces (home-based businesses, co-working spaces, executive office suites, brick & mortar, etc.). The second program was a Retail Week workshop sponsored by our colleagues at the Community… Read more »

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This post was written by Gloria Flanagan, Assistant Director, Alexandria SBDC

I attended two programs last week – one was the Alexandria Small Business Roundtable discussion on work spaces (home-based businesses, co-working spaces, executive office suites, brick & mortar, etc.). The second program was a Retail Week workshop sponsored by our colleagues at the Community Business Partnership on how artists can use social media to engage their audience.  Very different subjects – right? Yes, but they had a common thread that is worth noting. It involves knowing yourself, being honest about how you work, what you enjoy doing and what you do well.

The Roundtable discussion centered on how various individuals work. Do you need to have all of your projects in front of you all of the time so that nothing “falls through the cracks”? If so, a co-working space is probably not your optimal setup; you are not going to want to put everything away at the end of the day. Until you can afford a workspace that is all your own, you may well be a “dining room table” worker at home, and that is okay. Many entrepreneurs start out that way, and some like it so much that they continue to work from home even when they could afford to rent an office.

Do you work well in fluid situations and get energized by the people working around you? If you like this dynamic workspace and are not continually distracted by what other folks are doing, then a co-working space may be perfect for you. There is no right answer or space that is perfect for everyone, but if you take the time to think about how you really work, there is an optimal space for you.

On another note, it is generally understood these days that whether you are in business to sell your art, your product, or a service, you will need to include social media in your marketing plan.  One of the first points that the presenter at the Artist’s Workshop made was to think about who you are and what you like to do. This is important in determining what social media platform or platforms you choose to use.  He said that he is a “maker”. He does not like to write. A written blog, while an excellent marketing method for many entrepreneurs, is not for him. He told the artists that people like to see their art (photos!) but also like to see how it is made. A short video showing the process and production would help the artist begin a relationship with the person viewing their art, beyond the individual piece itself.

Choosing your primary social media platform requires you to consider how you like to communicate, but you should not be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone. Experiment a bit and see what works for you and your business. Remember that it is important to be consistent, so pick something that you will be able to keep up. If social media is just not for you on any platform, you may have to hire someone to do it for you. Again, be honest with yourself about what you can and will do. A little introspection, whether on where you work or how you market your work will go a long way to building your success. There is no “right way” – there is something that is right for you!

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Exceeding Customer Expectations

This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. From the moment a customer or client comes into contact with a Small Business,… Read more »

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This article was written by Ray Sidney-Smith, facilitator for Alexandria Small Business Development Center’s monthly Business Development Roundtable. You may join us every third Tuesday of the month for different topic-based discussions for Small Business in the City of Alexandria, Virginia.

From the moment a customer or client comes into contact with a Small Business, they are having an experience with your brand. And, it matters. How much impact and to what extent you have control over that first moment is likely great and minimal, respectively. And, what we want as Small Business owners is to increase our control over every touchpoint with a client. This is whether it is during marketing, sales, fulfillment, or post-delivery customer interactions. It’s important so that their first touchpoint isn’t our last chance!

For the May Business Development Roundtable at the Alexandria Small Business Development Center, we discussed, Exceeding Customers’ Expectations: How to Motivate Yourself and Your Staff to Provide Excellent Customer Service. And, the participants at that Roundtable had insights that I thought proved useful for all Small Business owners trying to get a handle on customer experience and customer service management.

What is customer experience? What is customer service?

A frequently-asked question I receive at workshops and seminars is, what is the “customer experience” I speak of when I’m relating stories about how potential clients come into contact with a business on Social Media? (This relates to all first contacts with potential clients online and offline, by the way.) I would call this “brand messaging” in professional jargon, but more simply it’s what your customer sees, feels, and hears, which I detailed in a recent blog post on branding for Small Business. I think of customer experience as the sum total of your brand strategy’s value from the perspective of your customer, and customer service as the transactional, day-to-day interactions that build up to the customer experience.

Patra Frame from Strategies for Human Resources kicked off the discussion with a reference to The Washington Post article, “The real value in business may not be the thing so many fixate on”. In brief, the article details that, as Patra put it, “giving people an experience” as opposed to simply selling your wares and services. As the article notes, “‘people will pay for an experience that is superior’ [according to David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter] to what they can get in the mass market. There is a difference between a thing and an experience. One can be possessed. The other can be felt.” Small Business is positioned perfectly to provide bespoke, superior experiences to our customers and clients.

How does customer service affect your business?

Whether it’s during the sales process, through fulfillment and delivery of services, or service after the sale, customers need you and your staff to be motivated to provide the best level of customer service. According to American Express Survey, 2011, 78% of consumers have left a transaction midstream because of poor customer service experience. Even more shocking is that dissatisfied customers speak up only four percent of the time. That means 96% of unsatisfactory customer experiences go untold to you! That’s money being thrown out the window if you’re not paying attention to customer service. (Source: “Understanding Customers” by Ruby Newell-Legner.) If you make a first-time purchaser a long-term customer, they can be worth upward of 10 times the value of their first purchase. Simply put, customer service makes or breaks your business.

How do you handle a bad customer experience?

Not all customer interactions are going to go well for any Small Business. However, there are ways in which you can address the issue so that it turns a bad customer experience into a positive one. First, it’s been widely noted that speed of response is crucial, that is, the faster you respond to a customer’s complaint the better the outcomes.

Also, show empathy to your customer’s perspective and situation. A startling statistic is something that I heard many years ago from a malpractice attorney, who said that doctors who said “I’m sorry” to patients had dramatically fewer malpractice claims brought against them. The active empathizing with a customer goes a long way.

If it’s within your control, fix the mistake. Many times small business owners think about the short-term impact of correcting a customer service issue and they ignore the long-term impact of a loyal customer. If you keep the long tail approach to your customer service you will be able to make much more money by correcting errors now and putting systems in place so that they don’t happen in the future.

How do you approach online reviews? Ratings?

No customer service conversation could end without a discussion of how online reviews and ratings affect business today.  My general recommendations to all businesses when they receive a poor rating is to quickly respond to the reviewer or rater. Ask if you were able to connect offline so that you can empathize and fix the issue. Finally once you have made the unhappy customer whole regarding the situation, politely ask them to go back and re-review your company. You want people to see that when your business makes a mistake, you fix it. Problems or mistakes will occur with every business. Would you rather work with one that doesn’t correct these matters, or one that makes sure you’re taken care of? In my opinion as a customer myself, that’s far more powerful than all the five-star ratings in the world.

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Bring your toughest design problems!

will be showcasing many projects and explaining our services at the BL Business Expo on Friday June 2nd. Please Join us.

The BL Business Expo Event, in its 13 year, showcases the products and services of over 100 Northern Virginia exhibitors and sponsors. Please contact Gaddis Architect, at [email protected], 9730701-8800, for a complimentary entry voucher. Please stop by our booth to see our projects showcased and learn about how we can help solve many tough design problems and create high performing spaces. We look forward to meeting you there.

AGENDA

8:00 am : Doors open for Guests.

(The Exhibit Hall is open NON-STOP until the end – Seminars will take place in a separate Room)
8:15 am – 9:15 am:
Making LinkedIn work for Your BusinessSeminar
Jennifer Dalton, LinkedIn Specialist
9:30 am – 10:00 am:
Opening Ceremony
National Anthem, welcome address,Sponsors recognition, with Emcee:
-Angel Livas, Media Specialist
10:15 am – 11:45 am:
Protecting Your Business, An IT perspective Seminar
-Fred Haggerty, IT Specialist
12: 00 pm – 12:30 pm:
Everything that You Ever Needed To Open A Business,
But Were Afraid To Ask
Seminar
Gerald Geddes, CPA
12:45pm – 1:30 pm:
Break the Rules & Make more SalesSeminar
Nema Semnani, Sandler Training
1:45 pm – 2:00 pm:
Door Prizes & Farewell Remarks
(We have some serious door prize for you. You would want to be there to take them home.)
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.

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