Retail Doom & Gloom: Crisis or Opportunity?

Mid Year State of the Market: Maurisa Potts, in a mid year “state of the market” presentation sponsored by the Alexandria SBDC featured a headline stating, “Soft economy hitting big retailers hard.” There are, I might add, some small ones not doing too well either. Potts went on to note that online shopping is not the only reason for this, siting over built retail real estate, escalating rents, and shifts in consumer spending from goods to services. Whatever the reasons, there are few retailers not feeling the current uncertainty. This, according to Potts, begs the questions what is it, crisis or opportunity?

Clearly Unclear: I like this mindset. It presuppose important changes in the business model by which most retailers operate. Savvy retailers need little schooling on this topic, and outside of a reference list here, my interest is about how a physical store might be impacted. According to Potts the action takes place in three areas. The first two, customer focused retail and the resultant deep market analytics are technology driven. The third is the technology. Clearly the lines between the physical and digital store are becoming unclear. A retailer must decide which options to embrace:

mobile apps/enhanced mobile apps/personal concierge
smart navigation
mobile checkout
on demand customer service.
virtual fitting rooms
flexible fulfillment options
enhanced product information
community connections
target walk by shoppers
holographic product displays
delivery service
drones

Augmented Retail: Each of these items taken individually involves some type of electronic technology which must be both accommodated and invisible, a subject covered in previous posts so not detailed again here. Together, though, they define what is referred to as augmented retail, a situation with substance and influence on how a physical store will look. Rachel Shechtman, the founder of Story, a cutting edge store in Manhattan, described the design concept as a physical magazine. This is so telling. Store planners and designers have probably not seen such a revolutionary design idea since the emergence of big box retail. In the marketing world I would compare the trend to the early days of Martha Stewart Omnimedia which eventually consolidated her various publishing and media outlets into a single brand. It seems to have come full circle as omnimedia has finally found expression in bricks n mortar.

Design by Collaboration: Pick up a copy of your favorite magazine and flip it open to the index page. What do you see? I see an implied program for a store design, an outline of ways to engage the customer, often a recipe for co-creation where the customer participates in the outcome of his/her shopping trip. What combination of media, mobile apps, interactive displays, technology, and hard store design options a retailer chooses to bring into his/her store is a collaborative decision best made between the store designer, the retailer, the marketing team, and the all important technology consultants. When these things work together a really successful store can be the outcome.

The Positive Case for Bricks N Mortar: Barbara Thau, writing for Forbes, lists, “Five Signs That Stores (Not E-Commerce) Are the Future of Retail.” Worried retailers might do themselves a favor by considering the following:

“All But One Of The Top Ten U.S. Retailers Are Physical Chains

Stores Are More Profitable Than E-Commerce

Amazon Purchased Whole Foods

Millennials And Generation Z Prefer Real-Life Stores

Online Retailers Are Being Eaten By Legacy Retailers

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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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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HVAC: Accounting for stuff only the birds can see!

Old Hvac Unit
Old roof top HVAC unit scheduled to be replaced.

Necessary – What has this got to do with me? I am building a chic new retail store. I need to focus on the design, merchandise displays and retail image. Who sees this? I know – I know, the space must have functioning heat and air conditioning but, really, why do I need a structural engineer? I want to put my budget were it is visible to my customers.

Most commercial HVAC units will last 15 to 20 years. They probably cost over $10M each without any distribution and, in all but special circumstances, you cannot hope to have a functional commercial space without them. They are as basic as the walls, roof, plumbing, lights, etc. So when the HVAC company, landlord, or MEP engineer says it is time to replace you can be pretty sure they are correct.

Fundamental – Few would argue that it is completely fundamental for a tenant to understand who is responsible for the original installation, subsequent maintenance, repair and eventual replacement of the heating and air conditioning in a space. Neglecting to do this would be like moving into a space that might or might not have walls, yet I am often surprised by retailers who are unclear about, even disinterested in, these issues. Until something goes wrong that is.

Bar Joist
Bar joist hold up the roof and are common in retail environments.

Required – But I digress. My intention is not to outline heating and air conditioning systems common to small commercial projects, which is nicely done here. It is, rather, to explain why structural engineering is required for the installation of an HVAC unit. Consider this; all commercial HVAC systems have parts, many of which are large, heavy and sit on something, i.e., the roof. The unit in the photo, for example, weighs upward of 1,200 pounds. Now take a critical look at the structural framing system in the other photo, and ask yourself if it looks like it will be sufficient to hold up the concentrated load created by the installation of half a ton of equipment. In this case the structure is actually holding up the unit shown, so the answer happens to be yes – barely. I point this out because in many cases, especially in existing buildings without available structural drawings, common sense might lead one to ask if a new mechanical unit weighs the same as the one being replaced. Be aware that where common sense fails, the building code does not.

Structural load calculations and drawings which have been certified by an authorized professional are required before building departments will issue a permit allowing heavy equipment to be installed in, or on, a new or existing building. This, of course, includes mechanical, as well as other types of equipment. I mention the later as an aside for all you restaurant owners out there. Restaurant equipment is heavy and installing it in old buildings like those found in historic areas can create problems for unaware owners. Also, in the case of replacement equipment, it is less involved but still necessary to evaluate a new unit even if it weighs less than the old one. In the case under consideration, the replacement HVAC unit proved to be heavier than the existing, meaning it became necessary to provide structural reinforcement before the new unit could be installed.

Roof top image shows location of existing HVAC equipment.
Roof top image shows location of existing HVAC equipment.

How – So what steps were required? How did we arrive at this conclusion? First we had a contractor go up onto the roof and take photos of the exiting equipment, including a close up view of the label. This allowed the mechanical engineer to research the existing unit with the manufacturer who was able to provide a weight. A new unit was then specified according to the new design for the space. Efforts were made to avoid additional expense by matching the new unit with the old and installing it in the same location. Eventually it was determine that, although the location could be maintained, the replacement unit was going to be heavier than the old one. Had it weighed the same or less, the mechanical engineer would have so noted it on the drawings and been done.

Since this was not the case, it became necessary for the structural engineer to completed the process. He went to he site, analyzed the structural type, crawled up on a ladder, measured the bar joist, and checked the location of the existing equipment. Upon returning to his office, he went through a series of calculations to see if the structure was sufficient to accommodate the new unit. Since it was not he had to design and specify additional reinforcement adequate for the new equipment. This information was delivered in the form of signed and sealed drawings and calculations, along with certified architectural and MEP documents, to the building department with the permit application.

Why – The point of this discussion is to show those contemplating a commercial building project what a single line in a lease assigning responsibility for the heating and air conditioning equipment can indicate. In my experience all reputable landlords give full disclosure about the age and condition of the mechanical systems in their properties. Many provide substantial construction allowances for unit replacement and other improvements. Few, though, take into consideration the amount of engineering required in order to make the actual improvement. Professional services, Architectural, Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Structural, are expensive and should be accounted for in the budget for a building project. I would suggest that forewarned is forearmed.

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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Pitching Your Business

This week, we hosted a workshop on pitching your small business. Many business owners have never taken the time to sit down and really think through their business pitch. Whether you’re pitching to introduce yourself, to promote your brand, to gain a new client, to increase awareness about your product or service, or to ask… Read more »

The post Pitching Your Business appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Pitching Your BusinessThis week, we hosted a workshop on pitching your small business. Many business owners have never taken the time to sit down and really think through their business pitch. Whether you’re pitching to introduce yourself, to promote your brand, to gain a new client, to increase awareness about your product or service, or to ask for investment, knowing how to formulate a great pitch is critical.

A pitch is a succinct and persuasive summary of your business or your business idea. It quickly defines your organization and the product/service that you’re selling and, most importantly, describes the problem that your business solves. There are many different types of pitches, and each is formatted a little differently. For example, an elevator pitch should last between 30 and 60 seconds, while a funding pitch might take as much as ten minutes.

There are seven key components of a good pitch:

  1. Problem – What is the issue that your business is trying to solve?
  2. Solution – Why is your business the right answer to this problem?
  3. Competition & Market Opportunity – Who else is in this space, and how do you beat your competition?
  4. Traction – What progress have you made so far in solving this problem?
  5. Team & Business Model – Who will be working on this problem, and how is your business set up to be sustainable and effective?
  6. Financing & Milestones – What kind of funding are you looking for, and how much do you need? How long will it take you to break even and then be profitable?
  7. Call to Action – What do you want your audience to do when they leave the meeting with you?

There are also several do’s and don’ts for pitching your business:

DO:

  • Use a hook to get your audience interested
  • Use “the grandma/grandkid rule” – would your grandparent or teenage grandchild understand what you are explaining
  • Clearly articulate the problem and why it’s worth solving
  • Show passion and enthusiasm
  • Be confident and in command
  • Make eye contact with your audience
  • Consider what questions might arise as a result of your pitch and be prepared to answer them
  • Practice, practice, practice!

DON’T

  • Use jargon, industry slang, and acronyms
  • Speak too fast
  • Go into lots of operations or financial detail that will be difficult to follow in the short period of time
  • State that you have no competitors
  • Make claims about your growth potential that you can’t back up with data/evidence
  • Make your presentation devoid of personality
  • Read your slides – tell your story!

In order to be able to articulate all of the information for your pitch, it is important to think through all of the relevant information that might be included. The Alexandria SBDC has resources to help business owners identify the key components that inform their pitches. If you are interested in learning more about these tools, please contact us.

The post Pitching Your Business appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

The Business Plan: How to Test Your Big Idea

This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 26, 2016. Lots of people always are coming up with ideas for a new business or nonprofit venture. While great ideas are important, there are several tangible steps you should follow to give that idea the greatest chance of success. Hopefully, your idea sprang from… Read more »

The post The Business Plan: How to Test Your Big Idea appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on February 26, 2016.

Business Plan How to Test Your IdeaLots of people always are coming up with ideas for a new business or nonprofit venture. While great ideas are important, there are several tangible steps you should follow to give that idea the greatest chance of success.

Hopefully, your idea sprang from personal experience. The more you know about a particular area — trends, challenges, latest developments — the better positioned you are to evaluate the impact your product or service might have.

If you have no experience in that area, you must immerse yourself in the field. Actually working or volunteering in that area is best, but if that’s not feasible, meticulous research is essential. Online research is helpful, but public libraries often have access to subscription-only resources. Their research librarians can often point you in directions you might not otherwise consider.

Once you have a thorough understanding of the market or area you hope to enter, you need to objectively answer some fundamental questions. The most important question is “what.” What problem does your product or service solve, or what need is it filling?

Next, ask yourself several “who” questions. Who is your target market? Who will benefit from your product or service? Will they realize that they need that benefit, or will you need to market extensively? Who is your competition, and what advantages would you have over them?

After “who,” address the “how” questions. How are you going to identify and reach your target market? How are you going to persuade them that your product or service is worth their purchase? How will you develop that product or service into something that can be produced or expanded, while still maintaining quality? How much will it cost to get the answers to all of these questions and get your business set up? How long will it take to begin generating revenue?

Lastly, the “where” questions consider the location for your enterprise. Where do you want to locate, and is that site zoned to allow your activity? You must carefully research what permits or licenses will be required, how complicated those are to apply for, and are those requirements feasible for your potential business, both in terms of time and cost?

The Alexandria Small Business Development Center can assist potential business owners by providing objective step-by-step guidance as entrepreneurs consider these questions. Our website has a robust Startup Checklist that walks through the necessary steps in priority order.

The center also has staff, consultants, and planning guides that can help you develop things like financial projections, even if you don’t have previous experience with these business processes. With the center’s help, you have a greater chance of building a viable and sustainable business and are more likely to succeed in securing a loan.

While it may initially seem daunting, people just like you are working through questions like these every day and starting successful ventures. If you approach your business thoughtfully and access all resources available to you, you are setting yourself up to succeed.

The post The Business Plan: How to Test Your Big Idea appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Defining Goals and Values Can Reduce Workplace Stress

The January Small Business Roundtable discussion topic was advertised as “Ideas for a Healthier, Happier Workplace”. While several concepts were raised, most of the discussion centered on reducing stress. Small business owners wear so many different hats and are pulled in so many directions that the concept of “stress-free productivity” may seem unreachable. Pulling back… Read more »

The post Defining Goals and Values Can Reduce Workplace Stress appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Defining Goals and Values Can Reduce Workplace StressThe January Small Business Roundtable discussion topic was advertised as “Ideas for a Healthier, Happier Workplace”. While several concepts were raised, most of the discussion centered on reducing stress. Small business owners wear so many different hats and are pulled in so many directions that the concept of “stress-free productivity” may seem unreachable.

Pulling back and taking the time to actually think about why you are in business may be the first step. What are your goals for your business and what values are most critical to you to accomplish those goals?  What is “authentic” about your work, and is that what your customers see?

It is recommended that you focus on the one or two goals that are most important and no more than three or four values that you want to emphasize. If you can focus your actions on these essential goals and values, you will be reaching the core of your business and simplifying your message to yourself, your employees, and your customers.

Your goals and values define your corporate culture, and it is important to make sure that everyone connected with your organization is familiar with the goals and values that you have chosen. You also want everyone to be on the same page when it comes to how you are demonstrating these core attributes to your market.

The next step is connecting your goals and values to your everyday operations. Are the things that you talk about actually the things that you see and do in your business? Getting yourself and others in your organization focused on what is most critical can reduce the stress of trying to figure out what to do next or why the company is going in a particular direction.

An example of this would be an employee in a small retail clothing store. There are many tasks that the employee must complete each day: stocking the shelves and keeping the merchandise displayed in an attractive manner, completing customer transactions, responding to telephone inquiries, etc. However, let’s imagine that the store owner has made clear to the employee that the primary goal of the shop is providing the customer with specialized service that he or she cannot get at a large box store. That employee will then be able to prioritize greeting a customer in a friendly manner and taking the time to personally assist them, even if it means taking time away from other tasks, like stocking shelves. Knowing these priorities makes this decision less stressful for the employee and helps the owner meet his or her ultimate goals.

Communicating these goals and priorities is crucial to the business. Everything cannot be the top priority – there is only so much time in the day. Determining what is the most important in the long-term, and what short-term actions will lead you there, can reduce the stress to you as the business owner and to your employees.

After all, if we try to do too much all at once we often end up accomplishing nothing. It may just take some thinking about what is really important to you and your business to get close to the “stress-free productivity” that we all desire.

The post Defining Goals and Values Can Reduce Workplace Stress appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Supporting Long-Term Business Success in Alexandria

This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 29, 2016. You may have read recent articles about store closings at the start of the new year. Several of the notable closings were due to retirements, and we should celebrate their long and successful runs. However, as a city, we have several resources available… Read more »

The post Supporting Long-Term Business Success in Alexandria appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 29, 2016.

Long-Term Business SuccessYou may have read recent articles about store closings at the start of the new year. Several of the notable closings were due to retirements, and we should celebrate their long and successful runs. However, as a city, we have several resources available to support and assist business owners to ensure that they can continue to enjoy long-lived success.

Alexandria is distinct for its collegial relationships among business, economic development, business organizations and government organizations. Trends in Alexandria are for more — not fewer — small businesses, and plans in process will generate even more visitors and shoppers.

One of the most beneficial steps an owner can take is to engage with the community. Business owners should join business groups or the city chamber of commerce, interact with other business owners and attend community meetings. All of these actions allow retailers to keep abreast of what’s going on, find common solutions and provide feedback to key stakeholders. When owners don’t choose to take their seat at the table, it often leads to owner frustration, misconceptions and costly errors.

Some business owners may feel like they need additional support. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides a wide variety of guidance to all types of businesses. For our retail and food service merchants in particular, we offer targeted programs and individual assistance, including in-store expert visits.

These one-on-one sessions offer feedback on indoor and outdoor store appearance, merchandizing, customer service and smart operations practices. Experts also advise retail and restaurant owners on establishing hours of operation that are convenient for customers and on making the most of festivals and events.

We are fortunate to be a city with several popular annual events that attract thousands of visitors. This gives retailers the opportunity to make a great impression and to build loyal customers that will return again and again. Window displays should dovetail with the celebration and staff should be welcoming.

Shoppers today are discerning and have many options. To compete, every business must have an online presence. At a minimum, their websites must answer questions that shoppers have about products, services, hours of operation, location and provide contact information. Businesses without an online presence may not survive in the future.

Because small business owners have varying degrees of familiarity with websites and social media, we provide workshops and individual consultations in those areas. Business owners can join our mailing list to receive notices of our free high-quality programs.

Lastly, there may come a time when a business owner feels that his or her physical location is no longer the right fit. Our colleagues at the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership can help owners find their ideal space, whether upsizing, downsizing or relocating.

Shoppers are making purchases in stores, and small businesses are more popular than ever. Our thriving community of tuned-in and engaged Alexandria merchants proves that every day. We are glad to be able to support this community and those retailers that make our city so unique.

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Extra, Extra! Read All About Your Business!

Over the next several months, Gloria Flanagan, our Assistant Director, will be writing several posts based on information that she learned at the America’s SBDC Conference in September of this year. This is the second post in this series. In a previous blogpost, we discussed identifying your “perfect” or typical customer as the first step in… Read more »

The post Extra, Extra! Read All About Your Business! appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Over the next several months, Gloria Flanagan, our Assistant Director, will be writing several posts based on information that she learned at the America’s SBDC Conference in September of this year. This is the second post in this series.

Extra Extra Read All About Your BusinessIn a previous blogpost, we discussed identifying your “perfect” or typical customer as the first step in developing a marketing strategy. There are many platforms for marketing your business, but today we will focus on traditional advertising and editorial mentions in publications.

It is first important to look at your customer and think about what he or she is regularly reading. Most small businesses cannot afford to pay for advertising in major publications such as The Washington Post or Washingtonian Magazine.  However, remember that publications such as The Post and the Washington Business Journal have many print and online readers in the area who would notice an editorial mention of your business in those publications.

Make it a habit to look for articles in those publications that relate to the subject matter of your business, and note the name of the reporter. That reporter is likely to write future articles and may be looking for story ideas and subject matter. It takes a bit of digging, but contact information is often available on the editorial page or the website of the publication.

While it’s not always possible to make one-on-one connections with reporters, make it easy to gain the reporter’s interest by sending timely and well-written information about new or innovative happenings in the subject area, and how you can be a resource for the reporter. Many small businesses who get regular mention in regional publications have taken the time to cultivate these relationships, either directly or by working with a public relations or media firm.

It is also helpful to familiarize yourself with the editorial calendar of the publications that you are targeting. Does your business relate to weddings, and do they have a wedding issue? How about food issues, and who are the reporters who typically write about food? How about an issue focused on pets, or on “back to school”? The publications are preparing for these issues months in advance, and welcome both editorial content and advertising that is geared to the particular topic of that issue.

Rather than advertise in every issue of Washingtonian Magazine, for example, check out their editorial calendar for the year and focus both your public relations editorial efforts and your advertising on those issues that will be appealing to your target market. We’ve included a copy of the Washingtonian Magazine’s editorial calendar for 2016 – use this helpful information to your advantage! If you have any questions, feel free to contact Kristen Anderson, the Virginia Account Manager for the magazine.

Local papers such as The Alexandria Gazette-Packet and The Alexandria Times also have editorial calendars and themed issues throughout the year, and they publicize these in the papers. Particularly if your target customers are local residents, an ad in a local paper will often get you “more bang for your buck”. They also generally like to include information about local businesses in their articles. These reporters live here and work here – get to know them! Local subject-matter experts are a welcome resource for these reporters, particularly if you have made a point of giving them reliable information and can be available for a timely comment when they are on deadline.

It only takes a few minutes of your time to peruse these publications, but it is time well-spent to gain familiarity with the subject matter, regular reporters, and writing style – then to be a part of the “local story”. Soon we will all be reading about your small business!

The post Extra, Extra! Read All About Your Business! appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.