Save Your Business for World Backup Day

Happy World Backup Day, Small Business! Are you saving your business (data)? Our company experienced our own unfortunate circumstance with a fire that affected our entire office building. I had a business continuity plan for a wide variety of possible

Happy World Backup Day, Small Business! Are you saving your business (data)? Our company experienced our own unfortunate circumstance with a fire that affected our entire office building. I had a business continuity plan for a wide variety of possible

Store Fixture Design: Adding Technology Improves on an Already Good Thing

A relationship with a quality fixture manufacturer is essential for any retail architect. Just ask Bryce Sills and Heather Hislop from Ennco Display Group, one of our favorites!

A Concrete Problem – There is a surprise offspring of the new “borderless” retail paradigm that seems almost liberating because, finally, something can be defined in terms of a concrete problem. One having to do with store fixtures.

Is the Store Closing? – Did you notice that the merchandise in the drug store is all pulled forward on the shelf, implying – more than usual I mean – that the space in the back is not empty? When it starts to become so obvious that we begin to think that the store might be closing, it’s time for a change. Many retailers, even those embracing technology, are still stuck in the old “big box” store planning mentality, I hesitate to bring up Toys R Us again, but as Steve Dennis, writing for Forbes, tells us, “boring, undifferentiated, irrelevant and unremarkable stores are most definitely… dying…”

Curating an Inventory – The point being that changing the physical retail environment from a warehouse to a museum involves completely revisiting how an inventory is displayed and impacts the size and layout of a store. Curating an inventory, i.e., “show rooming,” means presenting it in terms of a multi faceted value proposition. It means incorporating a physical product into a marketing message using multiple and sometimes interactive types of media.

Multi Function – Suppose, for example, I walk into a store looking for new sunglasses. I walk over to the sun glass display and see that there are lots of frames and brands as well as examples of available coatings, lens colors, and an educational video about what all of these do. There might be a nearby kiosk allowing me to use my phone to access my eye wear history, insurance, prescriptions, exam dates and finally a scanned image of my face with recommended frame style, size, and shape. Maybe I find that there is an indicator on the store fixture that flashes when I pass an appropriate option based on the information in my profile. Once I find a frame, I am able to see other colors and finishes, check availability, see how much it costs, and read customer reviews right there on the display. I might then sit down with the optician so that he or she is able to give full attention to positioning the lens and finalizing my order. Sound improbable? Take a look at Amazonbooks in NYC and then say that.

Competing with Amazon – I understand that many retailers will neither want, nor be able to directly compete with Amazon. However, once a retailer gets over the initial shock, incorporating technology into a retail display program may not be as difficult as one would imagine; especially if the designer has a good working relationship with a store fixture fabricator experienced with the product line, offering a wide selection of standard interchangeable parts, and capable and willing to making adjustments. One such company is Ennco Display Group, who we have been pleased to work with in the past and recently met at Vision Expo in NYC. It is important to keep in mind that adding technology to an existing fixture is done to improve on an already good thing. All of the the thought, planning and testing that goes into creating a captivating visual display is not wasted because technology must be added to how it functions. Consider this: not only did Amazon go into an old Border’s space, but it also looks somewhat like Hudson News, who has been doing face out merchandise displays forever.

Teamwork – If you are a retailer thinking about introducing technology into a store design, my first recommendation would be not to over complicate what must be done. Examine resources already available to you, i.e. POS system providers, inventory system providers, advertising and media consultants. You are already their customer so ask them for help. See what functionality is already on your website and make sure it coordinates with what you will provide in the store. Finally once you have put your plan into writing, connect with a hardware/specialty consultant and introduce him/her to your design team. Team being the operative word. I think you will find that it is realistically possible to stay relevant in the “evolving” but never “disappearing” world of “bricks n mortar” retail.

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.

Small Biz Nightmares: Employees and Security

In the last few years we have seen several news accounts of major data breaches involving big businesses, nonprofit organizations, banking institutions, and even government entities.  While this is a major issue for these organizations, they generally have the expertise and means to fix the issue and ensure that the breach does not continue.  But… Read more »

The post Small Biz Nightmares: Employees and Security appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

In the last few years we have seen several news accounts of major data breaches involving big businesses, nonprofit organizations, banking institutions, and even government entities.  While this is a major issue for these organizations, they generally have the expertise and means to fix the issue and ensure that the breach does not continue.  But what about small businesses?  Studies have shown that 90% of small businesses do not use any data protection at all for company information.  However, last year 61% of cyberattacks were aimed at small businesses, and 60% of small companies that experience a breach go out of business within six months of a cyber attack.

What is a small business owner to do?  The Alexandria SBDC recently presented a webinar with two experts to address what small businesses can do to minimize their cyber threats, particularly the very real threats involved with hiring employees, contractors and vendors.  Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources, and Elizabeth Moon of Focus Data Solutions set forth in this webinar some concrete and simple steps that all business owners can take today to protect their company data.  It should be viewed by all small business owners and their employees.

The post Small Biz Nightmares: Employees and Security appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

Social Media Content Curation Using Feedly

You’re a business owner and you have a business to run. However, creating content for Social Media is important, if you have the right sales infrastructure in place! It’s sometimes a distraction to focus solely on content creation when other

You’re a business owner and you have a business to run. However, creating content for Social Media is important, if you have the right sales infrastructure in place! It’s sometimes a distraction to focus solely on content creation when other

Be Prepared… You Never Know…

We received the following notice last evening from SBDC friend, colleague, and social media guru, Ray Sidney-Smith.  It is important information on being prepared for any emergency, and how being prepared can save your business.  All small businesses and organizations should take note: Dear Clients and Colleagues, As some of you have heard, our office… Read more »

The post Be Prepared… You Never Know… appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

We received the following notice last evening from SBDC friend, colleague, and social media guru, Ray Sidney-Smith.  It is important information on being prepared for any emergency, and how being prepared can save your business.  All small businesses and organizations should take note:

Dear Clients and Colleagues,

As some of you have heard, our office building, located across from the GMU Arlington campus, experienced a fire last evening. I wanted to send this (hopefully) brief message to explain a few things that will be useful to everyone.

First, the fire was on the fourth floor and so our office suite was not directly in the blaze. Unfortunately, water and smoke we are presuming did the worst it could. It’s an active investigation so we’re unable to enter the building or office suite to see the extent of the damage. No one died or was injured during this ordeal, thank goodness.

That said, thanks to my sometimes manic imperative that everything be done in our Web-based infrastructure, no data was lost or is compromised. Our business operations will continue to function as normal, perhaps with a few delays in responding as we manage around the situation. We thank you for your understanding.

Finally, I cannot impress upon everyone the importance that these “acts of God” (or, acts of arsonists, hackers and other criminals) can and will happen…it’s simply a matter of time. Please make sure you have backups (cloud and offsite) and disaster response and recovery plans in place, as we did. These are always emotional experiences, but knowing what to do and how in writing was a gift from my past self to my present self. I really hope that this experience sparks some of you to do what’s needed to be prepared.

Best regards,
Ray Sidney-Smith
W3 Consulting

The post Be Prepared… You Never Know… appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

There’s No Age Limit for Success

Ageism is a real problem in hiring, and yet it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Let’s start with the numbers. A 2017 study, “Age Discrimination and Hiring Older Workers” conducted by David Neumark, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button, was p…

Ageism is a real problem in hiring, and yet it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves. Let’s start with the numbers. A 2017 study, “Age Discrimination and Hiring Older Workers” conducted by David Neumark, Ian Burn, and Patrick Button, was particularly damning in its findings. Neumark, Burn, and Button discovered that there exists a statistically significant difference in ...

Responding to Google Reviews — The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

While the first phase of Google review traffic success is getting them, taking your Google review strategy to the next level is most certainly responding to Google reviews. Setting and managing buyers’ expectations is tough when you control little abou…

While the first phase of Google review traffic success is getting them, taking your Google review strategy to the next level is most certainly responding to Google reviews. Setting and managing buyers’ expectations is tough when you control little about

Who Are Your Customers? Where are They From?

This blogpost was written by Vito Fiore, Director of Marketing and Research for Visit Alexandria.  It provides some very valuable marketing research information for Alexandria’s small business community. As the tourism marketing agency for the City of Alexandria, we at Visit Alexandria are always trying to better understand questions such as: “Who is visiting Alexandria?”… Read more »

The post Who Are Your Customers? Where are They From? appeared first on Alexandria Small Business Development Center.

This blogpost was written by Vito Fiore, Director of Marketing and Research for Visit Alexandria.  It provides some very valuable marketing research information for Alexandria’s small business community.

As the tourism marketing agency for the City of Alexandria, we at Visit Alexandria are always trying to better understand questions such as: “Who is visiting Alexandria?” “How much money are they spending?” “On what are they spending their money?” and “How important is visitor spending to the Alexandria economy?”. In the past, we answered these questions by relying on data sources like website analytics, advertising tracking pixels, visitor center traffic, and survey data.

Out of all these methods, survey data provides the most detail on how money is spent, but it is imprecise and reliant on human recall. Let’s say we ask someone if they’ve visited Alexandria in the past year. They respond, “Yes, I visited 8 months ago.”  We can ask them what they spent on lodging, restaurants, shopping, etc., and they almost certainly won’t be able to do better than a rough estimate. Furthermore, this method is subject to sampling error.

For several years, Visit Alexandria has been looking at ways to gather more reliable information.  We discovered that the nation’s largest credit card provider, Visa, has a “big data” product known as VisaVue. This product provides spending data for a given location in 24 different merchant categories. Perhaps most interestingly, the spending is broken down by the cardholder’s source location (at the metropolitan statistical area level). By partnering with Virginia Tourism Corporation and Visit Virginia Beach, Visit Alexandria was able to purchase the VisaVue product recently at an affordable price.

Visit Alexandria breaks its marketing campaign into two broad categories: 1) Destination, targeting those overnight guests from outside of the DC region, and 2) Regional, targeting those daytrippers that live outside of Alexandria but within the DC region. Our destination campaign is by far the larger effort, as our primary mission is to drive overnight stays in Alexandria and increase visitor spending. According to a 2014 survey-based study conducted by Destination Analysts, on a per person basis, overnight visitors to Alexandria spend about 3 times as much per trip as day visitors. That said, we were excited because the VisaVue data could give us a better understanding of how big the spending (and thereby tax revenue) impact is in key sectors from locals, regional visitors, and destination visitors.

The VisaVue data represents all domestic Visa credit and debit transactions, which were over $1 billion in City of Alexandria spending in calendar year 2016. This represents about 1/3 of all spending in lodging, restaurant, and retail categories.  Because Visa is widely used for both business and consumer spending at many income levels, we feel that this data is generally reflective of spending in Alexandria as a whole. And, because it is an accounting of ACTUAL consumer spending, it does not have the limitations discussed earlier that relate to self-reported data from surveys.

By determining Visa spending patterns according to source location, we can then extrapolate these patterns out to all spending (under the assumption that Visa spending in Alexandria is generally reflective of all spending behavior). Then we can apply these patterns to tax collection data from the City of Alexandria in order to determine the estimated share of local taxes that are paid by Destination visitors (from outside the region), Regional visitors (people from the DC region but outside of Alexandria), and those local to Alexandria. The results are below:

The headline here is that 71% of consumption taxes (restaurant, lodging, and sales) paid to the City of Alexandria come directly from people who are non-residents.  That $44 million translates to a savings of about $590 per Alexandria household. The revenue generated by visitor spending reduces the pressure on other taxes on residents like property taxes. You’ll notice that the consumption spending by destination visitors is roughly the same as that by all Alexandria residents.  And perhaps most surprisingly, spending from regional visitors have the largest impact, with 43% of all spending in these categories.

As you might expect, when it comes to lodging, destination visitors do the vast majority of the spending. However, there is still a share of spending that comes from within the region, presumably for staycations, business travel booked by companies within the region for those travelling to Alexandria, or locals booking a hotel for friends and relatives staying in Alexandria.

For the meals tax, which includes spending at both full-service restaurants and quick-service establishments, half is paid by regional visitors and 19% is paid by those visiting from outside the DC region.  Remember that this data is citywide; we would expect that the share of destination visitor spending would likely be much greater than the chart above in Old Town, and smaller than the chart above in locally-driven neighborhoods (e.g., Potomac Yard, West End).

The story is similar when it comes to the sales tax. Since the sales tax is applied to a wide range of spending, we combined VisaVue data from a whole host of retail and restaurant categories for this calculation.  This chart shows us that while retail is a bit more locally driven than lodging and dining, it still owes the majority of economic activity to non-Alexandrians.  That’s remarkable given that a huge portion of this tax is paid at places like supermarkets where spending is predominantly locally-driven.

There’s much more to learn from this rich data set. In the coming months, we’ll be doing a more detailed analysis at the metropolitan area level to inform our advertising marketing selection for the upcoming year.  Does Norfolk provide more visitor spending per capita than Philadelphia? Once they arrive, do people from New York City spend more per trip than people from Atlanta?  How much of our visitation comes from a closer, smaller city like Richmond versus a more distant, large metropolis like Chicago? We’ll be using the VisaVue data, among other sources, to better understand the answers to these questions.

What we already have learned, however, is significant. Marketing to destination visitors will always be our primary task, but given the scale of the impact on our tax revenue from regional visitors we are looking for opportunities to increase our efforts there as well. And the broader finding that 71% of retail, restaurant, and lodging spending comes from non-residents tells us that Alexandria’s economy is dependent on being welcoming to all, whether they are from Arlington, Virginia or Arlington, Texas.

Vito Fiore is the Director of Marketing and Research at Visit Alexandria. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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