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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The Value of Local Small Business Partnerships

  • “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” — Henry Ford

Alexandria is home to countless diverse, dynamic and successful small businesses. This is the story of how two of small businesses partnered up and were able to create a unique professional development opportunity for many others.

by Reggie Holmes of Enthuse Creative and Beth Lawton of Canoe Media Services

We met at an Alexandria Small Business Development Center Small Business Roundtable in April 2014. The roundtable provides a monthly, facilitated topical forum that allows small business owners and leaders to gather and discuss a range of issues related to small businesses in the Alexandria area. It provides a free networking opportunity, as well.

Neither of us had attended an ASBDC roundtable event before, and we had no idea how valuable it would be or who we would meet.

Meeting for the first time ever at that roundtable was serendipitous. It turns out we lived in close proximity to each other on Alexandria’s west end, so we met at a local Starbucks and got to know each others’ businesses. Through our talk that day, we recognized the synergy of our industries and discussed how we could work together.

A desire we both had was to be recognized as thought leaders and resources in our respective industries. One way to do this is to provide workshops and presentations that add value to clients and the community. Doing a Lunch and Learn workshop had been on both of our minds, but having a partner at the ready pushed both of us forward quickly.

Our encounter at the ASBDC provided an opportunity for our organizations to connect and we were able to follow up on that with additional meetings, capitalizing on the opportunity to do together what we could not do independently — or at least not as easily or effectively or inexpensively. We needed to leverage each others’ knowledge, relationships and skill sets to make all the moving parts of the event come together smoothly. Important business connections would continue to play a huge role in getting the workshop from idea to reality.

As solopreneurs, finding partners to motivate you, bounce ideas off of and encourage you is critical to success. By motivating and relying on each other equally and focusing on each other’s strengths, we made huge progress in a short time with finding space and time, collaborating on marketing and outreach and preparing the presentation.

We were fortunate to have Jay Thomas from Alphagraphics print up marketing postcards for us — another person we met through ASBDC — and Mark Whitaker of Intelligent Office provided us with space and additional marketing support.

In the end, that room at Intelligent Office Alexandria was nearly filled to capacity. We had 17 small business owners and professionals attend, from several different industries and backgrounds, including real estate, consultants, finance and health services.

Some new relationships started in that room, too. Those have led to new collaborations and business opportunities for both of us, and the feeling of community in that room made us feel proud to be members of such a supportive business community in Alexandria.

It was in many ways a team effort, and a testament to the collaborative spirit of small businesses in this region. The Lunch and Learn was a very rewarding experience. One of the main lessons we learned is that working collaboratively and creatively, we strengthen the economy by strengthening small businesses in Alexandria and beyond. The workload was shared among many and so too was the benefit. The acronym TEAM, “Together Everyone Achieves More” is true in this case.

Roundtable Recap – Identifying Your Target Market

Identifying Your Target MarketOn April 16th, Alexandria Small Business Development Center hosted the monthly Business Development Roundtable here in Alexandria, Virginia. We discussed the all-too-important marketing topic of identifying your target market. First, we defined a target market to start the discussion of identifying your target market. Some of the definitions we heard were really insightful and ranged from “finding ideal customers” and Patra Frame of Strategies for Human Resources really honed in on “who will I call” not just the broader concept of “small to medium-sized businesses.” Eliza Dolin of Ivy Quill Communications echoed Patra’s sentiment on the point and added that you’re actually “targeting individuals” because “companies are not hiring you” people are. Looking back at who has been your customer is equally important. We also discussed demographics, psychographics and understanding the individual profile of your buyer.

Director Bill Reagan noted the caveat that “we’ll serve anybody” is counterproductive; you should “narrow that down” to “help you plan, strategize and emphasize where you’re going to market and align your resources.” There is a lot of research you can do for identifying your target market before you start your business. Alexandria SBDC Business Analyst Jack Parker posited the important question: what does your client profile look like? He stated that you need to look at your core market area, as geographical data matters for most local businesses. Peter Baldwin of MarketForce Strategies looks at target markets a little different in that he looks at the “want’s and need’s” of his clients’ buyers. He noted that target markets change over time; different generations have different want’s and need’s.

Next, we tackled the challenge of actually identifying your target market. I asked the seasoned entrepreneurs in the room, “did you know that you needed to target your market? And, where did you start in identifying your target market?” Patra Frame indicated that she started off at her local library (since she started her business before Alexandria SBDC had started here in Alexandria, Virginia!) to research her audience and made a point that it’s a continual process. Director Reagan mentioned that it isn’t quite as scientific since you will likely have to adjust your target market after you start your business, honing in on the right people over time. But, as he indicated, you need to start somewhere. Assistant Director Gloria Flanagan pointed out that knowing who your buyer is can sometimes be tricky, as in the case of children who may be making the buying decision and the parents are merely providing the capital for a purchase.

Finally, we discussed tracking your customers over time so that you can create a historical record to refer back to you, and then making action upon this data for your target market. Most of the business owners found difficulty in naturally finding ways to meet hands with their direct target market so they had to get creative both in referral networking and advertising strategies. There was a consistent theme that you needed to engage with your target market where they congregated, whether online or offline, with a strong strategy. So much great conversation was additionally had in the roundtable, but you had to be there to absorb it all!

If you’d like to join the Biz Dev Roundtable, just come any third Tuesday at noon at the Alexandria SBDC; our next one is tomorrow, May 21, 2013, and the topic is “Referrals & Leads: How to Use, Get and Give Them.” Bring your lunch, or coffee, network and have a conversation with 30+ Small Business owners and professionals about a pertinent business marketing or management topic.

No question of differentiation here.

Macroom shop, between Killarney and Cork City, is typical of small grocery type shops, until recently, common in Ireland.
Macroom shop, between Killarney and Cork City, is typical of small grocery type shops, until recently, common in Ireland.  Photo used with permission from photographer.

For my first SBDC blog post, I thought a nice introduction might be to revisit some notes taken this past summer during “Northern Virgina Retail Week.” I attended several presentations by Marc Wilson, retail expert and consultant to the  Virginia Small Business Development Center.  A page entitled, “Differentiate the Business” was important enough to have appeared in all three of the events I attended.  This can be accomplished, he tells us, by showing how a retailer meets all or some of these criteria:

•Is it the only . . .
•Is it the first . . .
•Is it the best . . .
•Does it have the best selection . . .
•It is the coolest, hippest . . .
•Are its people the best . . .
•Is it the most convenient . . .
•It’s always got new offerings of . . .
•Does it offer the best value . . .

 

Answering sets the business owner on the path to the well known “30 second elevator pitch” eventually enabling him/her to come up with the all important tag  line, i.e., Don’t leave home without it.  This advice, totally relevant for the business end of a small retailer, also informs the physical elements.  Consider the speeding Nike logo.

As an architect working with retail clients, I have found that working out the all important tagline, whether  it is actually used or not, may be more difficult than figuring out what it should look like and that taking this one step further leads to a store design that supports the retailer’s image and promotes the most possible sales.  Consider this rustic little shop that found its muse in a can of red paint, thereby outlasting its competition in a shrinking market.  No question of differentiation here.

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 andInterior 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.

Area Resources to Help Your Business

Alexandria Small Business Development Center
Many of you know that the Alexandria SBDC is your local business resource to provide information on how to start, manage and grow your business. We are always looking to see what additional regional resources there are to help our clients and area entrepreneurs. George Mason University and Arlington Economic Development, along with several other entities, have teamed up to present three upcoming events that provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to hear from global thought leaders, learn cutting edge concepts and build their entrepreneurial networks and toolkit. To see what is happening at this spring’s “Venture Camp Entrepreneurship Speaker Series” at the Arlington George Mason University campus, go to the Events Calendar of Arlington Economic Development. This is an example of just one of many worthwhile programs you can find on Alexandria SBDC’s “Regional Workshop Schedule.” I encourage you to regularly review the Workshop Schedule to see what is available to help you or your employees learn new things, update skills or broaden your network. Go to Alexandria SBDC’s website and click on “Events.” As always, feel free to contact Alexandria SBDC with any of your business needs!


Patricia (Pat) L. Melton, Counselor

Pat Melton joined the Alexandria Small Business Development Center in 2006 as a Counselor focusing on providing business research to the center’s clients, after working with the Virginia Economic Development Partnership on its International Trade Team.  She then worked at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology helping northern Virginia technology companies grow.  Both organizations exposed her to numerous resources available to help Virginia businesses.

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Virginia SBDC Success Story – Amanda Sozer, PhD

Here at the Alexandria SBDC, we’re delighted when we meet someone as a startup and watch them grow into a multinational success story. And, we’re proud to say, we have several of these success stories in our roster of SBDC clients! One of those successes is Amanda Sozer, PhD, of SNA International.

Here’s the direct link to the embedded YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nAJJrIoj47E

Alexandria SBDC Announces Human Resources Counseling for Small Business!

Patra Frame - Strategies for Human ResourcesAlexandria SBDC now offers individualized human resources counseling for small business…at no cost!

The Alexandria SBDC would like to announce a new program that will begin this month. Many of our small business clients fear HR issues and mistakes, but do not fully appreciate how the right people and processes will help them succeed. Patricia Frame, founder of Strategies for Human Resources (www.SHRinsight.com), Human Capital Management Consultant, Speaker, and Author, will provide one-on-one Human Resources Counseling for Small Business through the Alexandria Small Business Development Center. These sessions will be available at no charge to City of Alexandria businesses on the fourth Wednesday of each month (except December). Sessions will last for 50 minutes at the SBDC offices, and there will be three timeslots available each month. The first series of sessions will take place on Wednesday, September 26th, at 9, 10 and 11 a.m.

HR consulting sessions will be scheduled on a first-come, first-serve basis. To take advantage of this opportunity, send Gloria Flanagan an email message (gflanagan [at] alexandriasbdc.org <– remove spaces and change [at] to the @ symbol for the actual email address), with “HR Consulting” in the subject line.

You must also include the following information in the body of your e-mail:

  • Name, company name and contact information
  • Current number of employees in your organization
  • 2 – 3 critical business issues facing your organization
  • Issues that you would like to address in the meeting

Participants who are not current Alexandria SBDC clients will also need to complete the “Request for Counseling” Form.

Once we have received your e-mail we will contact you to schedule your session.

Biographical Background Information for Patricia Frame is provided below:
Patricia A. Frame is an experienced management consultant, HR executive, speaker, and author on human capital issues. She is known for her ability to address organizational goals and issues effectively and to create human resource management practices which support these goals without excessive administrivia. Patricia has advised executives and boards on a wide range of human capital and strategic planning issues. She has expertise in organization development, talent management, process restructuring, compensation, and training. She has worked with technology-based companies, government contractors, non-profits, associations, and retail operations. She advises small to mid-size organizations on ways to succeed and to help their employees thrive. Ms. Frame has given seminars for SBDC in recent years on the basic processes of HR management.

Bring in your business concerns and let her help you find a path forward to enhance your success.

Upcoming Events at the Alexandria SBDC [event]

Alexandria Small Business Development Center presents June 2012 Series of Events.

We so hope you will consider attending one or more of these events designed to help your business and nonprofit thrive and grow. Please note where registration is required. Remember, there is NO FEE for attending any of these programs.

As always, please contact us with your business concerns! For all these and more, just visit our website to learn more and register/rsvp.

Brown Bag Lunch “Get More Time Out of Your Day” presented by Holly Herman of Achieving Skills Resources!

Tuesday, June 5: Do you get everything on your “to do” list finished?  Do you have interruptions that derail your whole day?  Do you ever wish you had time to accomplish more?  Do you feel like you should be more productive?  If you can’t get everything crossed off your list, you’ll learn how to double your productivity and work fewer hours.  Held in our office from noon – 1:00 pm. Register online or call 703-778-1292 for more information.  Doors open at 11:45 am.

START, MANAGE, GROW WORKSHOP “Doing Business in the City of Alexandria”!

Tuesday, June 12: Over the last few years, the City of Alexandria has implemented a number of strategic changes that have made it easier for small businesses to thrive in the City.  Hear directly from: Planning & Zoning, Code Adminstration, Multi-Agency Permit Center, Transportation & Environmental Services, Department of Finance and the Alexandria Health Department.  New City Manager, Rashad Young, will be the keynote speaker and will highlight City partnerships with its much-needed economic engine: SMALL BUSINESSES!  There will be a brief Q & A and then an opportunity to talk one-on-one with officials in breakout sessions. The event location is The Mary G. Gates Learning Center, United Way of America, 701 North Fairfax Street, 8:00 am – 10:30 am.  Register online or call 703-778-1292 for more information.

Business Development Roundtable “How to Make Referral Networking Work for You”!

Tuesday, June 19: This meeting will be held in our office at 625 N. Washington Street, Suite 400 from noon – 1:00 pm. No pre-registration is necessary. If you have any questions, contact Gloria Flanagan by email or by phone at 703-778-2961.

Social Media Counseling for Alexandria City businesses!

Tuesday, June 19 & Wednesday, June 20: We offer one-on-one social media counseling with Ray Sidney-Smith of W3 Consulting.  These 45-minute individual sessions will take place in our office. If you are interested in taking advantage of this opportunity, contact Patricia Melton by email or by phone at 703-778-2960.

Save the date for these upcoming events:

Tuesday, July 10: Brown Bag Lunch noon – 1:00 pm “Building Your Identity: Branding 101”

Tuesday, July 17: Business Development Roundtable noon – 1:00 pm Topic: TBA

Wednesday, July 18: START, MANAGE, GROW WORKSHOP 8:00 am – 10:00 am “Social Media in the Retail Environment”

 

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

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