Quality v. quantity

Last Thursday, at the Virginia Main Street 25th Anniversary Milestone Achievement Awards, keynote speaker Chuck D’Aprix spoke about the importance of making your downtown attractive to entrepreneurs.  One way to do this is to focus on the quality of the experience rather than the quantity of products you sell.

In short, it is difficult to compete with big box store prices and the accompanying scale that makes those small margins possible.  So why not try delving into high quality products that carry a much higher margin and offer a much richer experience? 

If you focus on giving your downtown customers a quality, authentic and unique experience, you will become an attraction for those with quality in mind who don’t mind paying a little (or a lot) extra for that quality.  To quote an article on Kansas’ Prairie Marshes in Legacy Magazine,

Happy and satisfied visitors stay longer, return often, and “spread the word” both about the joys of visiting our region and the importance and significance of the resources found here. This has raised the visibility of the tourism industry at the local, state, and national levels.

From $10,000 boots to stagecoaches to ballgloves to guitars, watch this short slideshow on successful “craftpreneurs.”  And yes, I just made up that word.

Bob Mills, owner of Angle Hardware in Rocky Mount, VA, once told me that Wal-Mart didn’t bother him.  Their product knowledge and quality was poor.  Lowe’s has a much wider selection and is more specialized than Wal-Mart, but do you think you can get someone at Lowe’s to tell you whether a machine screw or a hex bolt will hold better?  Angle Hardware is the real deal.  You don’t wander for hours past spa tubs to find your drill bits.  You walk in and you get greeted by name and with a handshake and a sincere, “What can I help you with?”  If you need one screw, you get one screw, not a box of 25. 

Quality customer service is a rare commodity; but one you can find readily on Virginia’s Main Streets.

April 1 luncheon focused on supporting local businesses

The Virginia Downtown Development Association continues its popular Hot Topics Luncheon series in Martinsville on April 1, with a focus on nurturing a climate supportive of local businesses. 

Eddie Bumbaugh,  executive director of Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, will present on incentives  instrumental to generating a strong business climate.  The session will address how a downtown can serve as an entrepreneurial incubator and include some tried and true business recruitment techniques and business retention strategies.

The luncheon begins at noon at the Virginia Museum of Natural History and will conclude by 2 p.m.  Register online at www.downtownvirginia.org.

 Call or e-mail the VDDA office with any questions at: admin@downtownvirginia.org or (804) 754-4120.

VMS to Celebrate 25 Years

On March 25, the commonwealth will officially celebrate 25 years of Main Street revitalization at Lynchburg’s Craddock Terry Hotel.  The anniversary dinner will combine special acknowledgement of the quarter-century mark with the annual Milestones Award ceremony.

The event will feature special guest speaker Chuck D’Aprix, president of The Downtown Entrepreneurship Project, dinner and live music. A reception before the dinner will be hosted by Virginia Downtown Development Association.

To register or for more information, visit: www.dhcd.virginia.gov/mainstreet.

And don’t forget to vote for your favorite Downtown Destination on our poll, below.

Twenty-five Treasures on Main Street – Which is your favorite?

Even stores on Main Street do it: Making e-commerce work downtown

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the crosshatched area in the Permuto Discoveries graphic. That shaded e-commerce portion of spending includes catalog, telephone, and online sales. 

Sure, the biggest piece of these sales is likely handled by Amazon’s high-tech automated warehouse distribution system or by a cheery voice at Chesapeake, Virginia’s QVC call center.  But there is also a portion that supports brick and mortar stores, and it could be meaningful for your downtown merchants.

My local specialty grocer (Rett Ward of Tinnell’s Finer Foods) just posted on Facebook that orders for Shad Roe are now being taken. (I don’t think I plan on buying any, but it put a certain Cole Porter standard in my head for the rest of the day.)  With or without Facebook entering the e-commerce arena (and they are), it’s a short next step for Rett to post a link enabling an existing customer to close the deal, pre-paying in a few clicks on a linked Web site.  

In Harrisonburg a hair stylist sends out discount appointment alerts when she has an unexpected opening. Entertainment venues can easily follow this strategy with hour-before ticket sales. The local bookstore can announce an author reading with a post or e-mail and include a link to their online presence to presell signed copies of the book. 

The ideas are bound only by the merchant’s willingness to adapt to a changing commercial environment.  They are strategies that the big guys use already.  With easy-to-use online tools readily available,  the increasing use of smart phones, and demand for real-time information on the part of consumers, now is the time for local independents to join in.

Anchors on Main Street

Every Main Street community is working to bring shoppers downtown, but what does that mean in the era of internet shopping? 

Shoppers are buying more online–but they don’t buy all products in an equal amount.  In the next few posts, we’ll take a look at this sharp graphic from Permuto Discoveries, and offer some questions that might prompt discussion at your next economic restructuring committee meeting.

First, this chart certainly shows why large retailers and chain drug stores work so hard to get prescription business. It’s one one category in which retail is still largely a bricks and mortar game, and once shoppers are in the door, they’ll buy other goods as well.

Where in your downtown can shoppers get prescriptions filled?  Could your (possibly struggling) independent pharmacist actually be an overlooked downtown anchor whose services could be trumpeted as part of a buy local campaign?

According to the National Community Pharmacy Association, the average independent pharmacy employes six people, including the owner. The average non-prescription sales of a pharmacy is around $240,000. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but if you do, don’t worry.  They’ll have something for that.