Since the inception of Cambridge Retail Advisors (CRA) – Economic Development (ED), our guest blogger, Joe Lawlor, has worked tirelessly for the advancement of small businesses alongside a dedicated team of passionate professionals. He brings over a decade of small business consulting and mentoring experience spanning retail, restaurant and service sectors. In that time, Lawlor has worked with over 100 businesses from Maine to Massachusetts. Apart from individual consultations, he has also collaborated with local town councils and economic committees to tackle macro socioeconomic issues.
A Unique Engagement
Three years ago, CRA-ED (our retail IT consulting firm out of Boston, Massachusetts) was presented with a unique project. The Boston Main Streets Foundation (BMSF) reached out, requesting help on a project to buoy local businesses struggling to adapt to the “new normal” created by COVID-19. Initially their plan focused on providing credit card readers to cash only establishments. This goal was focused on the future of retail and on the people who most need assistance – but in retrospect was only targeting a symptom of a greater issue. Fast forward to today, and we believe we’ve refined a solution, but more importantly better understand the underlying hurdle faced by most small businesses.
Mind the Gap
Today’s small businesses face a myriad of challenges, but the ability to adapt shouldn’t be one of them. We found the common roadblock entrepreneurs struggled to navigate was in managing their tech stack. Or, put simply, knowing what technology to use and what vendors to trust. Off hand this may seem like a light lift for the average business owner, but in reality, the vast and often overlapping range of tech solutions, with acronyms such as CRM (Customer Relation Management), ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), POS (Point of Sale) and OMS (Order Management System), are intimidating even for the tech savvy.
Technology intimidation is very real and has led to a reluctance for change. This reluctance has brought us to where we are today: a gap. Larger businesses, with more staff and resources, are able to understand the advantages and return on investment (ROI) of tech, while small businesses are taken advantage of and fall behind.
Vendors catering to new entrepreneurs can quickly size up their clientele and whether or not they can tell a good tech deal from bad. This lets them upsell solutions which often range from needlessly expensive to shamefully needless. This is particularly notable for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) led businesses, especially when the owner’s first language is not English. While corporate America hires consultants to strategically quantify the value of tech solutions, proverbial Ma and Pa are left to the mercy of commission-driven salespersons. All this leads us to our solution.
As Information Technology people at CRA-ED, we started looking at the problem from 10,000 ft. or “holistically” as the business trendy like to say. We used the same selection process that worked for past clients like Dunkin’ Donuts and L.L.Bean and applied it to the tech stack most valuable to small businesses. We analyzed Point of Sale (POS) vendors first, website designers, then internet providers, and credit card processors – the meat and potatoes of business operations – and found the solutions which work best. Through grants we’ve been able to provide dozens of businesses a suite of tech solutions which are easy to use, inexpensive and stand as best in class.
This is bridging the gap; this is democratizing technology. This is giving hard working small businesses the tools and knowledge they need to not only sustain themselves but grow and be competitive in an ever-changing economic landscape. We’ve seen massive growth in the businesses we’ve worked with over the past three years and are excited to bring this program to your community!
If you would like to learn more about our Tech Initiative, please visit our website or email me at email@example.com.
The first organization or community to contact DHCD (firstname.lastname@example.org) about wanting to receive this service will be awarded a technical assistance grant, totaling $2,500, to address the technology gap in their downtown. Please note, the average cost of the service totals $5,000, and any interested organization or community would likely need to contribute additional funds (roughly $2,500) to effectively make use of the CRA service offer.
CRA-ED has generously agreed to waive all their program management fees to allow a community and respective business to implement this solution more cost effectively. This special offer is open to all Virginia communities!
No community or organization may take advantage of more than one special service offer per year.