Saturday, March 29, 2008

Guest Blogger Enoch Chapman

The Essence of Downtown – An outsider’s perspective

I grew up in a small New Hampshire town that believed more in the growth of livestock than the growth of the city. I remember that going to the store was a friendly experience. My parents knew the owners and I was easily recognized at each store, usually because I was one of the two minorities that lived in New Hampshire. However, when I was young, I thought that people knew my family and that we were important to them.

And we were important to them. The businesses thrived and survived because of the townsfolk. The virtual world didn’t exist and sales were a face-to-face approach. Strong relationships brought return business and allowed profitable growth. Sure there was television and periodicals, but if the experience wasn’t there then the company would disappear, and many did.

As a small town, many businesses were located in different parts of the city. The grocery store was on the west side. The pharmacy was on the north side and the pet store was on the east side. But you didn’t have a problem with traveling to these locations, because you knew the people and you trusted them. However, many small businesses couldn’t survive due to their location to other companies in the area, unless they had something to offer that other stores couldn’t.

Our problem of growth in a small town started to compound when Big Companies, like Wal-Mart, entered the environment. Now there was a one stop shop that you could purchase much of what you wanted at a cheaper price. For many people in the small town this was a BIG benefit. And much of the small businesses saw themselves losing profits because of cost, location and convenience. Why go to a bakery when you can get a cake, your prescriptions and groceries all in one location?

What did continue to strive were the businesses that became specialty shops: shops that catered to something that wasn’t purchased or experienced in the Big Companies. Music stores, Book Stores, Specialty Clothing Stores, and other “specialty” shops began to appear, grow and survive. Many stores also appeared and disappeared just as quickly. Why? I don’t have all the answers, but I did notice that those who went on it alone were companies that slowly fizzled. Usually because people saw the business enter the community, but not many knew what the business was doing.

So here are a couple of ideas that I saw within my hometown:

1) Relationships ARE important! – How do we build relationships? Or show people that you are committed and trustable? Groups and Organizations help. The Downtown Alliance can show customers the commitment you have to the area. Joining other companies of the Downtown Alliance shows people that you are interested in being an active part of the growth of Provo.

2) Location IS important! – Think of all the opportunities you have to leverage off the community of downtown. The fact that restaurants, specialty clothing shops, music stores and other businesses are a stone’s throw away from each other is an opportunity for strategic alliances and cross promotions. Show people the benefit of all the businesses that are locally available a simple walk away.

3) Make a presence! – People need to know what it is you do! They also need the word to get out there about your offerings. The Downtown Alliance is another vehicle to help you push your business to the people. By utilizing the virtual and physical capacities of the Downtown Alliance you can make people know more about who you are!

I look at my home town and think … if it wasn’t for the strength of certain groups (like rotary club, lion’s club, etc) I wouldn’t know about half of what businesses were out there. However there was no organization that was dedicated to making a business grow. What would have happened to my little hometown business if there was one organization interested in the development and growth of the business community?

The Downtown Alliance is dedicated to making people aware of the businesses and opportunities of Downtown Provo, UT. And by helping out with awareness and opportunities they are helping business grow. I wonder when New Hampshire will catch up.

Editor's Note: Enoch Chapman is a Computer Software Consultant and Contractor with an office in downtown Provo.

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