Wednesday, June 13, 2012
With several Signal Mountain establishments closing their doors recently, members of the Mountain Business Association are discussing ways to encourage mountain residents to shop at local businesses as well as how to draw customers from surrounding areas.
Tommy Nix, a business specialist with the Tennessee Small Business Development Center, spoke to 41 members at a recent MBA meeting about the resources his organization offers and advised local business owners based on their specific questions.
“We work with small business owners to help them thrive,” he said of TSBDC’s mission.
Nix was originally contacted by 12 Paws owner Betty Crawford, who wanted suggestions on how she could increase business at her all-natural dog treat shop. Knowing other business owners could also use Nix’s advice, Crawford, who serves as treasurer of the MBA, asked him to attend and offer suggestions to the group.
Nix said he typically works with business owners such as Crawford one-on-one to determine which resources offered by the center would best meet their needs.
“The great thing about what we do is the large majority of it is free,” he said.
Members of TSBDC’s six-person staff specialize in different areas and consult with one another to determine the best course of action for an individual in a particular situation. A business may need help acquiring a loan as well as assistance promoting itself through social media. In that case, Nix would consult with the corresponding specialists to best advise his client on a course of action.
Monique Poteet of Signal Mountain Athletic Club asked Nix if he would suggest using the group’s advertising dollars to encourage residents to buy local, or if the MBA should focus on marketing to customers off the mountain. Some business owners argued that encouraging residents to support their local businesses is their best chance to increase business, while others said they want to promote the town and its shops as a destination for shopping.
“I think if we want to grow business up here we need to promote the city,” said Nino’s Italian Restaurant owner Nino Piccolo, who suggested the city hold a regular open market similar to those in his home country of Italy.
Saving Face owner Patrick Murphy asked Nix what opportunities exist to encourage people from off the mountain to patronize local businesses.
“One of the things I truly believe in is working together,” said Nix. “It doesn’t matter if you’re competitors or companion businesses. If you get more people coming to Signal Mountain, you get more people up here spending money.”
Sandi Smith of Lookout Mountain Investment Company, which leases out many Signal Mountain business spaces, suggested more events like Sunday on Signal to bring customers from off the mountain.
“Do we want to be cute and quaint or a commerce center?” asked Signal Mountain Travel owner Linda Nelson. “It can’t be both.”
She suggested adding an anchor store such as a Publix grocery store to increase walk-in traffic.
Crawford said one shortcoming Nix pointed out in her business was its lack of a website. Nix said he typically refers clients to Homestead, a company that hosts information-only sites for $7.95 a month.
His suggestions for small business success include creating a niche and delivering a product the market wants. Using social media such as Facebook and Twitter is helpful when business owners use posts to create something value-added, he said.
“For example, if you own a garden shop, putting out that it’s time to fertilize or trim your Crepe myrtles” is more effective than announcing a discount on a particular item, Nix said.
“It has paid off for me extensively,” said Three Black Sheep owner Diana Kessler of marketing her business on the Internet and through social media. “I advertise what’s going on in the shop, and I think there’s a way for every business to do that.”