Wake Forest, NC (PressExposure) July 29, 2009 -- Small businesses are the backbone of employment in the U.S., always have been and will continue to be so. Small businesses also historically have the highest rate of failure and during the current economic crisis the failures will probably rise, prior to stabilizing.
So how does a small retail business survive? One excellent example of a small business continuing to prosper can be seen in the fastest growing area of the U.S. for the next 20 years, the Research Triangle Park area in North Carolina. Research Triangle Park, referred to as RTP, is the area that includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and gets it's name from the three research universities in the area: Duke, N.C. State, and the Univ. of North Carolina.
Recently 10Best, which is the collective wisdom of the travel advisers of Southern Living, Coastal Living, Cooking Light, Sunset and Southern Accents chose the 10 best shopping destinations in the RTP area. Interesting is the final, 10th selection, which is The Cotton Company with the tag line, "Enjoy Shopping Again". This relatively small 14 ,000 sq. ft. shop was the only small shop on the list. The other 9 destinations were mega malls, or state owned and subsidized facilities such as the State Farmer's Market.
How does a small boutique collection of artists, crafts people and small entrepreneurs occupying 10' x 10' spaces compete against retails giants that spends 1000 to 1 the marketing dollars of a small family owned business?
The Cotton Company ( CC) markets on the principle that shopping should be fun, a pleasant, enjoyable experience, not a duty or chore. The building itself is housed in an old abandoned cotton warehouse in a historic downtown. When the Cotton Company building was being renovated it was with the intent to be placed on the National Historic Registry and during the process the town and local Historic Society joined with the owners of the building to place the 3 block area of downtown on the historic registry, which included the old cotton warehouse.
The renovation of the building included polishing old concrete floors and hand painting to resemble wooden decks, concrete curbing being stained to resemble outside Parisian seating and the lower underground level had faux windows with internal lights so it appears to be above ground, not under ground. The total effect of using art creates an air of surprise and admiration for the effort by customers once they understand what went into the remodeling. That reaction is called the "Wow effect", which is giving the customer more than what they expected. The shop itself is unique with unique interior design elements. It is this uniqueness that attracts local folks back with their friends or guests to show them something that can only be seen in Wake Forest and no where else. It makes shopping fun in a nicely done rehabilitation of an old building.
Also compared to the other top 9 places to shop, the Wake Forest historic downtown does not have access to beltways, major interstates, or any true portal of entry into the downtown area. If one wants to shop there then it is a conscious effort to find it which makes marketing even more difficult.
Shopping at the CC is enhanced by "Mimosa Mondays", which are free mimosas for the customers. Sweet Sundays are free cookies, pastries, bon bons, wine and lemonade for the customers. It is a method of entertaining the customer and making the experience pleasant. Monthly is a free wine tasting at Art After Hours which features an introduction and exhibit of the "Artist of The Month".
Often the "Event Gallery" upstairs, which is a reception gallery with historic brick settings, an old "Firestone" sign still emblazoned on what were outside bricks in the past still give the customer that reflective glimpse into the historical past of the building. The music from the wedding reception, office meeting or private party permeates the downstairs shopping area and is a pleasant surprise for the shopping experience.
All the elements coming together contribute to making shopping a fun experience, rather than a verb in which goods are acquired through a process.
For the small retail businesses in America there must be a remake of shopping so the aim is not the sale of goods but the entertainment of the future of America's financial comeback, the customer.