Local retreat offers some help for business owners
MIDDLETOWN — More than 100 representatives from small businesses throughout the region gathered Thursday at Lord Fairfax Community College to interact with each other and develop strategies to help their companies.
The small business retreat — hosted by the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and held in LFCC’s Corron Community Development Center — was to help educate and bring new ideas to small-business owners, according to Andy Gyurisin, social media counselor and program coordinator at the SBDC.
The SBDC covers the area from Winchester south to Mount Jackson and as far east as Warrenton and Culpepper. This was the third year for the retreat.
“I think it’s awesome to sit next to other small-business owners and talk to them about the struggles or the things you’ve had success with and be able to say ‘Look, this worked really well for me, did it work really well for you?’ and vice versa,” Gyurisin said.
“For me, I see the value of small businesses being the heart and the pulse of what your small town is ... To me, it feels like [the TV show] ‘Cheers’ almost, it’s that sort of feel of knowing who these people are and having that pulse [in the community].”
Kennedy Smith, a principal with Arlington-based Community Land Use and Economics Group and former director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Main Street Center, served as the retreat’s keynote speaker.
She touched on the decimation of downtown businesses that occurred during the second half of the 20th century — with some of the causes being the rise of shopping malls, fast food restaurants and interstate highways — during her remarks.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Smith showed the attendees pictures of common fast food restaurants like McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Pizza Hut without names identifying the structures and asked the audience to name the eateries based solely on the building’s design. The audience guessed correctly on each slide.
“Isn’t that scary?” she said. “It’s like we are letting these corporations scatter their logos — their buildings have become part of their corporate branding system — we’re letting them scatter their logos along our highways.
“We’ve lost that sense of distinctive visual appearance that gives our community some economic value. We need to recapture that and get back to that.”
Smith outlined three “game changers” that small businesses need to be mindful of in order to succeed in today’s market:
The market impact of millennials, the generation of about 80 million people in their 20s who prefer to buy locally produced goods and services.
Community-based capital efforts where local residents and towns actively invest in new businesses in order to help them survive.
Multiple distribution channels — whether online interaction with customers or finding new ways to connect with potential customers.
She also offered suggestions for towns and other groups with a stake in business development to use, including making an area’s commercial district easy to invest in and giving tools to business owners that will help them succeed.
About 130 people representing as many as 85 businesses attended the retreat, Gyurisin said.
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