Sunday, December 7, 2008
Finding Success Together!
Michael R. Schmidt photographer
Here is a great article from the Joliet Herald that Christina Chapman wrote! I can't thank her enough for the wonderful article!
MORRIS -- Some retailers may be looking for ways to have a one up on their competition to survive in today's economy, but in downtown Morris three young business owners are doing more than surviving -- they are succeeding with help from one another.
Two years ago when signs of a dwindling market were on the horizon, a 25-year-old Ginger Shepherd decided to take over a wine boutique called Montage Spirts and Gifts on Morris' main strip at 304 Liberty Street.
Just a year ago in the midst of a falling market, Megan Turk who was 27 then, opened a brand new clothing boutique called Me Tu just down the block at 216 Liberty St.
And just four months ago 28-year-old Traci Tessone opened a home decor and event planning store called Whimsy at 106 W. Washington St. despite many calling her "crazy."
Opening a new business is always risky and these three women have done it during a time when many are closing their doors. Although they are aware the same could happen to them, this is their dream and they are not only going to make sure they succeed individually, but as a team.
"Anybody who is hurting right now is not failing. We know what we're doing. We're just waiting for everything to bounce back," Turk said.
And it helps to have some help from a more experienced friend. All three rely on the wisdom of Erin McFarland, owner of The Paper Company, an established business of five years in the downtown district.
"We're all separate business owners, but these are my co-workers," Turk said.
The key is creative thinking, the women said, and four minds are better than one.
"You have to stay innovative in this economy. It's all about putting in long hours and coming up with creative ideas. We have an advantage because we do it together," Shepherd said.
These women may not have chosen an ideal time to try something new, but in Morris businesses are fighting.
Some doors have closed, said Caroline Portlock, Grundy County Chamber of Commerce & Industry executive director, but not necessarily because they couldn't make it. For example last year Bone-ifide Care, a pet retail store, closed its store front, but not because it failed. Another part of Bonnie Latta's business grew, the pet sitting and training services, so she dedicated her time to that.
Other businesses are thriving still, Portlock said. The Front Porch, a home decor store, used to be located on Washington Street and recently moved to Liberty to increase square-footage.
"Overall in the last couple of years we've found people who have a good business and market plans do very well," Portlock said. "Although it is not a fantastic time to open a business. It is not the worst time either."
This isn't to say sales aren't low. To compensate many have to do things such as order inventory monthly rather than months a head of time or order less expensive items than are usually carried.
"The economy has made us better business owners without a doubt," Turk said.
The goal is to get people in the door. If you can get them downtown into one store there is a chance that shopper will go next door or across the street. With this in mind the ladies have started advertising together taking out one big newspaper add with a coupon for all four stores rather than one small one for an individual store. It saves them on cost and encourages shoppers to visit all the stores.
The idea of working with competitors is almost a necessity to make it in today's economy, said Peter Gill, communications director for the Illinois Retail Merchants Association.
In some areas entire towns are working together, he said. In Crystal Lake the city council authorized giving shoppers $30 gift certificates after a shopper shows receipts proving a certain amount was spent at any store in the zip code. Near Milwaukee a suburb actually created its own money to be bought and used anywhere in the town. "It shows that retailers are working together and communities are working together to get customers to stay home and shop in certain areas," Gill said.
Working as a team gives businesses more options, but it is still not easy.
"You're not getting a pay check and someone saying 'great job for working 16 hours today.' It's not always rewarding, but it will be, if we stay humble," Shepherd said.
It used to be for every four customers that walked in, three would buy, Turk said. Now one buys.
"Going out and buying a shirt is now a luxury," she said.
Just as important as having good "co-workers" is having someone who has been through it.
"Everybody in this town is very supportive. We send customers to each other and we're not at all threatened," Tessone said.
Downtown Morris has a Retail and Restaurant Committee made up of more than half of the downtown businesses, said co-chairman Bill Barkley, owner of Liberty Mercantile. The committee works to promote the downtown and all its businesses. This year they hope to add all of the city's businesses.
"When they join the retail committee we look after them. I check on them, see what we can do to help the individual businesses or ask them to help others," Barkley said.
Much of the committee is made up of the veteran businesses or experienced owners so as much as the new owners need the committee they need the new blood.
Just recently the committee ran with an idea the newer business owners came up with that was similar to the annual Girls Night Out in Morris. In October downtown had a Under the Harvest Moon event where the stores were open later and offered treats and discounts.
"I feel since we've come together we've had an impact," Tessone said.
By CHRISTINA CHAPMAN firstname.lastname@example.org