Business to Business

Neighborhood Wealth Beyond Capital

Alton Main Street recently hosted a networking event for creative entrepreneurs in the area. The event providing an exhilarating look into the hearts and minds of our community on the topics of growth and revitalization in our area. While connecting with local entrepreneurs, self-employed artisans, and part-time small business warriors the theme of financial hurdles was prevalent throughout the evening. Growth, it was stated, was often slowed or stalled due to lack of capital.  While banks, crowd funding, and donor/investor support were offered as solutions, even if those solutions are able to be obtained often they take a large investment of time before funds become available. This post will show you the basics of how you can build your business and add to your brand using low or no-capital wealth you already have.

Our definition of ‘wealth’ often misleads us into believing we only deal in numbers relating to monetary gains and losses. However, when we start to think of ‘wealth’ as any soluble resource, you will find that your wealth and the wealth of your venture is more than the sum of your debts and assets in the bank. Your wealth includes your skills, your knowledge, your goods, your time, and your character. Our personal economies are rich in raw material- and the moment we set out to use these materials, turning them into financial capital or other goods, services, or skills- we become entrepreneurs with deep roots in our community economy.

You- as an artist or small business owner- have at your disposal, right now, a dynamic “account” of non-capital based wealth you can use to augment your business. With a little ingenuity, you may find yourself using your raw resources well enough that your business will grow organically without the capital fertilization of that bank loan.

 

Step One: What do you want?

Think beyond financial capital to your actual end-goal. Typically, you’d be using extra cash to accentuate your business in some way. This could be hiring a designer to create a solid branding image, creating or revamping a website, upgrading your equipment, making a change to your product packaging, or hiring a someone to help lighten your workload.  

After making a list of the areas you’d like to expand or improve upon in your business, you’ll have a direction to work towards in your exchange of wealth.

 

Step Two: What do you have?

Non-financial assets. Do you own or rent a space? If that space isn’t used 24/7, a little out-of-the-box thinking might reveal opportunities to exchange your non-use times to other entrepreneurs and artisans. Space might include not just the inside of your establishment but your parking lot, lawn, or patio. Do you provide a service? That service can be exchanged for other services you might not otherwise be able to afford. Make a list that includes physical assets (space, waste supplies, materials), intellectual assets (industry know-how, event or cross branding ideas), and skills (physical labor or your services). Now you have a clear vision of what you can offer.

 

Step Three: Create Wealth.

Having a list on paper or in the back of your head will make it easier to find opportunities in your day-to-day business transactions to create wealth. Remember that your clients or customers are just as valuable in the creation of the community economy as other artisans or small business owners. When ‘wealth’ is exchanged locally, every avenue creates a stronger community microeconomy.

 

 

 

Here is an illustration of a multi-level wealth exchange that has been taking place at The Milton Schoolhouse in the last few months***:

 

As for our involvement, you can see that we’ve exchanged space (in the form of the community garden facilitated by our awesome neighbor Clifford Clark and student Dana Wynn) and about 10-20 gallons of waste coffee grounds from Maeva’s. In the short term, neither of these will produce any capital for either The Milton Schoolhouse or Maeva’s but neither of these resources are costing us any capital either. By trading coffee grounds to Senior Services Plus, we’re investing in the production of worms and compost our neighbors will need for the community garden in our back lot. The better the community garden is, the more produce it will be able to provide for our neighborhood and for Maeva’s Coffee to sell, fresh and delicious, in the form of our seasonally crafted quiche. Working with Senior Services Plus and our neighbors on the community garden strengthens the bond between us and the folks they are able to reach; thus allowing us to introduce more potential coffee lovers to our little schoolhouse coffee shop.

 

Raw non-capital wealth, when exchanged, creates trust and support among existing neighborhood businesses, artisans, and residents. Strong community bonds encourage the creation of new ventures and the expansion of current participants, growing our community’s micro-economy without financial debt.

 

 

Momentum is building in Alton for the creation of good venues of exchange- Farmer’s Markets, Garage Sales, the Holiday Bazaar at the local high school… Challenge yourself to think beyond “shopping local” and into “exchanging local”. Money may be a part of creating wealth, but it doesn't have to 100% of the transaction. Goods, space, skills, and services can all be turned into financial capital as well as other goods, skills, etc. that will enrich your venture.


This coming Tuesday, Maeva’s Coffee will be hosting Market! Market!, an experimental community market. This event will be an uncurated exchange of wealth. If you’re an artist, crafter, lover of antiques, gardener, stuff seller, vintage lover, or have a service to exchange, you are welcome to join us on Tuesday 17th. For $10, we will set out a table and give you our space and wifi to sell your art, wares, produce, services, or stuff. Or, simply join us by walking around and exchanging your money, skills, or services with your friends and neighbors.

For more information and to reserve a table at Market! Market! click here

 


 

***Please remember that most barter is taxable and should be reported in your financials. Make sure you check the state and city laws in your area to determine whether the exchanges you make in your business practices are subject to taxation. Plus, in bartering with nonprofits, your exchange can often be written off as a donation to offset profit- bonus! Talk to your accountant or legal advisor for more information regarding your specific arrangements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARCHIVE: Competition is a Waste of Energy


This article was originally published on February 27th, 2014 and may reflect a different time in our business cycle at The Milton Schoolhouse.


Disclaimer: The views on this blog are solely my own observations written in a spirit of good natured humor and general love of this city I now call home.

Milton's newest small business- Happy Camper Grooming- is a full service pet grooming salon that opened in January. Doug and Leslie, having already established themselves in this area four years prior to relocating, brought with them a large and faithful client base. As we built out their room downstairs, we watched a red brick house on Milton road become the new home for another established grooming business.

One night as we feverishly worked to get Happy Camper's space ready for their first clients I remember asking if they were in any way concerned about the dog grooming facility down the road. Doug looked amused- "Noooo. There are plenty of dogs around here. More than we could possibly groom. The people who use us tend to fall in love with us and stick around- that's enough for us."

How lovely! I was so glad to hear the world of dog grooming wasn't as cuthroat and full of spiteful sabotage as the massage business. Our own Bobbi dealt with ridiculous backlash from her previous employer when she decided to venture out on her own- which caused an unnecessary amount of stress for a business centered around destressing. 

Silly me. As it turns out, Happy Camper's calmly confident views on competition were to be an exception to the rule. Soon after the new grooming facility opened down the road, Happy Camper had a full day of dogs belong to a "new" client cancel on them. After a few other red flags, we traced the number of the person who had booked and canceled. All signs pointed to someone suspiciously involved with said grooming company previously alluded to in this blog. Not 100% positive, but somewhere around the same odds as the sun rising on Friday. 

Doug seemed unsurprised. Shrugging, he told me it was common- and it's happened before. I suppose it's a bit of a common practice. "I look on the positive side," he said, "it's a day off."

I'm not sure what kind of a person you have to be to "book" appointments with another similar business and cancel them...so the other business looses income for an entire day. I mean, honestly, do you think that one day will actually make or break a business? What are you trying to accomplish?

My mother always says, "Never attribute to malice what may be ignorance." With that spirit, perhaps some folks really haven't discovered what competition is in Alton at this present time. Let me lean in and whisper something to you:

If you own a local business in Alton, your competition isn't any other local business. Your competition is the lack of small business as a whole in our community. 

What the heck does that mean? That means the ratio of local business choices in our community to potential clients is so low that it doesn't matter (at this point) what type of small business you are in- you aren't competing against another business for clients. You're competing against your own branding to attract clients from a non-client base.

 

Let's look at the General Cycle of Business and Gentrification*:

Step One: Low property values/taxes inspire artists and hip small businesses to start up

Step Two: Small businesses create an area attractive to tourism, property values rise, the most trendy businesses leave as more "upper class" businesses are established (young edgy artists can't really afford to pay high rent- so they move to another low value area)

Step Three: Corporate Moves In (Starbucks, Chipotle, etc), property values max

Step Four: Area becomes less trendy. Tourism declines. Property values plateau

Step Five: Decline. People and Corporate move to the new trendy areas. Buildings left empty. Property value declines

Repeat to Step One.

*There's got to be a real name for this...I've mentioned this before in this blog here.

 

 

Okay. So we're at Step One. I love Step One. Step One is the most exciting step...and the most profitable if you're looking to begin a small business. 

Alton is a glorious untapped market. As a business, your energies should be put toward converting clients from non-users (they aren't accustomed to having your service/business around) to faithful users (wondering how they ever lived with a stinky dog before you existed). It doesn't matter if your business is dog grooming, massage, comic books, or knitted topiaries- if you have a product/service and awesome branding, this town is your oyster! You have the hard task of educating, creating, and growing your market.... but after that your location should be busting with clients. The competition for anything here is far from saturated- you shouldn't be wasting your minutes calling to another business to play silly games. You should be calling your mother about those manners she forgot to mention to you in your early years. 

Let's focus on a positive example of a type of business who has this figured out around here: The local CSAs and independent farmers. You don't see these folks flinging dirty looks and cucumbers at each other on Saturdays at 9th and Piasa. These independent farm owners- who grow very similar product and use similar outlets to sell these products- are working together to educate and grow the Alton market for local food as a whole. They've gotten together to talk about how to grow Alton Farmer's Market, promote residential chicken keeping, throw around ideas for beginning a small grocery to sell local food, partner with restaurants, etc. etc. etc. Because of this, they've been able to get people who never considered local food genuinely excited about this new concept and these businesses in their hometown. The Alton Farmer's Market just announced it was moving to a larger venue this year- indicating their collective work to grow a market for local food in Alton is succeeding. 

How could this apply to another business? Well, no one is safe here so let's talk about Maeva's- the coffee shop we will be opening in June. How would I feel if someone else opened up a coffee shop in Godfrey, or East Alton, or even downtown Alton? Wouldn't I feel a little like I didn't want them in my sandbox? Get off my swing set! That's my slide!

No. I promise you I would not and absolutely will not when this happens. 

And I hope whoever opens up another coffee shop around this area would feel the same way. Should we be throwing out advertisements poo-pooing the other businness' prices? Or write snarky comments about each other's scones on Facebook? 

Or... just possibly...just maybe...we should get together and seek to promote our community's love of coffee as a whole? Maybe we could co-sponsor a coffee fest, or co-host classes, or just get together as coffee shop owners and talk about what we see in business as a whole. 

Why the heck would anyone be so nice in business? Because there are only so many things you can control to make a business successful. If another coffee shop opened up, our locations would be wildly different (out of our control), our pricing would likely be comparable, our products (if they chose to be a true quality coffee shop) would likely be on the same level. It's much like the farmers in our region- there are only so many ways to grow so many vegetables in this climate and be profitable. 

The only thing left in our control to distinguish the two shops would be atmosphere (which is naturally going to be different shop to shop), branding, and service. Honestly,  Maeva's isn't going to have any business-to-business competition in Alton unless this town turns into Portland OR- where there's an independent coffee shop on every corner. This isn't because Maeva's is necessarily going to be "so much more fabulous" than any hypothetical future shop- but because:

- there are enough components to naturally make us and any other shop different (and thus attract different types of people)

and

- there are plenty of customers to go around

Here are two big things you can do to improve your business if you feel it's on uneasy ground in this area. 

1) Plan a way to work with your competition (...if they are nice folks. If not, send them this blog so they might realize you aren't in competition with them). This could be dog groomers planning to co-sponsor an adoption event. Screen printing companies putting together a coalition celebrating their art and hosting holiday pop-up shops like Cherokee Street Print League. Or restaurants getting together for things like the Taste of Alton event.

2) Focus on making your business the best it can be. Whether you have competition or not, you should want your business to be awesome anyway. Don't look at similar businesses as a threat- look at them as motivation to improve your own. If you aren't really creative or you're afraid you can't quite see how to make your business shine, you can hire me or another marketing/design company to consult with you on how to strengthen your brand and reach this untapped market we've been talking about. 

3) And, if you simply feel you must call another business to carry out nefarious plans, heck, use someone else's phone. And maybe a nom de plume.....like "Black Cobra" or "Nannette D'Avingnon" or "Steven Seagull". 

ACRHIVE: Shooting Yourself in the Foot- Reflections on the Banking Industry


his article was originally published on January 28th 2014 and may reflect a different time in our business cycle at The Milton Schoolhouse.


In April 2013, Joel and I made the decision to move our business banking from Chase to Carrollton. In hindsight I’m sheepish to admit the most influential reason for choosing Carrollton was how strongly it has promoted itself as a hometown, small business oriented establishment. “Enjoy a long term relationship with a seasoned banker”, their website proclaims, “You don’t have to repeatedly start from scratch with new bankers….We follow through on our promises, do what’s right.”

We were tired of being lead around from banker to banker by Chase, and decided it was time to support a local business with our business. Last spring we met with one of their bankers in Springfield, IL seeking a business line of credit. Unfortunately in the banking realm, most of our work here has been completed with cash and without debt- so our business had no credit of which to speak. I was told if I locked $15,000 of our funds into a CD at their bank, they would give us a very low interest line of credit of the same amount to build credit for our business. That way, when we looked to expand, we’d have something to show as a basis of lending.

Then came Maeva’s Coffee. After a year of research, planning, and market analysis (as well as an incredibly strong showing of support from our community- bravo!) it was time to put the plan into action. While we had the means to self-fund the coffee shop, we realized that in a service business- with vendors and planned future expansions- it was time to acquired credit for Maeva’s as well. On January 16th, Joel and I went into Carrollton with an extensive cost and market analysis of Maeva’s, looking to borrow in part or in whole our start up funds.

Our first problem was…well…our banker was no longer there. After purposefully establishing a relationship with a banker for our business, our banker had left the bank the week prior. The relationship we built with updates on our expansions last summer, the borrowing and paying back of funds, and the efforts to familiarize someone with the huge scope of our project and potential were lost. We met instead with the bank’s regional president and branch manager. They were cool to our plan, but I realized we had given them quite a bit of information. A decent sized business plan is difficult to review in the course of a single one-hour meeting. We left on “let’s look over it a little more and talk later” terms.

I left a message the next week- which was returned promptly by the regional president. I’m highly doubtful he read our research as he spent much of the call talking about how coffee shops were high risk as a whole, how he has a friend who was a “good seasoned” business man who failed in a coffee shop venture in Jacksonville, and how he felt obligated to inform me of the risk. All gleaning aside of whether his rather paternal poo-pooing would have happened had I been an older man, I was left shocked when he said that Carrollton would not loan us a single dollar unsecured. The great news was that, if I wanted to, I could take $60,000 of our own money and put it into a .4% CD- and then they could lend it back to me at 4-5%. Now, I may not be the brightest crayon in the box, but taking $60,000 out of a fund that is earning 9%, putting it into a .4% CD to borrow it back at 4% sounds like a pretty silly move.

I hung up the phone feeling irritated. Slightly betrayed I had so blindly believed this small bank was going to be different, somehow, than the larger bank we had worked with for three years. After relating our story to my close business friends, I had the terrifying realization that our experience was not an outlier- but a common secretive sign of a virulent problem in the traditional lending industry.

As heavy into the field of marketing as I am, I am keen to the signs of a business’ health reflected in their branding. I stress often to my clients that your marketing choices are meant to put your best face forward. While your advertising never shows the areas in which you are lacking, what it does show must be honest to be successful. If good marketing is essentially a reflection of the best part of yourself- Carrollton Bank has made a grave mistake in emphasizing their role in providing capital to small businesses. As we left their branch in Springfield, two well-printed posters of happy business customers endorsing Carrollton’s helpfulness were perched on displays near the door. The whole meeting felt much like showing up to a first date- only to realize the person you were meeting had used someone else’s photos for their Cupid.com profile. It is only a matter of time before other entrepreneurs who leave similar meetings, perplexed by the dual nature of the bank, discover they are not alone. Marketing that is not representative of your business operation is the first step to the gallows- and it’s a step traditional lenders appear to be making across the industry.

Unfortunately, the choice of traditional lenders to cut small business lending from their market is not a quick and painless death to choose. I predict a slow decline that takes its toll by putting a halt to start ups, inhibiting the expansion of current small businesses, and negatively affecting the job market for communities like Alton. Banks still maintain the advantage over crowd funding in their swiftness- and an advantage over alternative lending sources in their ability to borrow money at 0% from their depositors to lend out at attractively lower interest rates.

While banks have been tightening requirements for lending since 2008, small business owners still suffer in a lack of education to this change. Misinformation is to blame for part of this. When home town banks insist on making “small business friendly” the core of their brand and the reality of their practices do not align with their message, entrepreneurs faced with the already massive hurdles of beginning or maintaining a business walk away confused and discouraged. Meanwhile, institutions of higher education have turned a blind eye to this problem of capital. Like teaching dark room techniques in a world gone digital, universities continue to teach traditional funding as the primary form of financing a new venture. The truth is crippling to young and eager entrepreneurs- a good idea, a boot straps spirit, and a well-prepared business plan are no longer enough to acquire a loan in today’s America.  

I fully agree it is a bank’s choice to lend or not to lend, to make decisions best for their own business and clients. However, when a bank chooses to take no risk by lending only to “A-credit” small businesses- they are not only endangering the economic growth of a community, they are endangering the longevity of their own model. Offering to lend money only to those enterprises who do not need it inhibits growth on all fronts. Fortunately, the entrepreneurial spirit is a difficult one to kill. Inventors, business owners, and artists are seeking alternative forms of funding at a rapid rate- the industry of peer-to-peer lending is growing. It hasn’t yet reached the height to be a sole viable option for a typical brick and mortar start up, but the truth is that people are finding ways to profit from their talents and passions while cutting the bank out.

If smaller players in the banking industry wish to survive- or even become the new standard- in this environment change, they need to take advantage of their “home town” status. This means not broadly categorizing ventures into levels of risk and deciding whether or not to provide financing from the comfort of an office. They will need to hire bankers who behave more like investors or adventure capitalists, who can take a portion of the banks funds and discover how to grow these funds for their company. Small banks can no longer afford the “old boys”- they need people who will take the time to analyze each individual request, to consider all of the information presented, to visit the location and make an independent calculation. By hiring bankers at the ground level who are able to evaluate risk in a micro environment, banks like Carrollton can continue to grow.

It is disappointing to see them instead choose to wade in the wake of larger competitors over following the spirit of their marketing to make a real impact in the economic growth of their community. But, as Andrew Papageorge said, “Innovation is not absolutely necessary….but then neither is survival.”

This experience has been a very compelling one- so I don’t count it as a bad overall. Maeva’s Coffee has started construction on schedule and we are fortunate this has in no way affected our progress. However, it has reinforced to me the importance of taking small business into our own hands- together, as a community. Inspired by these events, I have begun to put together a class on crowd funding (using sources such as Kickstarter and Indigogo) to take place in Maeva’s this coming July. If you are an entrepreneur, small business owner, or artist, I want to give you the biggest round of applause. You aren’t alone. Our support comes from our neighbors, from our friends, and from our families- not from an industry that has become too blind to see how essential you are to their survival.

ARCHIVE: Artists- An Alton Landlord's Secret Weapon


This article was originally published on October 17th, 2013 and may reflect a different time in our business cycle at The Milton Schoolhouse.


This morning it hit me: this is the singularly most exciting time to live in a city like Alton. While I might bemoan the lack of a decent bookstore or choice of cultural weekend activities, I am thrilled to own this mammoth schoolhouse in an economically depressed town.

Alton is not unique in the difficulties it has faced in the last few decades. After the peak of American manufacturing in the 1960s, our professional structure in this country began to change. As a country, we began to emphasize higher education and place more value on emerging white-collar professions. Alton thrived on manufacturing for generations, but when established companies began to succumb to this change- like the Owens-Illinois Bottle Works and the Alton Board Box Company- employees were forced to find work elsewhere. Those who could afford to leave did, and neighborhoods began to slowly fill with lower income groups as property values declined. Depreciation has continued. We are at the point in Alton where property owners are now faced with the decision to lower selling prices and rental rates or to abandon buildings completely. Unfortunately, many of Alton’s most gorgeous and stately historic properties are owned by people who would rather cling to the mirage of what their buildings were worth in another era rather than take advantage of a changing situation. 

Here’s why it’s so awesome: this is normal. It has happened to hundreds of thousands of communities across America. It’s a cycle that repeats itself over and over in history throughout the world. But what makes Alton exciting is that in the last four years I have seen signs of Alton transitioning into the best part of the cycle- the ride up. 

Alton is perfectly poised to undergo this thing called “gentrification”- if you want to get bookish. It’s a process that occurs when lower income areas are bought and renovated into housing or commercial areas catering to middle or upper class demographics. Commercial property owners in Alton- especially in the downtown area- have a choice: to slow the process by charging ridiculous rental rates for our particular market, or to speed it up by realizing the importance individual artists and shop owners play in this inevitable cycle.  

Artists (and “off beat” business owners) have an extremely interesting role in the process of gentrification. They are generally the least affluent group to settle within a neighborhood, and yet they are the most significant catalyst for its change. 

Artists are attracted into an area by low rent or neglected properties they can use for pennies. A bohemian artist class will immigrate into the neighborhood- resulting in a hodgepodge community of previously existing low-income groups and the artists, revolutionaries, activists, dreamers, and such who would rather spend their hours finding expression in the universe than finding a way to pay rent for a decent place. It’s bad news for property owners who intend to get top dollar for their space- but watch what happens. While the buildings and areas may deteriorate and become an eyesore to the outside, something inside the neighborhood develops. A rhythm unique to the patchwork of people in the neighborhood begins to set a new mood for the area. Bars, coffee shops, bookstores catering questionable materials and hip atmospheres spring up to serve the local flavor. The area gains a sense of popularity due to its unique "back alley" way, bringing in more business from the outside. 

Once such a neighborhood has been discovered, it is only a matter of time before the upper and middle class moves itself back into this now, new, "hip" area of the city. Gentrification has been hailed as the savior of the inner slums in large cities; turning dangerous, crime riddled streets into places thriving with successful business and clean cut condominiums for the affluent.  

Let me say this again: The bohemian class is solely responsible for the influx of unique businesses- clubs, clothing stores, cafes, bookshops- that cater to and attract a more edgy consumer base. They are providing an attraction by creating an area of trendy interest. This reels in an upper class who begin to visit and spend money for the chance to mingle with those who lead a romanticized free spirited lifestyle.

Artists not only provide the draw to an area, they provide a buffer between the lower income groups and the wealthy. As Rosalyn Deutsche noted in her article The Fine Art of Gentrification, 

“For all the manifest political and social liberalism of the gentrifying classes, its members display the same anxieties with respect to living among or near racial minorities as everyone else…it was not until artists, and the middle class’s own avant-garde had established secure enclaves that the rear guard made its first forays into the ‘wilderness’.”

The upper classes, even the less conservative who claim to be followers of social justice and who generally are the first to visit an area and begin to move back, would not feel “safe” simply moving into a questionable neighborhood with predominantly lower income families. Despite the attractiveness of trends or location, the upper business class needs a cushion between them and their prejudices. The artist is this barrier, especially when the area undergoing gentrification becomes affluent enough to support artists who either come from the middle class or cater to their tastes.

You can probably think of a neighborhood in St. Louis (or any city you are familiar with) where you have seen this happen: A place with gorgeous historical buildings or a once wealthy area becomes a slum. Lower income classes move in, creating a darker atmosphere riddled with danger and poor standards of living. Artists move in. You begin to see graffiti…and then someplace begins hosting hardcore music or “offensive” art shows. As wealthier people begin to seek out the area as a form of entertainment or escape, the graffiti begins to disappear, giving way to safer hipster shops who are displaced by bonafide art galleries later on. The entire cycle- slum to high rent district to slum- can take generations. The speed of each particular segment can vary, but typically the fastest transition is that between derelict properties and artistic/independent business mecca. 

Alton certainly hasn’t seen the extremes of change as, say, Delmar or Cherokee in St. Louis. Because of our smaller population, our extremes tend to be less dynamic as a whole. This is good- it means Alton may have a chance of seeing economic growth before we deteriorate to the point where violent crimes and destructive vandalism become common. Still, there is the unspoken potential for the city to continue along the path of decline if the local political environment becomes once again unfavorable to economic growth and if property owners do not embrace the process of change. 

Property owners, here is the take home lesson: Artists are not a nuisance. Nor are the people who hang around them who may have a less than polished look. In a town like Alton- where our own residents are blithely content to drive to Edwardsville, Florrisant, St. Louis, or Belleville for shopping or entertainment- a smart property owner would begin to look for ways to collaborate with unconventional people to bring an active feel to their locations.

Here are some suggestions:

-If your property is vacant- why not agree to allowing a music group, a bawdy art show, or a temporary haunted attraction to temporarily use your space?

Of course, be smart and make sure someone covers liability insurance. Consider not asking for payment over than the actual utility cost associated with the temporary event just to start. Think about the non-monetary payment of having people brought into your space who might give you money to lease it full time. It only takes one person drawn in by and event, who may have never considered walking into your space, to be inspired to rent it.

-If your property is vacant- do you know why? Are people able to afford your rates?

If they can’t, then you're pricing yourself out of tenants. If you can't lower your rates and/or you truly think your rate is reasonable for our economic situation, compromise by dividing space and taking some loss on rental income to have activity on your property. Artists attract artists- businesses attract businesses. People want to be in an area where things are already happening. Once the space is attracting outside traffic, your property value will increase. You might think of dividing that 3,000 sq ft storefront into four or five 400 sq ft studios- and leave a larger space that will be attractive to a bigger retail opportunity once you already have something interesting going on. Walls can always be torn back down later.

-If your property is being vandalized and you’re sick of scrubbing it off, hire a graffiti artist to create art on your building.

Seriously- business owners in the Netherlands do it all of the time. They found out that graffiti artists very rarely marked over already painted areas- especially when the artwork was good or created by someone prominent in their network. Depending upon the artist or situation, you might not have total control of what it looks like but you can certainly make sure there aren’t any phallic references emblazoned above your shop sign. Bonus: Weird looking buildings turn pass-through traffic into gawkers, tourists, and clients who stop long enough to give you the chance to sell them something. Take a look at this crazy art outside of a restaurant we visited in Phoenix and tell me it isn’t more attractive than tagging:

 

Most importantly: Evolve your business structure, property layout, and presentation to fit the market you’re in. 

That’s just good advice all around- but specifically, stop waiting for some box store to save your property. It isn’t going to happen, we don’t have what it takes to attract them here right now. Stop waiting for grant money to save your property. Our government is broke. And stop holding out for some safe, bland old lady tea room or some mishmash craft mall to fill your space. Sure, these businesses aren’t going to paint your walls florescent hues and have people with *gasp * tattoos and piercings hanging around on the sidewalk…but that’s because they don’t attract people period. 

Stop moaning about how Alton isn’t what it once was- be glad the old lady tearoom market is dead. That means Alton is on its way to rebirth in the economic lifecycle. Alton is ready for a renaissance, ready to make art, ready to make money, and ready to evolve. 

Now is the time! Let’s do this.