Retail is Detail Program Helping a New Round of Main Street Businesses

Columbus-based Boulevard Strategies has been tapped to lead another round of Heritage Ohio’s statewide Retail is Detail program. The hands-on programming provides promising businesses in Main Street communities with less than 25,000 residents assistance with nearly every facet of their business.

“Most retailers follow their passions, yet may not have had any formal training for the business they run,” says Heritage Ohio Executive Director Joyce Barrett.

Through the first round of programming, Boulevard Strategies found that a majority of business owners didn’t have direct experience in their respective industries before opening.

“Forty-two percent had no written business plan when they opened,” adds Chris Boring, principal of Boulevard Strategies. In most cases, passion was overriding experience.

“Retailers are multi-taskers, with varied facets to master,” Barrett says. “We think providing comprehensive retail training can improve any business, thereby strengthening downtown, retaining jobs, and growing our tax base through increased sales, income and property taxes.”

The second round of Retail in Detail has whittled the number of participating businesses down from 45 to 22 in order to offer more individualized attention. Boring and other Boulevard Strategies Principal Deb Miller will be assisting one business each in Piqua and Coshocton, two businesses each in Millersburg and Mount Vernon, three based in Somerset, four from Cambridge and Logan, and an additional five in Marietta.

Business basics are a universal need no matter what a retailer may be selling. This round of programming includes 16 specialty retailers covering everything from women’s clothing to bicycles to groceries. Six food establishments round out the participants, spanning pizza to frozen yogurt. Although varied, the one thing all these business have in common is potential.

“Contrary to what some believe, we aren’t out to try to turn around dying, desperate businesses,” Boring says. “Instead, we want to help viable independent retailers and restaurants compete in today’s “chain store age.” Therefore, it is important to us that the participating businesses are good candidates for improvement and long-term sustainability.”

In turn, business owners are showing their commitment to the otherwise free program by providing Heritage Ohio with a $500 refundable deposit. It’s essentially a hold on money that will go towards improving their business.

“Each business has to spend at least $500 on improvements to their business mutually agreed upon by us and the business owner, and be present at each of our scheduled meetings in order to get a refund,” Boring says.

Boulevard Strategies will visit each of the retailers four times over about a year span. Through their visits and follow-up reports, Boulevard Strategies will provide guidance in any number of areas from developing an understanding of local market conditions, to identifying operating costs, to assisting with website updates and marketing.

“Each business is different in terms of its needs.” Boring says. “One of the strengths of our program is that it is flexible enough that we can adjust it for each business on the fly.”

Boring and Miller’s backgrounds provide a good balance and give business owners well-rounded advice. Boring says Miller handles the softer, more visual topics like branding, merchandising, marketing, menu, and product/service mix, while he delves into the harder numbers associated with sales trends, gross margins, inventory turnover, and labor/operating/food costs.

Each day can bring something different, but Miller and Boring always focus on easily-implemented low-cost solutions. For example, they recently spent a visit physically moving merchandise in a crowded mini-supermarket. They were able to move things around to create themed sales areas and gain aisle space. And as Boring notes, it didn’t cost anything.

“On another first visit, Deb sat down with the owner of a restaurant and its head cook to develop a new seasonal menu for spring by shortening the menu, minimizing use of frozen/prepared foods, and creating a unique flavor profile,” Boring says. “The new menu now has signature menu items and more fresh, locally-sourced and in-season food. Best of all, the restaurant’s total food costs should be reduced by nearly 50 percent due to smarter menu planning.”

It’s generally never-ending battle for small businesses to compete with big box stores, but the importance of these retailers drives Boulevard Strategies.

“More than anything else, small-scale merchants in historically-preserved settings, not the Wal-Marts and Applebee’s out by the highway, are what distinguish communities and neighborhoods from one another,” Boring says. “We want to help them develop the capabilities to compete on their strengths in customer service, uniqueness, and local ties.  We believe that they can be financially successful — with a little help.”

While the program is aimed at smaller communities, Boring would love to see it in more urban Central Ohio someday.

“We would welcome the opportunity to bring Retail is Detail to central Ohio as an economic gardening and/or workforce development tool,” he says. “Would it not be fun and beneficial for all if we could work with independent retailers and restaurants right here where we shop and eat ourselves when we’re home?

For more information, contact Heritage Ohio.