Small Business Concierge Service Proving Helpful for Business Owners

While Ryan Schick may be the city’s small business concierge, he says the success of his position so far wouldn’t be possible without the cooperation he’s received across the board. And, if the average of five business owners that contact him every day are any indication, they’re recognizing and taking rightful advantage of having a direct line of contact to the city.

“The hallmark of this is that it has been truly a team effort,” Schick says, citing assistance from the department of building and zoning to city council.

Schick says Councilmember Shannon Hardin provided an extraordinary boost in how the position developed, and has been nothing but inquisitive about what the concierge is hearing on the street. Council President Andrew Ginther and his staff have also gotten involved.

“They get it,” Schick says. “There truly is a model of collaborative governance that is emerging out of this. We’re listening and we’re acting and people will see that result very soon.”

A phone call he received from an gentleman who started speaking to him like he was an answering machine is Schick’s favorite example of how his position is changing the relationship between city and constituent in a business respect.

“He said, ‘Oh, I was expecting to get an answering machine,’ and I think that that has been an experience that some business owners have definitely come to expect out of any municipality,” he says. “That was, to me, a moment where I realized we were changing expectations.”

It’s the wins big and small, and the businesses he’s helped get off the ground more efficiently, that keep Schick going.

With conflicting reports from engineers about what kind of grease trap was needed (one being under the sink and one meaning excavation and a $20,000 bill), the owners of J.C.’s Just Chili reached out to Schick. If they had to excavate to install the grease trap, it likely meant closing up shop.

By convening with the engineers to develop a better understanding of the situation, within an hour and a half, not only was the permit for the under the sink collector approved, but the business owners didn’t have to spend the $20,000.

“That, to me, is one of those moments where if this position had not existed, we could potentially be down one less business,” Schick says.

Permits are a word he hears often, and an issue several business owners approach him with. It was what B.Loved Bridal Boutique was struggling with when they called on Schick right before their opening.

Already delayed by permitting problems, he was able to figure out the best course of action to open the shop doors as quickly as possible.

“I’ve had enormous support from Scott Messer and the Department of Building and Zoning Services,” Schick says. “On that particular occasion we had a couple permitting issues and through the proper channels, we were able to get them the permits that we wanted.” It also meant when he saw the flurry of activity around the shop opening day, walking in and offering to help in whatever way possible.

While permits are often a nightmare for business owners, there’s a well-utilized resource Schick recommends even more businesses take advantage of – the free One Stop Shop at building and zoning.

Engineers, planners, architects, “Those individuals all go through the process as if they were going to approve a building permit,” Schick says. But instead of submitting, the marked-up copies are returned for businesses to make changes before money is on the line.

“That gives the property or business owner and the engineer an idea of what lies ahead of them,” he adds.

The small business concierge website also offers a number of guides for individuals looking to open different types of businesses. The site launched with how-tos for restaurants, daycares and salons, but plans for general retail, professional trades, contractor trades and how to “green” your business are in the works. Listening to demand, guides to elderly care and craft beer may be added.

What the position has accomplished already is more than Schick has ever imagined. He’s disappointed on the rare occasions he has to say no (like if a business owner is just asking for money), but the goal is to help any and all small businesses that need it. And, if a business is not quite ready for Schick’s help he’s quick to refer individuals over to other resources helping entrepreneurs in Columbus like ECDI and the SBDC.

“There’s a business for everything and so long as it’s within the parameters of the law, we’re here to help,” he says.

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