The seeds of community can be critical when it comes to choosing a location for a new brick-and-mortar business, and small-business owners are likely to rely on personal connections to develop and sustain a strong customer base.
Local ownership and even word of mouth, however, only go so far. Physical businesses should continually remind the community of their existence and engage in community outreach to help ensure a pipeline of new customers. I asked three local business owners how they reinforce the strong community ties that can ultimately lead to more sales: James DiSabatino, owner of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese in Boston; Cheryl Munoz, co-owner of Sugar Beet Food Co-op in Chicago; and Janet Schultz, owner ofBlue-J Eco-Friendly Small Office Cleaning in North Carolina.
James DiSabatino: We opened our first food truck in March of 2011. By 2014, we had a second truck and our first restaurant. We didn't have any money for promotion, so we relied strictly on social media to help spread the word.
Cheryl Munoz: We were everywhere all the time. Through our events, like an annual Edible Garden Tour, and cooking and growing classes, we built the Sugar Beet Food Co-op brand by bringing like-minded people together for skill-sharing and fun. We volunteered for other organizations, were present at community events and meetings, and established our presence as a partner in the community.
Janet Schultz: Blue-J is a socially conscious business employing those on the Autism spectrum. When it was founded, I began networking with the Cabarrus Chamber of Commerce and a number of other local business organizations. I volunteered and participated in events with the Autism Society of North Carolina and Autism Speaks. I also hit the streets in a number of cold calls.
What ongoing activities do you engage in to stay on the community’s radar?
Munoz: Early on, we established a nonprofit organization, Sugar Beet Schoolhouse, which provides food literacy training and development throughout our community. By partnering with area service agencies, schools and businesses, we will continue to build on the goodwill and the groundswell of interest in local, sustainable food that we have fostered over the years.
Schultz: Blue-J is a give-back company. As such, our employees often participate in volunteer work during their free time. We volunteer at dog washes, we help decorate downtown during the Christmas season, and we collect food for the hungry of Cabarrus County. Blue-J employees have spoken at rotary club meetings, and we had a presence at an Autism Speaks Town Hall meeting. We also held a client appreciation luncheon where we shared our business model with our present clients with the objective of seeking referrals from them.
DiSabatino: We participate in as many local events as we can, allowing people who would not normally try our food to do so. We also raise money for local organizations through ticket sales to the events. It's a win-win.
For the rest of the interview, check out the AMEX Open Forum.