Businesses encouraged to work together to promote local economy
The grassroots, community-driven movement, Venture Local Franklin (VLF), held a community forum last Thursday to share data compiled from community stakeholders such as the Chamber of Commerce, Franklin TDA and Franklin Main Street Program to determine what each organization does and their separate mission statements, funding sources, current goals and overall vision for Franklin and Macon County.
VLF is geared toward promoting positive and sustainable community advancement. As a citizen-maintained movement, they value inclusivity and participation that is action- based and outcome-focused. The group works to collaboratively strengthen the local economy by utilizing the area's natural resources to establish common goals, nurture entrepreneurial ventures and drive innovation with the goal of moving Franklin forward.
The group holds its “hanging out” meetings at locally owned businesses in order to further support Franklin’s local economy, which is a primary goal of VLF. Over the seven meetings the group has held so far, about 150 individuals have attended to get more information about VLF and see how they can become more involved in their community.
VLF's six founders attended AdvantageWest's “Venture Local Asheville” event held last October and were looking to bring some ideas back to Franklin and implement them into the local economy.
AdvantageWest is based in Asheville and is aregional economic development partnership serving the 23 western counties of North Carolina. Since they first began in 1994, they have strategically adapted and diversified their program to meet the unique and changing needs of the region, earning a reputation as one of the most progressive economic development commissions in the nation.
One of the main things that has developed during the forming of the Venture Local Franklin is that local businesses are striving to work together more by sharing ideas and resources for the betterment of the overall local economy.
The focus of last Thursday's community forum was to connect the already existing organizations geared toward economic development and build a network so that organization can better serve and promote Macon County.
“The very basic, very grassroots economic success lives within the community,” said Keynote speaker Scott Hamilton, President and CEO of AdvantageWest. “I am really excited about the Venture Local Franklin model and think it can and should be replicated throughout the region to promote overall economic development.”
Hamilton explained how the goals of AdvantageWest and VLF are focused on building individual communities in order to achieve the overall goal of economic development and success of the entire Western North Carolina region.
Working toward that goal, VLF's leadership team introduced an interactive online database that compiled information on economic development organizations working in Macon County and made it available for public access by visiting www.venturelocalfranklin.com/vlfforumpresentation.pdf.
VLF is currently planning various fun, exciting events for Franklin that all have one main purpose: To promote the local economy. VLF plans to coordinate “Cash Mobs” by word of mouth. The basic intent behind a cash mob is to encourage people to go into small, local businesses and spend their money, say $20, en masse, to give the business owner a little bit of economic stimulus, all in one big wave. “Our first business will be chosen by random nominations and will be planned through our social media outlets like the Venture Local Facebook page,” explained VLF member Matt Bateman.
VLF plans to partner with Streetfest 2012 in downtown Franklin. Streetfest is designed to be a celebration of shopping local with local merchants in the downtown area. The event is not just for downtown merchants, but instead is intended to support any and all local businesses willing to participate. Businesses not located on Franklin's Main Street will have the opportunity to set up a free booth.
VLF will have a booth for Venture Local Connect at the upcoming Franklin Folk Festival. The first “Venture Local Connect “ was held at the April Fools Trail Days festival earlier this year. The booth was designed to connect festival goers to the internet. Laptop computers were donated from within VLF’s supporters and DNET Internet Services provided the free wi-fi connection. “We were at April Fools Trail Days and we will be at the Franklin Folk Festival,” said Bateman. “VLF will be offering a unique service to festival goers come this July. We will feature our ‘Historypin’ project and try to get some new and old photos uploaded in order to grow our presence on this network.”
The Rocking Chair Project “Franklin Rocks” program is an idea currently developing amongst the VLF group around the goal of getting local merchants/business owners to “buy-in” to the concept of getting two rocking chairs to put in front of their business. The rocking chairs don’t have to be new, but shop owners are encouraged to make each chair unique to the business by decorating them with paint. “We plan to have a contest to see who is the most creative in hopes of generating interest,” explained Bateman. “Then, when visitors/locals see them, they have something to relate to when they think of Franklin and its unique businesses.”
Venture Local Franklin Series Main Street Retail
As part of the VLF initiative, Macon County News is teaming up with VLF to highlight local businesses throughout Franklin. Each week, MCN will select locally owned and operated businesses in a different industry ranging from retail to tourism, to manufacturing. It is our goal at MCN to work with VLF to encourage residents to shop locally and utilize the resources Franklin has to offer.
In a time when Main Streets all over America are slowly dying and locally owned and operated businesses are gradually being replaced by big box stores, Franklin's Main Street continues to thrive. Businesses are finding their niche even if it means changing a business plan, or adapting to changing technology to counter the frustrating economy.
Main Street's Rosebud Cottage, opened its doors as a gift shop in December 2006 on the Highlands Road. After a year, they relocated the store to Main Street to the lower level of what was then the Twin's Shop Bridal Department, and then made one final move in August 2010.
“Our third and final move was August, 2010 to our current location at 46 East Main Street,” said Martha Holbrooks, store owner. “The space was a double store front which had been a restaurant with kitchen space so we made the decision to add the sandwich shop and soda fountain which we opened in December 2010.”
In the middle of their fifth year as a local business, Rosebud Cottage has worked to find their “niche” in order to stay relevant and become successful.
Holbrook's shop has a “cottage” look and feel, very casual and comfortable with a mix of home décor, personal items, gifts, teas, and food products. The gift shop is managed by Judy, Betty, Fay, and Brenda and each of them hold a special pride and ownership in the business that guarantees friendly and satisfactory customer service.
Rosebud Cottages is a gift shop with products that can be used by local residents, or for visitors looking for a unique souvenir to commemorate their stop into Franklin. They sell products such as THYMES- Skin care and home fragrance, Silver Spoon Jewelry, European Soaps and lotions, Root, Bridewater and Northern Lights Candles.
The sandwich shop prides itself in the fact that they always use the freshest vegetables and fruits, which are bought locally whenever they available. Their meats are roasted and all of the sides they offer are made in-house from scratch.
“Chef Lindsay has brought her expertise and has created a perfect blend for our menu with fresh chicken salad, turkey with cranberry cream cheese, gooey grilled cheese, creamy tomato herb soup and much more,” said Holbrooks.
All of the sweets offered at Rosebud Cottage are also made from scratch with treats such as cupcakes, cakes, scones, muffins, and cookies by Stephanie, the baker. Customers are treated to seating options at the counter, or at a vintage mix and match of tables and chairs inside, or when the weather is nice outdoor tables are available on the sidewalk. They serve lunch is on Monday – Saturday, 11-3 with the counter open from 10 -6 for ice cream, sweets, tea, coffee, or the soda fountain.
According to Holbrooks, by expanding her original intent of opening a gift store to also serve as a sandwich shop, Rosebud Cottage has been able to continue to grow despite the dismal economy. “We have had some slower months, but with opening the sandwich shop we have added a different element to our shop,” said Holbrooks. “The gift shop and sandwich shop are a nice fit and create a great place to shop peacefully or have a quiet lunch – just off the beaten path.” Coming off a busy Memorial Day weekend, Holbrooks said that each week the store's visitor's traffic picks up a little bit. “We are starting to see a lot of visitors coming back into town plus our local following has been very positive,” she said.
Rosebud Cottage has leaned on technology to help with a stagnant economy and according to Holbrooks, social media sites have helped boost business. “Rosebud Cottage has embraced technology with a Facebook page, website and email, and we are listed on many directories such as Google, Bing, FourSquare, showing our personality on Pinterest boards, etc. with plans to add an on-line store soon,” said Holbrooks.
According to Holbrooks, she works with various community organizations to further promote the local economy. “Being a native of Franklin, I believe in working to keep the economy of Franklin alive and growing,” she said. “We are members of the Franklin Chamber of Commerce where we are listed on the website, have brochures and menus available, and get a large number of hits to our website according to our analytics. We support the efforts of the Main Street Revitalization program. Venture Local is a new initiative to our area and is open to anyone whether a business owner or local resident who is interested in moving Franklin forward. We are excited about the energy being created to support the local businesses and agencies who work to keep Franklin vital and continue to be great place to live.”
My Favorite Things
In 1996, Franklin resident Janet Gillespie opened up a little store off of Porter Street and named it My Favorite Things. Gillespie started the gift store to feature unique items for customers that fit into her interior design background.
“My son was nine-months-old and I thought that by opening the store I would have more flexibility to be home with him," said Gillespie. "With my interior design background, I naturally wanted to offer home decor items and products that would help make someone's home wonderful.”
According to Gillespie, the store began with home decor items and then expanded to a gift store. From there, Gillespie worked to expand My Favorite Things even further with the addition of “Dots,” a toy store for infants and children. Dots allowed Gillespie to broaden her client base and provide residents with a store that specializes in old fashioned children’s toys such and beautifully illustrated puzzles, art supplies, educational materials and even clothing.
Even with the store's expansion and changing business goals, My Favorite Things has seen a decrease in customer traffic. "In the past three years there has been a downturn in the amount of tourists that come through the doors," said Gillespie. "But luckily I get a lot of local support. If it was not for the local customers I wouldn't be able to survive and I can not say how appreciative I am and how much I value that."
Gillespie said that in order to make it through the recession, her store has worked to offer products that have different appeals to the customer. "With the downshift in the economy and the cost of everything increasing, the average customer has been forced to buy differently," said Gillespie. "They still want to purchase gifts, but feel a need to buy something more functional than frivolous. We have adjusted accordingly by offering things that are still pretty, but very functional."
One strategy that has proved to be of benefit to Gillespie was her notion to offer American made products. "We have made an effort to buy products made in the USA, which pleases us as well as the consumer," she said. "We love being able to sell American made products because it helps with the local initiative."
Moving forward, Gillespie hopes to be able to continue to provide Macon County with a wonderful selection of items. "I want to continue offering the best quality products I can find with the best prices I can offer," she said. "I care about quality and want to make sure that customer always gets what they pay for."
Outdoor 76 is a retail store geared toward the outdoors. It feature an impressive selection of men's and women's clothing and shoes, plus tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, cookwear, stoves and everything else you'd expect from an outfitter. While providing all the necessities for the average outdoorsman, Outdoor 76 aims to offer a specialty service that promotes and encourage locals and visitors to Franklin to explore the natural beauty of the region.
Outdoor 76 first opened Oct. 2, 2010. The business is owned and operated by friends, Rob Gasbarro Gasbarro and Cory McCall, with much assistance from Nick Potts. McCall is a native of Franklin and Gasbarro relocated to Franklin from Tampa, FL in 2008 working for a local bridge contractor. The two met at church in 2009 and when each of their careers were negatively affected by the economy, they made the decision to employ themselves and open Outdoor 76.
“Our big-picture goal is plugging more people into the amazing outdoor resources that surround us,” said Gasbarro. “We not only wanted to provide retail services in these areas, but offer true outfitting services that included guided trips, rentals and custom outdoor experiences for anyone interested in anything from hiking a scenic trail, to paddling a mountain lake, or finding a waterfall someone told them about. We wanted to serve active users, new-to-market, and lifestyle customers. Ultimately, our business is built on service.”
According to Gasbarro, the services offered at Outdoor 76 are intended to encourage shoppers to do more than rely on the internet, but instead get back to hands-on experiences and adventures. “We live in a web world - in order to separate ourselves, we have to do the one thing the web can't - cultivate relationships with people, take care of them on a personal level and do our absolute best to make them know we truly care,” said Gasbarro.
In addition to being part of the local business community, Outdoor 76 seeks to be involved in various community events and organizations. “We wanted to make sure that we ran a business that was a good steward to the community. We offer lots of sales and incentives with promotions that are designed to benefit community service groups. We also try to sponsor as many community initiatives as we responsibly can.”
Since it opened, Outdoor 76 has experienced a steady and strong business stream that runs year round. “Holidays like Memorial Day are great, as they usually get more people out of the house and we see an increase in out-of-town traffic,” said Gasbarro. “This past week was actually busier than last year. We offered a great sale that not only sent amazing deals out the door, but we dedicated five percent of all our sales to the local VFW in honor of those that served for our freedom. The community really got behind that and the weekend was a huge success.”
Although several businesses experience significantly more traffic during the summer months due to tourists traveling through Franklin, Gasbarro noted that Outdoor 76 had substantial business all year long. “Crazy enough, there hasn't been a ‘busiest time’ of year that has really stands out,” he said. “We had expectations coming in, but each season is strong in its own way, not leaving much room for a lull, or a stand-out season. Spring brings in lots of A.T. hiking traffic, summer vacation traffic picks up right after that tapers off. Shortly after kids go back to school, trees change color and tourists flock in for fall, then winter brings holiday shoppers and people looking for gear to stay warm. We have products for every season and every market.”
According to Gasbarro, the nation's recession has not had any affect on business. “We opened in a down economy and we've been growing since day- 1,” he said. “In our first 6 months, we grew the business significantly and we shattered every preliminary goal set for the first year. We have been able to try new things and build on our model continuously.”
As a new businesses, Outdoor 76 is still finding its permanent footing as a retail business. According to Gasbarro, although they have had the flexibility to build and expand on their business model as needed, no changes have been forced or a result of negative circumstance. “Fortunately we've not had anything force us to change course from our business model, or re-identify ourselves,” said Gasbarro. “At 18 months old, we haven't really seen much outside dynamic. The economy has improved a little, but nothing groundbreaking. We're still in a social networking and web era – so our opening initiatives still apply, and Outdoor 76 is still in a growth phase that requires elementary basics that any business needs to grow regardless of the outside circumstances.”
Gasbarro noted that Outdoor 76's business plan can be taken from a page in his college textbook. “The first three chapters in Entrepreneurship 101 are ”take care of people” “location, location, location” and “brand, brand, brand,” explained Gasbarro. “We want people to wonder who we are, know who we are, and tell someone else about us. Its a great cycle that feeds itself after a short period. It’s worked great for us.”
One important, yet simple aspect of Outdoor 76's strategy that seems to get overlooked by many other businesses is operating business hours that accommodate the busy schedules of their customers. “Strangely enough, one of our best practices — wouldn't call it a strategy — is being open late [7pm],” he said. “We've had more feedback on this than anything else. When most of Main Street shuts down, we're still doing business for another couple hours. Still, every week, people come in and thank us for being open when they get off of work.”
Gasbarro believes that with more visitors coming to Franklin for the summer months, other Main Street businesses will consider expanding their hours as well. “Unfortunately, so many folks drive down Main Street after 5 p.m. with eyes focused on the traffic light ahead because they assume most shops are closed (or closing),” he said. “We're hoping to be an example to others that being open later is more profitable and will be a huge catalyst in revitalizing business on Main St. This is supposed to be the economic hub of our community and we want to see it come back here for the community’s sake.”
Although Outdoor 76 has experienced tremendous success in the first year and a half since it has opened its doors, Gasbarro says that they want to avoid becoming complacent and are working to establish long term goals to guarantee the store's sustainability. “Our number one goal is to be smart with our finances and resources, and capitalize on opportunities,” said Gasbarro. “We also want to be more focused on ROI [Return on Investment]. The business has now matured enough that we need to be more intentional with the things that we know work.”
Gasbarro mentioned that Outdoor 76 utilizes groups such as Venture Local , the MainStreet Program, and the Chamber of Commerce and their efforts to promote the local economy whenever possible.
“We have the utmost respect for all these groups and have been involved with each at some capacity,” said Gasbarro. “Specifically for our business, it’s sometimes difficult to be as involved as we'd like because most meeting times are during our business hours. We are socially connected with lots of individuals in each of the groups and we do our best to keep tabs on the efforts and initiatives for each group.”
People's on the Square
J.C. Jacobs opened People's Department Store on May 1, 1957, and offered new brooms to the first 100 women who came into the store. The line of women waiting to get into the new store stretched down Main Street. Those brooms cost him 25 cents each, and he was happy to offer the first of many incentives for customers to visit the store.
Jacobs, who was born in 1918 on Jacobs Branch in the Iotla Community of Macon County is the oldest of seven children and grew up helping his mother raise his brothers and sisters and working on the family farm.
The day People's opened, the store contained any and all items needed to from day to day such as clothing, shoes, fabrics, household items.
People's Department Store is located in the Joe Asher Building which was built in 1934. Claude Russell was the master bricklayer on the building and he worked for 35 cents an hour. The foundation is flint rock and concrete.
When Jacobs opened the store, he sold lawn mowers, buckets, overalls, dry goods (material, sewing supplies, curtains, bedding), dresses, clothing and shoes for the family. The old chestnut floors creaked under stacks of clothing higher than your head. His desire was never to turn a customer away and to provide citizens of Macon County with whatever goods they may need.
Jacobs still has not retired and maintains an active interest in the businesses today. The operational management of the business today rests with daughters Janet Jacobs Greene and Nancy Jacobs Paris. They seek to uphold the standards their dad set for the businesses.
As a pillar of the Franklin Main Street economy for the past 55 years, People's on the Square has fared well through countless economic trials. With fall as their busiest time of year, the store is always working on new ideas to improve the business and their service to the people of Macon County. According to Paris, the recession has affected the day to day business of the store, but they have expanded their business model to accommodate the changes as best they can.
“Of course, the recession has affected all business, but we have managed to maintain our presence on Main Street while making some new changes to our store," said Paris. "We updated our men’s department as well as the shoe department and basement. In our ladies department, we listened to our customers’ desires and added some new lines such as “Not Your Daughters Jeans,” dress lines, and others.”
People's has always been on the forefront of advertising and marketing in Macon County. When Franklin's radio stationed opened 55 years ago, People's was their very first advertiser. Although technology is changing the way the store markets to its customers, People's still works to keep up with the latest trends. According to Paris, the store has taken advantage of the social media fad and has a Facebook page, and also has a web page for customers to more easily browse sale items. "We are also actively involved in the Main Street Program and we have web presence with the Chamber," said Paris. The programs encouraging a push in the local economy are a vital resource for Main Street business as they provide networking and business promotions.