This post first appeared in the Alexandria Times on January 29, 2016.
You may have read recent articles about store closings at the start of the new year. Several of the notable closings were due to retirements, and we should celebrate their long and successful runs. However, as a city, we have several resources available to support and assist business owners to ensure that they can continue to enjoy long-lived success.
Alexandria is distinct for its collegial relationships among business, economic development, business organizations and government organizations. Trends in Alexandria are for more — not fewer — small businesses, and plans in process will generate even more visitors and shoppers.
One of the most beneficial steps an owner can take is to engage with the community. Business owners should join business groups or the city chamber of commerce, interact with other business owners and attend community meetings. All of these actions allow retailers to keep abreast of what’s going on, find common solutions and provide feedback to key stakeholders. When owners don’t choose to take their seat at the table, it often leads to owner frustration, misconceptions and costly errors.
Some business owners may feel like they need additional support. The Alexandria Small Business Development Center provides a wide variety of guidance to all types of businesses. For our retail and food service merchants in particular, we offer targeted programs and individual assistance, including in-store expert visits.
These one-on-one sessions offer feedback on indoor and outdoor store appearance, merchandizing, customer service and smart operations practices. Experts also advise retail and restaurant owners on establishing hours of operation that are convenient for customers and on making the most of festivals and events.
We are fortunate to be a city with several popular annual events that attract thousands of visitors. This gives retailers the opportunity to make a great impression and to build loyal customers that will return again and again. Window displays should dovetail with the celebration and staff should be welcoming.
Shoppers today are discerning and have many options. To compete, every business must have an online presence. At a minimum, their websites must answer questions that shoppers have about products, services, hours of operation, location and provide contact information. Businesses without an online presence may not survive in the future.
Because small business owners have varying degrees of familiarity with websites and social media, we provide workshops and individual consultations in those areas. Business owners can join our mailing list to receive notices of our free high-quality programs.
Lastly, there may come a time when a business owner feels that his or her physical location is no longer the right fit. Our colleagues at the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership can help owners find their ideal space, whether upsizing, downsizing or relocating.
Shoppers are making purchases in stores, and small businesses are more popular than ever. Our thriving community of tuned-in and engaged Alexandria merchants proves that every day. We are glad to be able to support this community and those retailers that make our city so unique.