Just because a small business is in a small town, doesn’t mean you have to think small. Sometimes all you need is to be given a chance.
When Wabash, Indiana, won Deluxe Corporation’s Small Business Revolution on Main Street project, the town not only received a $500,000 revitalization for its downtown business community, it also took a close look at how small businesses work together. The transformation has been captured in an original series, a documentary-style look at six small businesses in need of marketing guidance and entrepreneurial advice. The entire series, starring Amanda Brinkman, chief brand and communications officer at Deluxe, and celebrity investor and Shark Tank star, Robert Herjavec, is streaming now at SmallBusinessRevolution.org and on Hulu.
The series itself is an inspirational look at how the town of Wabash, population 11,000, is reinventing itself following the loss of major manufacturing jobs. The quaint and beautiful downtown, which has seen its ups and downs, is coming back to life thanks to the small business community that is investing in buildings and taking chances on new ideas.
“Sales are up,” says Matt Haynes, owner of Filament Tattoo Co. in downtown Wabash. This pastor turned tattoo shop owner is one of the entrepreneurs featured in the series, a natural marketer who helped Wabash rally votes to win the Main Street project. “Every single business I talked to is seeing the best sales they’ve ever had. Things are different now.”
In Wabash, half of the $500,000 prize from Deluxe was put toward physical improvements at six selected businesses, such as fresh paint, new doors and awnings, as well as several improvements in the town, including the new Mammoth Park, new signage for businesses downtown, park benches and more. The other half of the money was put toward in-kind marketing services from Deluxe, including new logos, websites, social media campaigns, logos, email marketing, and more.
Here are six lessons learned from the Small Business Revolution—Main Street project and ideas for how you can put this advice to use:
Lesson #1: When your sales are stagnant, you can’t rely on word of mouth. You have to invest in marketing to get more people in the door.
Harry and Judy Kilmer bought Harry’s Old Kettle Pub & Grill, a local bar, to turn it into a restaurant so he could apply his skills as a chef locally in Wabash. He took a big risk in buying the bar, but he never put a real plan in place for what it would take to get his kitchen running. Four years later, his dream was still sitting agonizingly just out of reach. In episode 2, Amanda Brinkman and Robert Herjavec dug into the business with Harry and Judy, finding good cash flow but the lack of a business plan. They showed them how things like a good website and menu, and making sure you are findable online are critical to having a successful restaurant. Along with the investment to complete their kitchen, Harry’s is now a full restaurant and the re-energized hot spot in Wabash. Watch the episode >
Lesson #2: Sometimes the best marketing strategy is to partner with other small businesses with similar goals in order to pool resources and get a bigger bang for the buck.
Lisa Ellen Downs opened Ellen’s Bridal & Dress Boutique, a high-end bridal boutique featuring bridal gowns, prom dresses and tuxedos. Ellen’s offers the atmosphere and selection of a big-city shop with the personal service of a small town store. In episode 3, Amanda Brinkman and Robert Herjavec learn about the biggest challenges she faces: low awareness, even locally, of her bridal experience, which results in loss of traffic to competitors in more urban markets; and, how to sustain her low-volume, high-ticket business during seasonal downturns. They help her elevate her branding to tell the Ellen’s experience; but even more – they help her and other bridal-related businesses in town rally together to start positioning Wabash, Indiana as a bridal shopping destination. Watch the episode >
Lesson #3: If your business requires a broader customer base than your location can support, you have to market beyond your borders.
Matt Haynes is a former pastor who transitioned from the church to opening his own tattoo shop, Filament Tattoo Co. In episode 4, Amanda Brinkman and Robert Herjavec learn that Filament Tattoo already has a strong brand and reputation in Wabash, but needs help growing and reaching a broader audience to help it through the seasonality of the business. They show him how powerful social media marketing can be in bringing together a passionate community like tattoo enthusiasts, especially paired with a website that showcases your personalized story and the “experience” customers can expect with your shop. With these improvements, Filament is now changing perceptions about tattoo shops. Watch the episode >
Lesson #4: Even at 113 years old, there are things you can learn about marketing to help shape your business.
Kent Henderson is the fourth generation owner of Schlemmer Brothers, a mainstay of the Wabash community for more than 113 years. But this century-old metalworks and retail hearth shop struggle to find a new modern identity and endure seasonal downturns. In episode 5, Amanda Brinkman and Robert Herjavec learn that Kent and retail shop manager, Kris White, lack marketing expertise but not enthusiasm to learn. They help Schlemmer Brothers how to better tailor their Google Adwords campaign to get the most impact for their budget, as well as build them a website design that better supports both sides of the business and gets people in the door. Armed with their newfound knowledge, Schlemmer Brothers is experiencing an increase in web and foot traffic. Watch the episode >
Lesson #5: You can’t be everything to everyone—a clearly defined strategy and positioning will keep you focused and prevent diversions, and ensure customers understand what you do or sell.
Tracy and Aaron Griffith launched their vintage resale shop, Thriftalicious, by selling garage and estate sale finds out of their home. Today, their downtown shop offers mid-century modern furniture, 1950s-1980s home décor, old school video games, pop culture toys and games, and other treasures. Aaron’s vast collection of vintage video games and consoles is a staple of the business, selling many online to customers across the country. In episode 6, Amanda Brinkman and Robert Herjavec learn about the uphill battles they’ve faced since leaving home and having children at a young age. Their business struggles with cash flow to support a strong inventory as well as just getting customers through the door. They show them how an articulate vision, curation strategy and retail store design – along with a website that reflects that vision and experience – can increase their customer base and sales. With their new “Old School Cool” positioning implemented, Thriftalicious is already seeing a new attitude toward their store. Watch the episode >
Lesson #6: Don’t undercut yourself by pricing things too low – know the true value in what you’re providing and have faith in it.
Meet Maria and Mike Smyth are co-owners of Eclectic Shoppe, a gift store that features distinct work by local artisans. Shoppers can find a mix of vintage and modern décor, handcrafted jewelry, local artwork, accessories and up-cycled items. In episode 7, Amanda Brinkman and Robert Herjavec learn that this startup’s low-margin pricing strategy threatens the life of the business. They show them how establishing a strong, consistent brand across touchpoints can help support a healthier pricing strategy. With their new pricing strategy and beautiful branding in place, Eclectic Shoppe is getting feedback from artisans and customers alike about the unique and beautiful experience they’ve created. Watch the episode >
The Small Business Revolution, championed by Deluxe, believes small businesses are vital to small towns and Main Streets across the country. See how Wabash, Indiana, comes back to life in the online series now streaming at smallbusinessrevolution.org and on Hulu.