I recently ran across a rant from a local small business owner regarding their frustration that the people in Port Orchard are not supporting small business. This person seemed afraid at some level that their business may not survive another year, and this fear caused this person to scold the community. I’ve never met this business owner, and I am going to assume they are typically an amazing person. Fear causes us to do things or say things that we may not otherwise do, so I have tremendous empathy for this person. However, scolding the people you want to be your future customers will never work. Even if they were motivated by some sense of guilt, the feeling wouldn’t last and it wouldn’t change the results of the business. The only thing that will change the results is accountability. At some level, the market isn’t responding to the efforts of this business owner. Something is missing. I would like to address what I believe are some of the potential issues.
Myth #1 – Port Orchard doesn’t support small business.
Fact #1 – While I agree that there are plenty of cars in front of the corporate stores in our area, there are also plenty of small businesses in our area that have done very well for decades.
Myth #2 – People have an obligation to support their local small businesses.
Fact #2 – People have an obligation to survive. When the average household income in our area is about $50,000 per year, with the costs of everyday life there isn’t always a lot of “extra” money to spend. People have to make decisions about where and how they will spend their hard-earned dollars. Business is competition. You have to market your offering properly and be able to sell competently to get customers to do business with you instead of somewhere else.
Myth #3 – Bay Street is doomed.
Fact #3 – Bay Street has just as much potential as any other area. It isn’t cursed. However, it does lack unity, vision, and collaboration. Instead of blaming our citizens for not coming down there, we need to give them a better reason to that is in their own best interest. The marketing mix has to work – product, price, promotion, and place. Are you selling products people want? Are they priced competitively and appropriately? Do people know what you have and where to find it? Where can they buy it from, and is it a place they would love to shop? These are just a small amount of the questions that must be answered. Is the retail business harder today due to competition from Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, etc.? YES!!! Is it impossible? No, but you must compete. The reality is that the market doesn’t care about the feelings of the business owner. The market cares about solving their own problems. Show them that you can solve some of them, and they’ll gladly show up.
What Does the Future Hold?
That will depend on the decisions that are made, and we get to make those decisions. But it starts with taking accountability and working hard to find solutions. If you don’t know what to do, swallow your pride and ask for help. The problem with Port Orchard isn’t that the community doesn’t support small business, or that they should, or that Bay Street is doomed. The problem is accountability. It’s always accountability.
That isn’t fun to hear and it isn’t fun to say, but it’s the truth. The leaders of the Bay Street Association should be partnering with the P.O. Chamber and working together to name the problems and find solutions. Bring in outside business leaders and get feedback. Conduct surveys to find out what people actually want. Stop taking the parking spaces in front of your stores. Keep your stores open later and for more days during the week. Get a SCORE mentor. Etc. Etc. Etc.
There is a difference between a hobby and a business. A hobby is something someone does for themselves and by their own rules. A business is something that caters to the real needs of the public. You have to figure out what you really want to be, and if you want to be a business then you must be competitive.
Why Did I Choose to Write This?
I care about our city. I love Port Orchard. As I drive down the streets and see empty store fronts, it breaks my heart. It would be great to live in a community that had a thriving small business community. But let’s look at some other facts.
Our major employers in the area are PSNS, the SKSD, and Harrison. We have about 60,000 people, and most of the people here aren’t business people. So the few of us that are entrepreneurs and business leaders must work together and help each other.
We keep voting down the one thing that would bring more people into our community and more business opportunities – the second high school. We all know SKSD is trying, but we’re not where we need to be. We’re not developing our citizens for the future needs of the community, and as a result most of them want to get out of here as fast as possible. Others are ending up addicted to drugs, in jail, or in prison.
Technology is changing distribution. Most people have a smart phone and are becoming more comfortable shopping online. Yet some of us are doing business like it’s ten years ago (or 20…or 30). We have to adjust. We have to figure it out. I just came from a conference in Las Vegas where there was a huge vendor area with small businesses right next to the large corporate booths. Some of these people were highly professional, and others were sitting there waiting for the day to end. Some were hustling, and some were making excuses. Some were excited to connect with people, and some had a bad case of RBF if you know what I mean. So guess which ones the customers will probably buy from? And what’s the lesson here? Yep, accountability.
So here’s the deal, if you’re a small business owner in Port Orchard and you’re struggling, ask for help. Don’t sit there and complain, invent conspiracy theories, or blame the market. If you don’t have any fight left, then you might as well close your doors and go work for someone. But if you love what you do and you just want to do more of it, you’re going to have to change something. If you want help, contact me and I’ll come visit your store. I’ll be honest with you and help you find solutions that will make a difference. I consider myself to be a pretty bright individual, but my humility reminds me that I’m never going to be smarter than all of us working together. If we truly want Port Orchard to thrive, we have to be humble and willing to work together. It’s not hopeless, and let’s stop blaming the people in this town. Instead, let’s give them reasons why they would love shopping here. Let’s compete!!!