On Tuesday, October 15th Small Town Project Board Chair, Elaine Gurule, and I drove nine miles east from Rocky Ford, along Highway 50, to our neighboring town of La Junta, CO. We were on our way to a seminar titled "Creating a Destination Business" which was being presented by business consultant Jon Schallert from Longmont, CO, and hosted by the City of La Junta Economic Development office. One of the key areas of focus for the Small Town Project is economic development so we wanted to take advantage of this seminar and learn how we could help local businesses position themselves to attract customers from outside of our local area.
When registering for the event my initial thoughts on a "destination business" were some sort of tourist attractions. Looking around Rocky Ford there are not many businesses or natural attractions to draw in tourists. Aside from the Arkansas Valley Fair held in Rocky Ford every August which draws in thousands of people from all over the state, there is not much else to attract visitors. We saw this seminar as an opportunity to possibly discover a business or attraction that we already had in town and could develop a plan to promote it and in turn boost our local economy.
As we arrived at the La Junta Senior Center and checked in we were greeted by La Junta City Manager, Rick Klein and La Junta Economic Development Coordinator, Cynthia Nieb. After some time networking and meeting several other attendees we found our seats at a table near Trinidad Economic Development Coordinator, Wally Wallace, and settled in for the start of Jon Schallert's introduction.
Jon Schallert is an internationally-recognized speaker and business expert specializing in teaching businesses and communities how to turn themselves into consumer destinations. According to Jon, he developed his expertise by interviewing over 10,000 independent business owners over the course of twenty-two years. Jon's Destination Business program shows local businesses how to differentiate and market themselves as unique Destinations, rather than relying on the physical location or local demographics to be successful.
Through Jon's speech, he shared many stories of businesses in towns across the United States that mirrored characteristics of rural communities like Rocky Ford; small population, struggling downtown areas, threats from big-box stores, and a stagnant economy. One great story was about the Hartville Hardware Store in Hartville, OH, where a town of 3,000 people is the home to a 305,000 square foot retail center. This makes it the largest hardware store in the United States and attracts over 2 million visitors each year. Imagine all of that tax revenue coming from one location in their small community. This store was built and grown over several decades with the goal of making it bigger and better and to be a one-stop-shop for their customers. That same vision can be used when building any business or community. What can we do to make our product or service have bigger value and a better experience for our customers?
Jon concluded the talk by taking some questions and giving some marketing tips to the individual business owners. All had the same theme, creating a unique selling proposition and leveraging that to draw in customers from outside of the business's local market. By creating this unique selling point and targeting customers 1-3 hours away from the location the business can broaden the size of their market. And by focusing the advertising and marketing on these customers a business can double their results by drawing in these traveling customers and capturing the local market that will see the "outsiders" coming and follow behind.
I think everyone in attendance walked away with many ideas for our businesses from all the thought-provoking idea-generating concepts. If you have any questions about the seminar or if you are a business owner that would like to learn more please let us know. We'd love to talk to you more and see how we can apply Jon Schallert's business principles to your business and increase your sales and revenue!