What we learned about local business in 2016

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You learn some lessons the hard way, especially if you’re a business owner. That’s why we started this section. But even before we had an official place to write about entrepreneurship and small business ownership, we were telling those stories. Here are a few of the things we learned along the way.

Akron is for entrepreneurs…

“We stayed in Akron. We didn’t jump ship and hightail it for the coast. …It’s affordable for us to be here. We have access to the talent we need, and we have a great network of people who know us and support us. Also, the world is more more virtual these days — we can get access to mentors and companies out-of-state quite easily while enjoying the low cost of living in Northeast Ohio.” – Courtney Gras in the Nov. 2016 issue

 

Get your mind right…

“I don’t really think of myself as competing with the franchises, though. The men who come here aren’t really choosing between me and the franchise store. If anything, they come here because they are avoiding the franchise store.” – Scott Emerman, owner of Pilgrim Square Barber Shop, featured in “Small Business Chronicles” by Rick Bohan, June 2016

 

Choose meaning…

“It’s all about women learning their intrinsic value. After coming here and talking to other women, some leave toxic relationships, not because we asked them to, but because they realize their own worth.” – Lindsay Bye, director of Not Wasted, said to Megan Combs about what drives this nonprofit program, which teaches job skills by making and selling cool handcrafted, upcycled products. (Feb. 2016) [photo by Lindsay Bye]

 

How to find and serve your niche…

“Our market niche is made up of the owners and residents of all these old houses in the area.  Some of the homes are a century old and more. They need hardware that’s not easy to find at other stores. So they come here. Lowe’s has any part you might need so long as your house was built after 1970 or so.  If your house was built in the ‘50’s, that’s a new one in this neighborhood.” – West Hill Hardware owner Richard Tschantz to Rick Bohan (May 2016) [photos of West Hill Hardware by Katie Jackson]

 

Tap into something bigger than yourself…

“Akron has a lot of potential and it’s a little painful to see how slow progress moves in this area but at the same time, my enthusiasm for bikes, my enthusiasm for skiing—I have the same enthusiasm for the potential this area has. After living in a resort city like Vail, an area that’s pretty walkable, you come back here and, you know, we’re very auto-centric. We’re behind the times on that kind of stuff. My passion for Akron is to see it grow.” — Andy Bixenstine quoted in Ilenia Pezzaniti’s “How Blimp City Bike and Hike Bike Shop was born” (May 2016) [photo by Ilenia Pezzaniti]

 

Don’t be afraid to look outside your industry…
“Managing bands taught me about clear, simple and concise messaging along with relentless targeted promotions. I also learned from some of the best marketers in entertainment (Polydor, Maverick, A&M, Universal) how to grow a musician and brand. I also got to see the creative process first hand — in this case music, which I’d say is more complex than the most complicated software creation!” – Akron-based serial product and software entrepreneur Blake Squires, in a November 2016 interview with The Devil Strip

 

Be ready to struggle…

“I wish I would have known that it’s not as easy as people think it is. It’s easier said than done and it really is the day-to-day grind that people don’t expect.” — Lauren Ward, owner of NOTO Boutique, also telling Michelle DeShon it took eight years to feel confident in running a small business. (July 2016) [Photos of Lauren by Michelle DeShon]

 

Remember word-of-mouth is the best marketing…

“It’s true that getting the word out can be a challenge, but we’ve found that word of mouth works well for us. Also, being involved in the community brings new customers in.” – Sand Run Pharmacy owner (and pharmacist) Tom Lamb in September 2016’s “Small Business Chronicles” by Rick Bohan. [photo courtesy of Sand Run Pharmacy]

 

Find your people and stay open to opportunity…

“At The Devil Strip release party in March of 2015, Cristina and Richelle were chatting with Kaley Foster of Urban Buzz, who encouraged them to start selling the hot sauce. With the help of the Akron community and Better Block, Cristina and Richelle began marketing the sauce as “salsa,” since in the Spanish word refers to both hot sauce and what we Americans know as salsa.” – M. Sophie Franchi from “Origin Story” about how Cristina González Alcalá and her wife Richelle Wardell started Not Yo’ Daddy’s Hot Sauce. [photos of Not Yo’ Daddy’s by Shane Wynn]

 

Don’t just ‘give back’ to the community, build one instead…

“When hiring baristas, [Michael Litt] looks less at technical proficiency or experience in roasting and brewing coffee, and more at whether a candidate has a genuine interest in connecting with customers. As a result, a community has sprung up around Nervous Dog that built the business figuratively and literally. For example, the pergola and patio at the Akron shop were built by customers.” – Scott Piepho on Michael Litt’s business philosophy, featured in “Nervous Dog Celebrates 10 Years” [photo by Svetla Morrison]

The Devil Strip’s small business and entrepreneur section is possible thanks to the support of The Fund for Our Economic Future and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation. You can learn more about being an Akron entrepreneur by visiting akronisforentrepreneurs.org

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