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What's Up Magazine

Retailer Confessional

Feb 01, 2018 09:00AM ● By James Houck
Have you ever walked into a clothing store or jeweler that you absolutely fell in love with and asked yourself, “What the secret to their success?” Or wondered if the mom and pop boutique on Main Street will survive the winter (and we’re not talking about the cold)? If you believe in the slogan “the customer is always right,” but have wondered in the back of your mind, “am I?” then the following project is for you. We talked to many local proprietors, mostly retail and service, to get ownership’s take on all things business—from the state of doing business in the City of Annapolis or Anne Arundel County to customer experiences. The result is a tell-all confessional Q&A (we kept business owner names anonymous for this reason), revealing the trials and tribulations of brick and mortar business in our community.

 

On Doing Business in Downtown Annapolis


A new Annapolis mayor and several new aldermen were recently elected; what would you like them to make a priority in the City with regards to the business community?

“During the [past] administration there [had] been action taken to bring local businesses and retail shopping districts into the planning and execution conversation. Our voices and opinions are being heard now. Let’s just hope it continues.”–Jackson

“New and pragmatic approach to revitalize and promote Downtown Annapolis as a shopping/dining destination.”–Sophia

“We need to continue to have dialogues with city officials to ensure they are aware of the issues that impact the business community, to offer suggestions on steps that would attract more small businesses, and to discuss ways to encourage residents and visitors to frequent the downtown area’s shops, salons, restaurants and galleries.”–Olivia

“Start with addressing the empty stores and building the right amount of retail diversion. Build a new free parking area.”–Ava

Does the City of Annapolis currently do enough to help retail businesses thrive?

“The city must pursue strong partnerships with both state and county representatives. We have a significant population of government employees that work in the downtown area. Offering programs targeted to this audience that would increase the visibility, convenience and affordability of nearby shopping, service, and dining options would be a win-win for downtown businesses and workers.”–Olivia

“No, they do not have a clue or gripe on what it takes to promote and run a business. Most city officials are individuals without a business background or understanding of the potential of the City as a historical, shopping, and dining destination.”–Sophia

“The Downtown Annapolis Partnership is a committee that works exclusively for downtown. The mayor should give them a larger grant and listen to their needs.”–Ava

“Historically the City has focused on the downtown shopping area, but I see a more concentrated effort to include the other commercial districts. I think all businesses would love to have as much help as possible but at some point the question needs to be asked, ‘How much of a role should government play in promoting private business?’ Does the time and price involved detract from the core responsibility of Government services?”–Jackson

Do you believe City Aldermen and the Mayor are “in tune” with the best interests of local business owners?

“No, unfortunately they do not have any experience or the adequate skills to generate real results that would translate into increasing foot traffic to downtown Annapolis.”–Sophia

“We have one of the finest small cities in the country, but often find ourselves in competition with other businesses in the county. By effectively addressing parking and safety concerns, eliminating obstacles that drive businesses to other jurisdictions, and demonstrating an understanding of what local businesses require from city government to be successful, Annapolis could become a destination city for new businesses.”–Olivia

“Even if they are, they are not doing enough to help retailers.”–Ava

“No.”–Jackson

In your opinion, what could the City do a better job of to help your business?

“Promote, promote, promote to the neighboring cities for weekend trips; highlight the historical value of the city as a destination; capitalize on the Naval Academy events and traffic to bring them to Main Street. Make Annapolis a dining/shopping destination.”–Sophia

“Invest in the street flowers (paid by businesses), give grants for more events, solve parking problems.”–Ava

How could property owners and the City better fill the commercial vacancies with the Downtown and Uptown areas of Annapolis?

“Offer incentives such as rent control, tax abatements, parking discounts for employees, and more affordable parking validation programs for customers to those who open/operate established businesses downtown. Host programs for owners of prospective businesses to address how the city can help streamline the process of opening and make operating a downtown business more affordable.”–Olivia

“They need to assess the real value and potential of their properties according to the market demand. They seem to have a distorted concept that Main Street is a gold mine and it is not.”–Sophia

How could the City better attract consumers during “off-season” months?

“Every day I meet people who value connections—with their families and their communities—and our attractive city is the perfect venue for this. We need to get creative and come up with fresh, new ideas by exploring a variety of city-wide events, with free parking, that encompass Main Street, West Street, Maryland Avenue, West Annapolis, and the City Dock areas. We also need to connect and glue the many areas of the city and the county together. As our generations change, we as a team must adapt and respond to evolving public interests.”–Olivia

“Lower the price of food and accommodations. Form partnerships—hotels, restaurants, shops— and promote Annapolis as a package in the nearest cosmopolitan cities. Create community events to bring locals to Downtown.”–Sophia

“Events, events, events! With better parking.”–Ava

How would you describe the transportation/parking options in Downtown Annapolis? Would you alter them? Why and how?

“The options like trolley and circulators are great, however, they need to be better advertised and use better signage.”–Ava

“For employees, affordable parking is a top concern for those who work in the downtown area. Many of our street and garage options cost around $15/day. That means many full-time workers end up paying more than $3,500 per year in parking. The $15/day parking fee also makes it very hard to attract part-time and seasonal employees.
 
“For our guests, we recommend a nearby garage and validate our guests’ tickets for up to four hours with Park and Shop tickets. We would like to see the Park and Shop program be more economical for businesses like ours who want to alleviate clients’ concerns about access to convenient, free parking.”–Olivia

“Create free parking on the weekends to attract locals  and visitors.”–Sophia

“I have no problems with the parking issues. I know that there are several parking options available, and that some of them may require a little walking, but nothing is so far away that it makes it a detriment.”–Jackson  

Do you feel historic preservation groups overstep their roles in managing sensible development and creative initiatives in the City?

“Yes, but don’t all groups overstep their roles when fighting for what they believe in?”–Jackson

“No.”–Ava

“Yes, yes, and yes. It took me two years to get a permit to add two light bulbs to my store front.”–Sophia

“By choosing to preserve  and protect the beacons of history that surround us, we can walk down the streets of our beautiful city and feel connected to the past. This is what makes Annapolis a
very special destination to live, work and play. 
 
“[Our business] went through a complete renovation of our building. It took 18 months
from start to finish, but now it is a sparkling gem on West Street. We can attest to not only how sensible our historic preservation groups are, but how they have been an absolute pleasure to work with. When everyone shares the same vision of preserving history and blending state-of-the-art building and technology concepts, we all can hold our heads a little higher, knowing everyone’s motivation is to honor the beautiful buildings in our charming city. As a matter of fact, the people involved with our project—an experienced team of professionals who worked flawlessly with the city and the historic preservation office—just received an award for their superlative work in the restoration, rehabilitation, and reuse of this historic property.”–Olivia

Do you feel local business chambers are doing enough to promote local business? 

“No. Large business yes, small local business, no.”–Jackson

“They are trying, but sometimes they need money and everyone to participate.”–Ava

“I am impressed with their support. Their ambassadors are everywhere. We are members of the Annapolis & Anne Arundel County Chamber of Commerce. They are constantly promoting our business, and we are very happy with that relationship.”–Olivia  

“No, they are special interest groups with unrealistic agendas that never ever make any difference.”–Sophia

Do you have any concerns about your local business chamber? If yes, what
would you improve?

“Carefully choose a representative with proven record of running a successful business—get rid of the busybodies and incompetent idiots.”–Sophia

“I am a big fan of Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County Organization; they should always work closely with the Downtown Annapolis Partnership.”–Ava

What concerns you most about doing business in the City of Annapolis?

“The last four years have been a disaster. Main Street is a ghost town after 5 p.m. Stores closed at 5 p.m. Dirty, populated by annoying drunks and homeless people. Too many empty spaces. Not a cohesive, clean look. Not attractive for business.”–Sophia
“Parking and traffic is our biggest concern.”–Ava

What excites you the most?

“Even though I’m a native of the Annapolis/Arnold area, the last two years as a new business owner have made me feel even more connected to the city and appreciative of its vitality. I’m excited to meet and interact with new people—locals and visitors from around the world—on a daily basis.
 
“I am also excited to experience the passion our team brings to everything they do. Everyone embraces company’s our core values and our aim to exceed expectations for every guest. 
I am extremely proud to be associated with the creative and wonderfully talented professionals we have working here.”–Olivia

“Annapolis is one of the most beautiful cities in this country, with a tremendous historical value to all Americans, the sailing tradition, and home to the most noble military institution. A billion-dollar view from Main Street. My home and I refuse to leave.”–Sophia

“I’ve been doing business in DTA for 12 years. We are lucky to have amazing local customers that know the importance of buying locally. Businesses would not survive without our tourists, which
is 70 percent of our sales. We love welcoming them and showing how beautiful our town is!”–Ava

On Doing Business in Anne Arundel County


 What business sectors would you like to see develop within Anne Arundel County?

“I feel development should be in the Fort Meade/airport area where the government/military sector is growing.”–Emma

What laws and code do you feel are outdated in Anne Arundel County?

“Liquor laws need to be updated to current market conditions. We would like to deliver anywhere in Maryland, especially to our neighboring counties for catered events.”–Emma

Do you feel local business chambers are doing enough to promote local business? 

“I’m a member of the Arnold/Severna Park Chamber of Commerce and they have consistently been a promoter of local business and a great asset for the business community.”–Emma

What concerns you most about doing business in Anne Arundel County? In Maryland?

“Increased fees and road infrastructure not being able to handle the amount of vehicle traffic. I’m concerned about housing and over development without infrastructure improvements to roads
and schools.”–Emma

What excites you the most?

“We live in a great area and have a wonderful small business community.”–Emma

Is traffic flow to and from your business a concern? What steps (or not) do you think the
County and State should take  to promote viable public transportation options?

“Traffic flow is a big concern for my business because we sit directly on Ritchie Highway. Traffic is terrible and backs up often. I don’t believe the roads can handle the additional car traffic due to increase housing development.”–Emma

Business in General


Do you have an online and social media presence? How important is that presence to your business? 

“Yes, we have a social media presence and it is paramount to our business.”–Jackson

“In our industry [salon], it is important to show not only the work we do, but showcase the events we host and sponsor within the community. We have a new website that now allows for conveniences such as online reservations and gift card purchases. 
 
“It is important to remain current with the latest forms of communication in order to be visible and accessible. We also believe in the value of traditional print advertising, and our ads are found in various local publications.”–Olivia

“Yes, I invest heavily in our online presence, however our revenues came from  foot traffic. We are a brick and mortar operation and we count on that component for survival.”–Sophia

“Yes, we have an online presence via our website, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Online presence is very important for our business.”–Emma 

What or who do you see as the biggest threat to your business?

“The deregulation of our industry by the State Legislature.”–Jackson

“High rent and taxes.”–Ava

“Niche market businesses. Our team has prided itself on maximizing educational opportunities. Our providers are at the top of their fields and have talents that cover every aspect of the licenses they hold. For every product line we carry, we train the entire staff in product knowledge so they can provide guidance to our guests. For every technical application, our providers are licensed and certified within their field for the services they perform.
 
“What we find is that niche market businesses are taking away business from traditional businesses such as ours. For example, there are stand-alone waxing facilities and massage facilities. Often, people hop all over town for single services versus going to an all-inclusive destination, where they can find exceptionally talented providers with training that exceeds current standards.”–Olivia

Incompetent city officials. Lack of promotion.”–Sophia
 
“Alcohol in grocery is our biggest threat to our business. Also, internet sales of alcohol, which isn’t legal to ship into Maryland but many wine clubs, beer clubs, and other vendors ship into Maryland. The government agencies aren’t enforcing Maryland laws in regard to shipping, but Maryland retailers aren’t allowed to ship product.”–Emma 

What is the most difficult type of customer with whom you’ve interacted?

“Everyone has high expectations. We do everything possible to earn their trust by exceeding those expectations. Doing that isn’t always easy, but we set high expectations for ourselves and are very pleased to see so many of our first-time guests become regular clients.”–Olivia

“No recollection. All our customers are extremely important and we treat them as such.”–Sophia

“Our most difficult customers are underage persons trying to obtain alcohol and customers which are intoxicated.”–Emma

“The type of customer who believes that they are always right.”–Jackson

How can the local consumer best help your business?  

“By shopping locally and interacting with us on social media.”–Ava

“We encourage local consumers to shop local. We support our local community with generous donations to many local charity groups.”–Emma

“They can help by relying less on the online market and understand that brick and mortar businesses offer so much more than price. Shop local, buy local.”–Jackson

“Our guests are our best ambassadors. They pass the word along to friends, family, and co-workers that [our place] is the place where the cream rises to the top. They appreciate our calming, elegant environment, the service they receive from staff members, and the fact we’re a place where everyone—men, women and children—feel right at home.”–Olivia

Is the customer always right?

“Absolutely.”–Sophia  

“Customers know why they choose a business. They may be looking for a new hair style, a relaxing experience, or a special product. It is our job to learn what brought them to us and deliver what they desire. That type of clear communication and taking the time to understand what our guests expect goes a long way toward ‘getting it right’ every time.”–Olivia

“No, but they are always the customer!”–Jackson

“We try to meet all the customer’s needs.”–Emma

“Most of the time, lol!”–Ava