Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas
A few years ago, one of our area Main Street program directors was lamenting the fact that one or two of the fairly recent businesses in the downtown area had closed. “It just seems like some businesses close as fast as others open.” I told her that we should be celebrating the fact that when spaces open up there are people ready and willing to open another retail establishment; we should be celebrating the churn and always inviting people to come and see what is new. This surprised her as she said she’d never thought about it that way.
In our area of Southeast Kansas, I’ve always thought there were a surprising number of businesses more than 100 years old. It would easily take more than two hands to count those businesses in Montgomery County alone. I’ve not seen any studies on this, comparing the number of 100 year old companies per capita, but it seems like we have a large number for a county of around 35,000 people.
Several of these businesses are in downtown districts and many people long for a stable group of businesses in a downtown area, all successful for 100 years that fill all the empty buildings and available spaces. In today’s world of increasing competition from the vast selection of the Internet and the “box stores” starting businesses that will last for 100 years will be challenging to say the least. We should be celebrating and encouraging business churn in our downtown districts. One definition I found for churn is “To produce something in an abundant and automatic manner.” We should be working to develop and encourage new entrepreneurs, willing to try new businesses in our downtown districts, in an abundant and automatic manner.
Start small and grow
The key is for the entrepreneur to start small, growing the business while tweaking the products and services offered to minimize the risk on the way to opening a retail store in a downtown district. Danielle Passauer, dba Platinum Designs, is growing her business in just such a manner. She came to Fab Lab ICC about one and one-half years ago, with a very small, fledgling business. She used our lasers for several months to grow her business into what she calls a “serious part time venture.” Now she has her own laser and other customization equipment at her home and during this last holiday season, she operated a pop-up retail store on certain occasions. She once told me that her goal was to have a full-time retail business in downtown Independence. She is reaching her goal in a measured series of small steps, reducing her financial risk every step of the way.
We should be replicating Danielle’s story all over Southeast Kansas, encouraging small start-ups that can grow into full-time businesses many even needing to hire employees to help serve customers. Nearly all of our business-related initiatives at Fab Lab ICC like Growth Accelerator and Women 4 Women are about helping and encouraging people start small and grow.
Start with a change in mindset
This is a different approach than starting big with big financing and it all starts with a change in mindset to that of what we call an entrepreneurial mindset. Before we get to cash flow projections and nuts and bolts business management disciplines, we need to learn to think in terms of solving problems for customers and starting small so corrections in our offerings are easily made as we learn what our customers really want. The Entrepreneurial Mindset class starts on January 17, running on Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 8PM through April 25. This is where we learn to think about solving problems in the marketplace and starting out small. There will be food before each class session.
Celebrate the churn
There will always be a churning of businesses in our downtown areas and indeed in our region with businesses coming and going as the market changes. With the right mindset, we can always have new (or reinvented) entrepreneurial ventures to fill the openings in our buildings and in our marketplace. The churn is what makes an economy vibrant and exciting. Let’s celebrate the churn.Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at email@example.com or Twitter @jimcorrellks.