Survival Skills

Downtown Madison merchants
face many challenges

A core group is employing Schallert principles
as a way of creating ‘destination businesses’

By Don Ward

September 2004

September 2004 Cover

MADISON, Ind. (September 2004) – First-time business owners face a myriad of challenges, regardless of the location. But surviving long-term in a small town of only 13,000 people situated off the beaten path that relies primarily on tourism and a few festivals each year certainly takes a dedicated and creative entrepreneur.
Just ask some of the merchants who have set up shop on Madison’s Main Street.
The long-timers have seen businesses come and go. Over the years, perhaps through trial and error, they seem to have found what works best for them, who their customers are, and how to keep them coming back.
The new owners, fresh with ideas and eager to get started or grow, are busying networking with fellow business owners, trying to discover the secret to success in such a seasonal environment.
In Madison, one primary challenge is geographic: a town divided by a hillside into a “historic downtown district” and the hilltop’s Clifty Drive, a more modern commercial boulevard that requires travel by car. But most challenges are the same as those found anywhere: issues related to parking and store hours.

Jon Schallert

Jon Schallert

Then there’s the confusion among merchants about which groups they should be joining: the chamber, the downtown merchant group, the Main Street Program or the historic preservation organization? Each group has a different mission, but few merchants could tell you what they are.
“I still don’t know who they are or what they all do,” said Elaine Reece, who originally opened her Scrap-n-Sniff scrapbooking and candle store in Hanover in October 2001 and moved to Madison’s Main Street last December. “I’m just sort of waiting to see what develops before deciding which one to join.”
While local historic attractions and the beauty of the Ohio RIver valley work in favor of merchants who thrive on tourism, success often still depends on the business acumen and marketing efforts of a few committed merchants, who in many small towns form the core of a shopping district.
But in Madison, there seems to be more than one “core:” the old guard and the newcomers. When an article appeared in July in the local newspaper announcing that six stores were closing on Main Street, the lines of division quickly emerged between the old and new.
Long-time store owners just seemed to roll their eyes and go on about their business, having seen the cycle repeat itself many times before. The newcomers, however, having recently sunk their investment dollars into a new shop on Main Street, reacted angrily to the negative tone of the article, fearing it would dissuade local shoppers from coming “downtown” to shop their stores. Although the article did not mention any recent new store openings, it quoted Madison Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Jeff Garrett saying that business turnover is normal, and that some turnover can even be good for a town. “New businesses coming in can bring a new aspect to Main Street,” Garrett said.

Lucy Dattilo

Photo by Don Ward

Lucy Dattilo of Something Simple

Like new recruits sent into battle, they put on their armor and went to work, forming a subcommittee of the Madison Main Street Program’s Economic Restructuring Committee in an effort to generate more activities downtown to generate business.
No more waiting – or complaining – about what the chamber of commerce or the tourism office was or was not doing to help their businesses survive. They were determined to take matters into their own hands in order to achieve success – and survive.
After talking with several of these committee members, it is apparent that this group exudes enthusiasm and positive energy. They frequently cite the July article that aroused many along Main Street; they point to episodes in the past when a group of merchants sat in on a tourism meeting, only to be told that it wasn’t the tourism office’s job to get them business; they recall meeting with the chamber of commerce officials to express their feelings that not enough was being done for “downtown” merchants.
Collectively, these recent events have spurred a few dedicated merchants into action, said Lucy Dattilo, owner of Something Simple gift shop. She and five others now serve on this “Calendar of Events Committee” and have been meeting twice a month since April to put their ideas into action.
“Tourists are wonderful, but you can’t always count on them coming back,” Dattilo said. “It’s the locals who will save us; we have to market to the locals.”
Bob Maile, owner of Madison Table and Light and a committee member, said that after several meetings, “We ended up with this core of people who are really interested in making something happen. We’re hoping that from this core we can reach out to the rest of the downtown merchants here and get a vital organization going.”
Maile also owns a bed and breakfast on Main Street and plans to build a kitchen in back of his Madison Table and Light store to eventually house Jeff and Jarvis Jenkins’ River Valley Bar-B-Q Pit Stop. The barbecue restaurant once operated on the Madison hilltop but in late August opened inside Evan Sommerfeld Antiques Store until the kitchen is ready.
“Our committee has a lot of enthusiasm right now, and we’re obviously in it for our own self-preservation,” Maile said. “But we recognize that we can’t do it ourselves. We’ve got to get the cooperation of others.”
The committee has drawn up a “wish list” of activities for the fall and Christmas seasons to generate more activities along Main Street. To achieve their goals, they are counting on the support of city officials, the chamber, other merchant groups and, of course, local shoppers.

Bob Maile

Photo by Don Ward

Bob Maile of Madison Table & Light.

“It takes more than one business to be successful, and we can all be successful if we help each other,” said Deana Williams, another committee member who owns the Main Street Antique Mall with her husband, Scott.
The group helped organize the Aug. 1 “Shop and Dine for Charity Day” promotion among downtown merchants, whereby a percentage of sales from participating merchants was contributed to specified local charities.
The fall schedule for downtown events already is busy with the annual Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art on Sept. 25-26 and the Madison Area Chamber of Commerce’s “Soup, Stew, Chili & Brew” tasting competition on Main Street on Oct. 9.

Plans for new events

But in late October the committee plans to throw a Halloween party on Main Street as part of a celebration to welcome the Indiana Main Street Program’s Cornelius O’Brien Conference on Historic Preservation, to be held Oct. 28-30 in Madison.
The group also has arranged for retail marketing author and motivational speaker Rick Segel of Burlington, Mass., to appear at 6 p.m. on Oct. 28 at the Madison-Jefferson County Public Library in a free session that is open to the public.
From early November to Christmas, the group hopes to inspires fellow Main Street merchants to stay open late on Fridays; other events are in the works, including a tree and building lighting celebration on Main Street to replace the now defunct Festival of Lights Christmas display held the past seven years on the riverfront by the chamber of commerce.
“To get people to shop downtown, we know we have to offer people things they can’t get at Wal-Mart. But can also offer them something different – a true shopping experience in a historic downtown,” said Annalisa Strickland, who moved from Los Angeles to Madison after having worked here in 1999 during the filming of the yet-to-be-released movie “Madison.” She now sells hand-made jewelry at her Princess and the Bead shop and is another new merchant of only one year who found it difficult to fit into one of the local groups.
After evaluating the other groups, she said the Calendar Committee was her best option.

The Schallert principle

Elaine Reece

Photo by Don Ward

Elaine Reece poses with a scrapbook story of her store, Scrap-N-Sniff.

Dattilo and the others have had their entrepreneurial spirits awakened by a Florida-based retail marketing expert named Jon Schallert. A former marketing executive with Hallmark Cards for 10 years, Schallert now has his own consulting company and travels the country holding seminars and workshops to help small-town America merchants hold their own in competitive or seasonal environments.
Regardless of the situation, Schallert preaches one simple message: That it is up to each individual business owner to determine his fate by making the business desirable for customers to visit – and return. He calls his formula “destination marketing.” Quite simply, if people are willing to drive from out of town – or even down the hill in Madison – just to shop your store, then you’ve got a destination business.
Schallert states his own definition of a retail destination this way: “A business so compellingly unique that consumers willingly go out of their way, passing other competitive stores, to seek their preferred service or shopping choice.”
Schallert conducted a one-day workshop last year in Terre Haute, Ind., and another in Osgood, Ind, in April. Nancy Gruner, the recently appointed Madison Main Street Program board president and owner of Whimsy, attended the Terre Haute session with Strickland, Main Street Program board member Dana Riddle and former member Brad Miller. Both are on the Calendar Committee, along with Dattilo, Williams, Bob Maile, owner of Madison Table and Light, Wanda Gross of Wanda’s Gifts, and Bob Ems.
Dattilo, Williams and the chamber’s Laura Hodges were among a group of Madison people who attended the Osgood session, sponsored by the Batesville chamber.
Maile has invited Madison Area Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director Linda Lytle to attend a Schallert workshop in Greenville, Ohio, on Oct. 13. She has accepted the invitation and plans to attend with Williams.
“While we know we are not dependent upon the tourism office for our livelihood, it’s important that we have a good working relationship with them,” said Williams, a first-time business owner who took over the antique mall in January.
Schallert’s video was played one evening this summer at Madison City Hall for a group of local merchants. The event was organized by the chamber. He will be in New Albany, Ind., on Sept. 1.

A call to action

Scott and Deana Willians

Photo by Don Ward

Scott and Deana Williams
of the Madison Main Street Antique Mall.

Dattilo, meanwhile, has taken her passion for Schallert one step further by registering to attend his two-day Destination Marketing BootCamp in Orlando in late September. “I’m not waiting,” she said. “I’m doing it now.”
She is especially interested in what he has to say about store hours, an often sore subject among Madison merchants. Schallert cites statistics showing that 70 percent of retail purchases in American are done after 5 p.m. and on weekends. “If you’re not open during those hours, you’re catering to the unemployed,” Dattilo says. “Study your locals and see what they want. Schallert says that if you have something they want, they’ll find a way to get there.”
The Schallert Group Inc.’s BootCamp bills itself as designed “for retail business owners who want to accelerate their learning curve, receive in-depth instruction, strategies and specific tactics on how to become a dominant destination business that can pull consumers past your competition.”
Schallert himself exudes excitement and motivation when discussing his program. “Madison is fortunate because it has so much going for it already, but my boot camp teaches people how to differentiate themselves in a community, no matter where they are located,” said Schallert by telephone from his Orlando office.
“Once they begin to employ these new marketing principles, collectively, it becomes like a grassroots effort in economic development.”
Schallert said too many small-town business owners wait passively for other local organizations, city or county officials to do something for them, or for customers to “discover” their shops. He advises them not to wait. “In many cases, they are not as proactive as they should be. You can’t sit on your lunch that way. I’m trying to create a situation with every business owner where they become their own tourism engine.”

What does the Madison Main Street Program do?

The Madison Main Street Program is a team of residents, merchants, property owners and other interested citizens who believe that Madison, Ind., is a special place in which to live, work and play. The group is part of a network of more than 1,200 communities across the country united for a common goal: To revitalize and promote American’s historic downtowns in order to maintain them as economically vibrant parts of their communities.
The Madison program follows the National Main Street Center’s “Four Point Approach:”
1. The Organization Committee gives the downtown commercial district ongoing attention and care by working cooperatively with other organizations on community development projects.
2. The Promotion Committee fosters a positive image for downtown and creates a spirit of celebration.
3. The Design Committee encourages downtown improvements to maintain an attractive environment.
4. The Economic Restructuring Committee works to strengthen existing businesses and identifies downtown market opportunities.
• On Oct. 28-30, the Indiana Main Street Program will hold its annual Cornelius O’Brien Conference on Historic Preservation in Madison. Sessions will take place at various locations around town featuring presentations by local, state and national experts on historic preservation, archaeology and Main Street issues. For information, call the local office at (812) 265-3270.

Source: Madison Main Street Program.

Merchants coming and going
Opened since January 2003:

• The Downtowner, January 2003
• Mom’s Music, March 2003
• Madison Table and Light, April 2003
• The Princess and the Pea (jewelry), July 2003
• House O Hits, August 2004 (moved from previous location on Broadway)
• Cocoa Safari Chocolates (candies), August 2003
• Scrap n Sniff (scrapbooking, candles), December 2003
• Hillside Inn Restaurant, May 2004
• The Front Porch (coffee, pastries and gifts), May 2004
• Lovely Creations (gifts), July 2004
• River Valley Bar-B-Q Pit Stop, August 2004
• Maternity Boutique, August 2004
• Bella Vista (formerly Montpelier Inn), August 2004
• Chicago’s Pizza (scheduled to open in fall 2004)
• New café at the former Lodge Building (fall 2004)

Closed in the past year:

• Zanni’s Gift Shop, June 2004
• Artsy Decor, July 2004
• Thistles, July 2004
• Ora’s Gift Shop, July 2004
• Madison Mini Mart, July 2004
• Montpelier Inn Restaurant, July 2004
• Weidman’s Country Store, August 2004
• Cover to Cover Bookstore (announced it will close or sell in December 2004)

• To learn more, call (352) 383-9579 or visit: www.jonschallert.com or www.destinationdowntown.com.

Back to September 2004 Articles.



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