Small businesses turning to more big ideas

Merchants focus on service and causes to ride out recession

02/23/2011 12:00 AM

02/21/2011 4:56 PM

Many small-business owners in Ballantyne Village are implementing creative ways to maintain business during the recession. Their efforts focus on innovative, cause-related products and extended, personalized customer service.

Holly Bretschneider, owner of Salutations, a fine stationery and gifts store in the Village since September 2006, began this year with a new direction. She revised Salutations' offerings to meet a triple bottom line: people, planet and profits.

"Brought about largely by the economic downturn, there is a shift away from rampant materialism and toward the meaningful: meaningful relationships, meaningful communications and meaningful purchases. In other words, toward things that matter," said Bretschneider.

According to Bretschneider, any new products Salutations sells will have a positive impact on people through economic empowerment, education, improved quality of life for a community or by inspiring the purchaser to live a more full or healthy life.

In selecting eco-friendly products made through sustainable manufacturing practices, Bretschneider said, she also will have a positive impact on the planet.

Bretschneider is choosing suppliers that donate a portion of profits to help people or the environment. Bretschneider also will donate a portion of her annual profit to two charities of her choice, Wine to Water and Room to Read.

Wine to Water provides access to clean water in developing countries; Room to Read focuses on developing countries' literacy and gender equality in education.

"What if my business could serve as a vehicle to give back in a larger and more meaningful way to causes that greatly impact the lives of others?" Bretschneider asked herself while devising her business plan for 2011. "What if my boutiques attracted a community of positive, inspired people who feel the same way?"

Bill Bartee, owner of Jesse Brown's Outdoors, which opened in Ballantyne Village in April 2006, has had success with both free products and cause marketing.

"We are trying to provide free things for our clients, such as 'how-to' events, speakers or simple things such as cocoa and cookies in the winter," said Bartee.

He also has teamed with charities and rewarded customers for participating in charity causes. In conjunction with Charlotte Rotary, Bartee ran the One Warm Coat project, donating 10,900 pounds of clothing and household goods to Crisis Assistance Ministry in November.

All contributors were giving discounts to Jesse Brown's, according to Bartee.

At Her Therapy, opened in the Village in November 2005, owner Callie Lamb has learned to extend customer service beyond the walls of her store.

Lamb keeps the store open for customers who let her know they are running late, and there have been several occasions when she has personally delivered purchases to a customer's home when they did not have time to come to the store.

Lamb also keeps a list of every special-occasion dress she sells to ensure duplicate dresses are not worn to the same event.

At Modern Salon & Spa, owned by Arsalan and Arezo Hafezi and opened in Ballantyne Village in May 2006, each guest is offered a beverage and treated to value-added services including a stress-relieving head, neck, and shoulder massage, plus a makeup touch-up for women or a skincare hot steam towel for men.

"A new approach that has been implemented to ensure we are consistently maintaining these practices is a follow-up call to new guests. We ask, 'How was your experience? Could we have done anything to make your experience better?'" said Marketing Director Jenni Council. "These callbacks enable us to motivate staff and make changes when necessary."

At Outland Cigar Shop, which opened in the Village in December 2007, owners Tom and Lindalyn Kakadelis emphasize educating employees about the intricacies of cigars and knowing each customer's personal tastes.

"Most folks do not know that cigars are very much like wines - more than 7,000 kinds from all over the world - with lots of different tastes and different ratings from various aficionado groups," said Lindalyn Kakadelis. "Sales associates know the customers by name, and their tastes, so when a new cigar comes on the market, our guys know who wants to know."

Knowing who you are as a business, and enjoying who you are, carries you through the tough times of a recession, she said.

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