Because Denver is just a few minutes away, I go there often to shop or dine out. But it seems as though every time I drive down N.C. 16, a favorite spot is closing or changing ownership.
Just a few months ago, I could have gone to Sweet Things for coffee, Notable Music for some sheet music and Mama Dee's to pick up a pizza. None of those businesses is there anymore.
I've wondered what the key is to a successful business. Is the economy to blame for business turnover, or might other factors affect it?
I sought some Denver business owners for insight.
Vi Phantirath owns Just for You Salon & Spa, which recently opened its second location. Because her services are not unique to Denver, Phantirath distinguishes her business from competitors by creating a luxurious, relaxing atmosphere, inspired by Thai and Laotian landscapes. A soothing fountain provides a visual and auditory buffer to the exterior. Plants and quiet music enhance the tranquil mood, and clients enjoy wine to help them relax.
Before opening, Phantirath considered the needs of potential clients. People travel to Charlotte or other nearby towns for goods and services that aren't available in Denver, she said. While there, often they patronize businesses that have counterparts in Denver.
"We got to know our area, the people around here," Phantirath said. "What do they want, and what are they driving to the other side of the lake for?"
Ken Baker, who owns Sweet Vine Winery, also emphasizes planning. Too many startup businesses, he said, don't write realistic business plans. Businesses must research demand for their goods or services in their area, and must consider how permits and other requirements affect their opening date.
Baker, who sells both homemade and commercial wines, focuses on value for a competitive edge.
"If I can offer wines that drink like a $50 bottle for $20 or less, then I have succeeded in letting people know that great wines don't always cost a lot," he said.
Baker also offers wine tastings, training on home wine and beer crafting and displays of local art.
Customer service is important, he said: "Value isn't always in the dollar."
Like Phantirath and Baker, SLD Unlimited Marketing/PR owner Sherre DeMao, in business for more than 25 years, believes many new businesses underestimate the amount of startup capital they will need, or fail to distinguish themselves from competitors.
Those problems are not unique to the Denver area, however, and the economic downturn is not always to blame. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, about half of new firms last five years. That data, based on businesses that opened in 2000, is similar to the 1990 rate. Success rates are also similar from state to state.
DeMao suggests that effective marketing strategies can ensure success. They do not necessarily require a large budget. At a recent marketing seminar for small-business owners, DeMao identified four resources businesses can use in marketing: time, people, technology and money.
"The businesses that have stayed around are ones who have embraced and become an active part of the community on a variety of levels," DeMao said.