Brandon and Alicia had this idea that the old bank building they own just might a good coffee shop with WiFi. They looked at prices for all the equipment, got ideas for other vendors to go into the location, and started planning big.
But how do they know it will even work as a coffee shop?
I encouraged them to slow down and take some small steps first. Try it out. See if there is a product and a market.
Gather Your Crowd
They talked with a few friends and decided to offer coffee a couple of days a week during the month of May. Both of them work during the day and they can make the coffee and get everything set up.
They would need help from someone just to be in the space. At a public meeting they asked if anyone wanted to come sit in the cafe for a couple of hours. Volunteers lined up to make it happen! They are also using mobile hotspots from the local library during this test phase.
Take Small Steps
Now during the month of May they will be open from 9 am to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. So people can come by and get a cup of coffee, free will donation. This time frame will allow them to see if it’s a good time for a coffee shop. Maybe they will need to adjust to later hours. They’ll try different coffees, see what people like. These small steps are much more cost effective for a trial and will give them valuable research into creating their business.
That’s how you start a cafe with WiFi the Idea Friendly way.
It’s the artisan makers, the prototyping to small scale, it’s the production at scale, the makerspaces and the shared commercial kitchens and workshops.
You’d be looking for craft brewers, artisan businesses, contract manufacturing, commercial kitchens, farmers market organizers, and the ‘connectors’.
Let’s play a short game of who do you know.
Who likes to cook and is making food at home for sale?
Who is making crafts, sewing, painting, digital graphics, signage?
Who do you know who sells products on etsy?
Who is refurbishing furniture?
Who is making soap or lotions?
These are your possible small scale manufacturers.
Now we need to understand the spaces that can house small scale manufacturing.
1. an empty building with pop up shops
2. shared kitchen or shared workshop
3. micro retail in the front and production in the back
4. large retail and/or production
5. small, but industrial.
What areas in town will we target to put these folks into business?
You’ll base your decision on several factors.
1. What buildings are vacant?
2. Are there people in community that will invest in this type of new business?
3. Is there a neighborhood that could benefit from this business and help stabilize the neighborhood?
4. Is there neighbor or property owner interest?
This information should get you started in looking at your possibilities for new business, expanded business and the neighborhoods they could go into to.
This process can be done by gathering your crowd, and then answer the questions above and start building connections.
In 2016 we had a young man who was writing an article for the New York Times come to town. He was ready to tell the story of how our town lost a major manufacturer and it was awful for us. I disagreed and wrote this rebuttal.
I like Brendan Hoffman. He first traveled to Webster City in 2011 when he was covering the presidential elections in 2011. I met the young man when I first started as Chamber Director in 2013. He was back on a visit recently, following the Clinton team. Brendan was just published again by the New York Times and I’m a bit ticked off at them for leading their readers to believe that Webster City is leading a terrible life. (http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/01/28/iowa-brendan-hoffman-factory-electrolux/?_r=0 ) But then, they do have papers to sell. For some particular reason, there’s this idea that slanting a story towards bad news or sad news will sell more papers.
Here’s where I am going to disagree. People are pretty disgusted with always hearing the bad news. We can pick up those stories on Facebook, or in the rags while standing in line at the grocery store. What if you actually just told the truth? Why not share some facts, and then find the stories behind the facts? Here, I’ll get you started.
Unemployment rates in Hamilton County (we are the county seat) are 3.8% as of November 2015. That is the same as the state of Iowa. New York’s is 5.7%. We’ve also got jobs here. Good paying jobs at that – visit Van Diest Supply and find multiple listings, with starting pay in the $17+ an hour range. Vantec, Inc. is hiring. So is Webster City Custom Meats. The list goes on. There is work here.
There is also opportunity here. We have room for entrepreneurs as well. We host events like EntreBash where we partner with groups like Wright Hamilton Entrepreneurial Network and find ways for people to start their own businesses. Small Business Development Centers are part of the SBA and they assist, at no charge, and help entrepreneurs as well. There are building owners that have put their buildings into the Incubator Project and are willing to rent their buildings at reduced rates to help people get started.
Now let’s talk about what has happened in town since Electrolux left. Remember, we’re a town of about 8,000 people. New businesses in town:
Prime Life LLC bought an empty building and specializes in total hormone balancing, stress management, preventive medicine, and the management of chronic medical conditions. Mind and Body Clinic utilizes both traditional and complimentary therapies, with a focus on psychiatric medicine and osteopathic manipulation. They use space in the Prime Life facility. Neighbors Heating and Cooling bought the Chalfant Plumbing building and business. Victoria’s Bubble Tea was open for a year and rented space from Al the barber. She is no longer in business. Iglesia Del Dios Pentecostal bought an empty building that was once rented by Public Health. They are a Hispanic church and active in the chamber as well. Crispy Eggroll is renting an empty building and serves Asian, Vietnamese and Thai food. VeroBlue Farms is capturing the opportunity to become the largest onshore, indoor facility of its kind in North America. Through its Iowa’s First Hub located in Webster City Iowa, VBF is expanding its production of the Barramundi fish species through a new urban farm with approximately 7.2 million pounds of production. They have already purchased one of the old Electrolux buildings and are converting it to grow fish. La Perla Jarocha Restaurant is an offshoot of their grocery store and serves traditional Mexican food. They rent an empty building until their restaurant facility will be ready in the next year or so. InTANDEM Workspace is a community of like-minded professionals who want a different kind of place to work. Located in one building, coworking is becoming the norm for many people. Chicago Styles is a clothing store for hip, young people owned by a local Hispanic family. The Laotian Grocery Store is new to the community and features Laotian food stuffs. El Benedicion Mexican Grocery Store is right next door and offers food and other services like phone cards as well. The Webster Movie Theater reopened under HERO ownership. HERO is a nonprofit organization (Help Entertain and Restore Organization) that raised over $200,000 in a years’ time to save the movie theater and install new digital equipment. SOS Vintage came to town to look at the Incubator Project and ended up buying their own building and opening up a store where people come from all over to shop. Relax the Bath and TiDe Creations are two entrepreneurs who sell their products in SOS Vintage and bring originality to our community in a unique way. Soaps made for the gods and hand crafted leather items you can’t find anymore – niche markets that people are looking for. Stein Heating and Cooling moved from the country into town and we’re happy to have them here. Shopko Hometown found us because we are ideally located along Highway 20, and we’re their market. Marlies Garage is a local young man and his wife who branched out on their own and fixes cars and does alignments and believes in working in their own hometown. Maid-Rite serves the traditional sandwiches and other sandwiches, breakfasts and goodies as well. Also located along Highway 20 and locally owned.
Other expansions, new owners and moves in the last few years:
Interior Spaces bought Classic Carpet and Interiors – they are full service interior decorator business. Thrifty White moved to 2nd Street and Broadway. Maharry Dental is scheduled to open this spring in a larger, new building. Webster City Community Theatre has completed their expansion. Van Diest Supply Company continues to expand. WCF Financial Bank has moved to a new building in a new location. Splash Graphics expanded their business to Webster City. Future of Health Massage moved to a new location.
Lucinda Stone started Therapeutic Life Center of Massage College. Leah Feltz Fitness and Magers Martial Arts now have classes here in town. New Horizons Travel and The Computer Guy, two new businesses in town, are in the coworking space. P and P Electric has expanded. Storm Flying Service has new owners.
I’m sure I’ve missed some too – and to those people I apologize. It’s exciting to see all this growth!
Brendan did say “The town has not shriveled up, which is amazing.” I just wonder why he thinks that is so amazing. We are not quitters. One factory leaving doesn’t stop a town like Webster City.
You can read Brendan’s original article, and see my rebuttal in the comments.
We did an Empty Buildings Tour in Webster City, Iowa. It worked!
Our next two part webinar is Filling Empty Buildings. It’s geared specifically towards small towns and we give them practical steps they can put into action right away. More info at www.saveyour.town/empty It begins June 12, 2018.
If one city council can write a code, another one can change it! We talk about this a lot when sharing our empty buildings stories. I recently visited with a city clerk in Stanhope, Iowa and she mentioned they are working on changing their code. They are instituting Building Maintenance Code that they got from Callendar, Iowa.