The Coeur d’Alene business community continues to provide excellence to the residents of this beautiful city. Because of this excellence, it has made the job of the Chamber’s Business Development Committee difficult in choosing exactly which worthy business to recognize each month at the Upbeat Breakfast.
In January we chose to recognize Best Tire and Auto located at 3020 N. Government Way. Best Tire probably would have received the Service Excellence Award years earlier if only they had been a member of the Coeur d’Alene Chamber at the time. Since 1998 Best Tire and Auto has provided “Quality Products at a Working Man’s Price.” They offer auto repair services, collision repair, and of course … tires for your vehicle.
Each Thanksgiving the Fedora Pub and Grille provides free turkey dinners with all the trimmings to those in need in our community. Choosing to recognize The Fedora in February for the Community Excellence Award was pretty easy. In addition to their quality food offerings The Fedora has also provided meeting rooms free of charge for many community service organizations.
When we contacted Kyle Hendricks at Idaho Independent Bank to inform him that they would be recognized in March with the Service Excellence Award he was rather surprised. It seems that banks have been taking a negative hit with their perception of customer service. Who could blame them with “free banking” services not exactly being free. While banking products are essentially the same across the board, what differentiates IIB from other banks is its customer service. Using this customer service philosophy IIB has worked since 1998 to be “The Idaho Bank.”
While not a committee project, businesses will want to participate in the May 24 “Education and The Economy” forum at The Coeur d’Alene Resort, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., where a dialogue with business leaders and the three College Presidents from North Idaho College, the University of Idaho and Lewis-Clark State College will be held.
Finally, on June 6 is the second “Women Creating Success” Conference at the Best Western Coeur d’Alene Inn. This year’s featured speakers are First Lady of Idaho, Lori Otter and local talent extraordinaire Ellen Travolta. Tickets and Sponsorship opportunities are available now through the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce.
If you are a Coeur d’Alene chamber member and looking to get involved please consider joining the Business Development Committee on the third Friday of each month at 7:30 a.m. at the chamber offices.
Brent Lyles is this year’s chairman of the Business Development Committee.
Every business operates with scarce resources. This is not a unique condition just for small businesses. Even Walmart, the largest retailer in the world, has scarce resources. There is never enough capital, skills, people nor time to accomplish everything. The market place and the competition are demanding.
If every business, every competitor, without exception, has scarce resources, how would a business deliver extra-ordinary performance? By leveraging their scarce resources better than others… for a greater return on their investment.
How could one business leverage its precious, scarce resources better than others? By gaining clarity.
Without clarity, by the end of the year, scarce resources would be consumed on multitudes of seemingly “good” opportunities but with a marginal return. This would be typical of an average business.
But, with great clarity all the organizational resources would be aligned and invested to deliver a clear specific return.
What is clarity? It is not Priorities. Priorities are typically about the activity level. Clarity is about the strategic level. It’s about the identity of the business. Why does it exist? Who does it serve? What makes it extraordinary?
Clarity instructs priorities and activities.
So how would organizations gain this level of clarity? By addressing the following 5 questions with great rigor.
1. What is our mission?
This is about the purpose for the existence of the organization. Some of the most important questions that must be answered clearly are about the market, talent and most importantly about the leader’s passion and convictions:
Why would anyone choose to do business with you when there are so many other options? Why would they choose you not once but again and again and again and love to tell others about you?
Why should your most talented employees choose to work for you year after year when they have other great opportunities?
Why should you, as a leader, choose to spend the next 10-20 years building this business when you could do invest in other worthwhile ventures?
2. Who is our sweet spot?
It is common for a business, especially in a rural community, to try to want everyone as their customer. But with scarce resources, it is impossible to reach and satisfy everyone’s needs and ultimately serves no one well.
Who really should be your Best Customer?
What do we know about them?
How are they being served now?
How can we ensure we will continue to meet their needs better than anyone else?
3. What do they value?
The purpose of a business is to deliver a value that your customers would truly appreciate.
What significant problems do customers have that needs solving? What needs do they have?
How can you solve their problem or meet their significant need better than anyone else? Not just the first time but again and again.
How can you solve their problem or meet their need at a consistent profit?
4. What are our goals?
Typical approach to goal setting is… 5 percent more than the last year. Why? Because historically, even if nothing significant were changed, business momentum would provide a 5 percent increase.
This would not be a compelling approach that would catalyze innovation, creativity, and perhaps even excitement from your team.
A more positive approach may be first identifying a compelling three-year destination you want to get to as a business, one that would be a milestone for even a greater future.
What are your most important three-year goals? (Profit? Market Share? Units?)
What is your time frame for achieving them?
What should your 2013 goals be? (Profit? Margin? Market Share? Units?)
What should your sub-goals for 2013? (Profit Margin by Product? By Market Segment? Quality?)
A meaningful goal is one that is specific, measurable, relevant and time bound.
5. What is our plan?
Crafting the mission, clarifying your sweet spot and customer value, identifying goals are the more challenging work. Now that you have done the hard work of identifying goals in three years, in 2013, and by month identify the means you will use to achieve the goals.
What is our plan to achieve our three-year goals?
What is our plan to achieve our 2013 goals?
Most businesses are average. They will expend their scarce resources on many good ideas throughout the year for a marginal return.
An extraordinary business, on the other hand takes time to gain clarity then align their precious resources to achieve an extraordinary results.
Leaders, lead with all diligence!
Bill Jhung is the director of Idaho Small Business Development Center at the North Idaho College. Bill and his team provide leadership and business coaching, training and resources to business owners and leaders in North Idaho. He can be reached at (208) 769-3284 or at email@example.com.
For the second year in a row, a national survey has put Idaho at the front of the class for friendliness toward small businesses.
Idaho again earned an A+ in the survey of more than 7,700 owners of small businesses across the country, according to Thumbtack.com, which partnered with the Kauffman Foundation on the comprehensive study.
“In surveying thousands of small businesses across America, we found that clear and consistent regulations and relevant training programs are among the most important things a state can provide,” said Sander Daniels, co-founder of Thumbtack.com. “Idaho’s consistent attention to these factors allows the state to provide an environment in which businesses can succeed — making it no surprise that the state earned an ‘A+’ again this year.”
Rep. Frank Henderson, who gave up a prized seat on the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee so he could focus on business issues, wasn’t surprised by Idaho’s stellar grade, either. Henderson said that while tax rates are important, they aren’t the biggest.
“I have often had corporate executives say it is more valuable to them for a community to have a positive political climate than to have the absolutely lowest tax rate,” he said. “What they’re looking for is efficiency in government. The positive political environment provides that.”
Some of the survey’s key findings for Idaho were:
• Idaho earned an A+ for its overall small business friendliness and a No. 1 overall ranking for its licensing regulations.
• The state also received a No. 1 ranking for its training and networking programs.
• Nationally, professional licensing requirements were more important to small business owners than taxes in determining a state’s overall business-friendliness, confirming the findings from last year’s study.
• African-American and Hispanic small business owners were more likely than their white counterparts to encourage others to start a new business.
• The top ranking states overall were Utah, Alabama, New Hampshire, Idaho, and Texas. The lowest rated were Illinois, California, Hawaii, Maine and, in last place, Rhode Island.
• Idaho small business owners rated the state among the top 5 for its online business resources.
• The state’s lowest grades were a pair of A-’s for its zoning requirements and environmental regulations.
Steve Griffitts, president of Jobs Plus, Inc. — the region’s economic development agency — was pleased with the survey results. Like Henderson, he wasn’t surprised, though.
“Forbes also has us as a great place for small business,” Griffitts said while on a recruiting mission to Canada. “Our area and the state of Idaho excel in providing a haven for small businesses that emphasizes vibrancy, financial stability, and a fair and equitable tax structure. And, of course, a wonderful quality of life.”
For more on Thumbtack and the small business survey, go to: http://www.thumbtack.com/id/#2013/state
Idaho’s trade relationship with China is like the Great Wall; building it took time and patience, but it stands firm and strong, undoubtedly for countless generations to come. China is Idaho’s third largest export destination, with more than $650 million in annual sales exports and a trade surplus in Idaho’s favor. Chinese foreign investment in Idaho has brought hundreds of new jobs in recent years, such as a manufacturing plant in Pocatello in 2012.
That’s no accident; Governor Otter has a long history of contacts with China going back to his days as international businessman for Simplot. His predecessor, Governor Kempthorne, also took trade delegations to China, where Idaho has maintained a state trade office since 1998. I was fortunate to be part of one in 2002.
International trade relationships flourish best with a mutual understanding of culture, and our two are very different. American business people are used to speed: we get right to the point, we discuss potential terms in the first meeting, we “talk turkey” with frankness, bluntly mentioning money up front. In China, that can be considered rude.
The Chinese prefer a slow dance. Sure, all cultures are made of people, with the same basic financial interests, needs, and wants; but in China it’s about relationships first and foremost. They carefully cultivate trust and familiarity before getting to details. Introductions are made, welcomes exchanged, general information about each company shared. The first meeting is often limited to this. Meals are commonly hosted for this purpose; take care not to mention business until at least after the main course, preferably after all food, and let your host bring it up. In one case during a meal we had in Guangzhou, business (employee skills training) was not mentioned until after a shot of liquor following the meal (I honestly pleaded a weak belly; thank goodness I wasn’t a primary negotiator and could!).
No; all Chinese don’t drink and that only happened once, but the point is that we waited through a company tour and a long meal before the time came for terms. Then it did, frankly and with success, although it took a few more (straight-down-to-business, at that stage) discussions of the same terms to bring it to signed contracts. That, too, is a cultural norm.
Americans can go a little crazy waiting; we are not a patient culture. But when you think about it the Chinese approach has value. A relationship carefully invested in can better withstand strain and tests. If trust is established first, the inevitable little snags and unforeseen problems down the line are thus handled with more finesse; more benefit of the doubt is given when we know each other well before forming financial ties.
Knowing each other in other areas is the next phase of Chinese-Idaho relations. In early April the University of Idaho announced the coming establishment of a (jointly funded and co-directed) “Confucius Institute,” one of around 90 at American university campuses which promote the exchange of culture and sharing of Chinese language. Offerings vary and are tailored to local interests, but typically include for-credit and non-credit community courses, programs, and events. Originally these will be focused in Moscow, but interest is already brewing in Coeur d’Alene and theoretically there is no geographic boundary within the state for the institute’s educational and cultural activities.
I find it so interesting that so many Chinese, whether visiting here or receiving Americans abroad, either already know English or trouble to learn some before meeting us. We practically expect it. Yet how often do we reciprocate? I bought a phrase book before going; my attempts to say simple things such as “hello,” “how are you,” and “thank you” (no matter how badly I may have butchered pronunciation) were met with such warm pleasure and, sadly, surprise. Rarely do Americans make the smallest effort in this way (and with the Internet now it is so easy), so I was noticed for such meager attempts at politeness. It means so much to each and every human being when someone else shows even the most minor effort to understand him or her. That’s what good manners — in business and every area of life — are all about: simple courtesy. Seeing to another’s comforts before asserting our own.
The universal first step in a dance — in a relationship of any type or duration — from man’s oldest times has always been the greeting, and in any language greetings express caring.
Nin hao (hello; are you well?).
Sholeh Patrick, J.D., is a North Idaho Business Journal columnist who also writes regularly for the Coeur d’Alene and Post Falls Press.
The five North Idaho counties generally have many of the same large employing industries — health care, tourism and manufacturing. But each industry has its own unique character.
The most northern, Boundary, has more agricultural land than any of the others and has two vital border crossings to Canada.
Bonner County hosts several of the region’s aerospace manufacturers.
As the most urban, Kootenai brings a large mix of the three industries to the area.
The most rural, Shoshone, boasts mining.
Benewah’s major employers are the timber industry and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which also operates in Kootenai County.
The industry makeup in North Idaho has diversified over the past several decades — augmenting its natural resource powerbase.
Health care and social assistance has made the most notable advance in the region as the retiree population swells. Employment more than doubled from 4,220 in 1991 to 10,910 in 2011 to account for nearly 16 percent of the region’s total payroll. Three-quarters of this activity was in Kootenai County.
The industry has increased at a steady rate of 10 percent annually over the past 20 years — a considerably faster rate than other leading sectors like manufacturing with an annual growth rate of 2.5 percent and retail at 5.8 percent.
A healthy workforce is a more productive workforce so a strong regional health care network is vital to a region’s economy.
The region is becoming a health care hub with 175 more facilities than a decade ago. The activity and investments include the recent construction of the 30-bed Rehabilitation Hospital of the Northwest in Post Falls and the 16-bed assisted living facility, Sunset Homes, in Bonners Ferry. Another large medical office building is under construction south of the Kootenai Health campus.
Manufacturing has and still does play a vital role, but the dynamics are shifting. Two decades ago wood products manufacturing accounted for over half the manufacturing employment in the region. By 2011, it comprised only 23 percent. Smaller, more diverse, manufacturing operations have emerged — mostly fabricated metal shops.
Because of the recession, mills have diversified their market and become even more technologically advanced. The industry has managed to expand its workforce since the depths of the most recent recession. Technology and environmental restrictions have had an impact on loggers and logging operators. The number of operators has been declining since 1998. The number of people working in the industry over the past 20 years has dropped from a peak of 1,246 in 1993 to 471 in 2011.
Recently Ground Force Manufacturing has been expanding its share of the global market for the heavy mining industry equipment it manufactures. A bagged landscaping bark operation is settling into Bonners Ferry while companies such as Aerocet, Empire Aerospace/Airlines, LA Aluminum, Lightning Tool, Quest, Space Screw, Tamarack, Titan Spring and Unitech Composites reflect the region’s growing aerospace sector.
North Idaho’s diverse manufacturing industry is a major factor in generating a healthy regional economic base.
Tourism-related industries — retail trade, accommodation, food services and arts, entertainment and recreation — continue to employ the most people in the region, comprising nearly 30 percent of total employment in 2011. That is practically unchanged from 20 years ago.
The region lost 2,400 jobs in those industries to the recession — from the peak of 24,537 in 2008 to the trough of 22,153 in 2010.
Preliminary figures for 2012 indicate tourism has been on the mend, adding 530 jobs since 2010. Employment is expected to continue at this rate as more retail stores spring up and businesses expand. That is seen most recently in the 36-room expansion at the Kootenai River Inn in Bonners Ferry — to be completed in May — and in Coeur d’Alene the long-anticipated Winco development and the Marriott Hotel.
A variety of industries can be important to communities, especially when major industries are seasonal or cyclical like timber, tourism and mining. Diversity allows adaptation to fluctuations in the market and advances in technology. A diverse industrial make-up can help sustain additional employment opportunities in off seasons and cycles and create a greater variety of employment opportunities across the board. However, it is more difficult in rural areas to produce a diverse business environment.
Creating that diversity can also provide better opportunities for businesses through an improved supply chain. As business inputs are available locally, transportation costs are reduced and relationships help improve local demand for products and services.
Having a diverse industrial mix is not the only factor involved in creating a strong local economy, but it does help, particularly in rural communities.
Alivia Metts is the regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.
According to VeriSign, over 1 million new website addresses are registered every month – that’s over 40,000 per day.
As a business owner, you are aware of how important having a website is. Some businesses may have taken the “DIY” approach and either built the site themselves or had someone they knew put it together. Others have put quite a bit of money, time, and resources into getting their websites built and are very proud of the final product.
What many business owners overlook is the follow-through. It doesn’t matter how well-built your website is or how beautiful your website looks if no one is looking at it. The objective of having a website for your business is to be found, and to be found as often as possible.
How do consumers find their way through all these sites? The answer is search engines.
You’ve probably heard of Google, Yahoo, Bing, and others. These are the big players in the search engine business and millions use them daily to find everything from stock tips to sports cars.
Even if you’ve never thought about search engines before, these statistics illustrate how important it is for your site to be listed in them. But being listed isn’t enough; you also need to achieve a high ranking in the search results to benefit from the considerable amount of traffic they can send to your site.
Have you ever wondered why some sites turn up at the top of a search result while others are buried 10, 20 or 100 pages down? It is because some sites are not search engine friendly. Some sites are not “optimized,” and optimization is the most important aspect of your Internet marketing.
Organic Search Marketing is an effective strategy that results in competitive rankings for your site – leading to increased targeted traffic. Unlike paid search marketing, organic search marketing will help your site be ranked in the search results rather than the paid links section.
Search marketing delivers ongoing ROI.
Sure, it is good to get some quick wins and early traffic to your site with Paid Search, but to run and win in the longer race you need strategic, sustained and quality search marketing.
You need SEO – Search Engine Optimization. SEO techniques deliver continued results and ROI on your online marketing expense. What is it that your business needs to market effectively online and enhance your revenues significantly?
Mend the holes in your copy.
Never before has quality copy been so important. Randomly examine a number of sites that you browse regularly. If these are sites that actually encourage you to take the desired actions, they are most definitely good content sites. Mind you, “good” does not necessarily mean “a lot”. What it does mean is “compelling”.
A landing page of 250 words can drive more qualified leads and conversions than a 700-word, badly written, long scrolling page of little value. Likewise, a “scanty” page that says very little and does not tell the visitor what to do next or persuade a buying action is of no use either.
As search engines refine their algorithms and place greater importance on useful, meaningful, well written copy that is SEO-friendly, the savvy Internet marketers are winning with words! You can too. Your Web copy can be polished up to drive good search results and quality conversions. This takes a lot of time and must be done continuously.
To help you move your business to the next level, you can’t simply do it yourself. Larger companies have entire departments dedicated to Internet marketing. Don’t let your website go to waste. Find a qualified and experienced Internet Marketing Consultant and they will guide your “website to the top, naturally.”
Mike Alexander is the Digital Advertising Director for The Coeur d’Alene Press and WSI Media One CDA (cdainternetmarketing.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 664-8176 ext. 1013.
Dr. Stephen Craig founded North Idaho Dermatology of Coeur d’Alene in 1999 with a small office and one part-time nurse. His dream, from the very beginning, was to help heal people.
Today North Idaho Dermatology has helped heal between 60,000 and 75,000 patients across the Inland Northwest, with offices in Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint, Liberty Lake, and Moscow.
“Serving the people of the Coeur d’Alene area is the best thing I have ever done,” Dr. Craig.
“Dr. Craig feels like the reason he was sent here was to heal people,” said Chief Operating Officer Aaron Nicholes, who describes himself as the “engineer shoveling coal and tightening bolts” for the comprehensive medical and cosmetic dermatology practice. “He is committed to healing others, as all the providers are.”
More than 60 professionals comprise the North Idaho Dermatology staff, including four full-time dermatologists and four midlevel providers (nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant), as well as five full-time cosmetic specialists.
“One of my goals was to offer a full-service dermatology clinic,” said Dr. Craig. The headquarters for North Idaho Dermatology, located at 2288 Merritt Creek Loop in Riverstone of Coeur d’Alene, fulfills Dr. Craig’s goal of providing patients a center with every dermatologic therapy possible.
On an average day, North Idaho Dermatology treats 80 to 100 patients. That amount doubles to 200 on a busy day. Even so, NID makes it a priority to regard every patient on an individual basis.
“We try hard to make this place feel like family, with our employees and patients,” said Nicholes. “Everyone’s been to the doctor where they feel like they’ve been a number, like they’ve been shuffled through a system.”
Creating a strong culture of excellence where every staff member cares for each patient, says Nicholes, avoids the scenario where patients feel they are another name on a medical chart.
A patient, identified as “C.N.” from Coeur d’Alene, seconds the sentiment: “Your entire staff loves what they are doing. Everyone was happy and smiling and very chipper. I never felt like I was ‘just another patient.’ I was very impressed how patient-oriented NID was, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. How often can you say that about a doctor’s office?”
Nicholes believes North Idaho Dermatology is a vital service to the community.
“Medicine is one of the last things people cut,” said Nicholes. “We take care of skin cancers. That’s our main business. When someone is looking at their budget, deciding not to go to the dermatologist to have a follow-up on their cancer is probably the last thing to get cut. They’re going to cut their groceries before they cut their health.”
Early detection and eradication are their utmost objectives.
“That’s what we do all day,” said Nicholes. “There is never a day where we don’t discover and diagnose a cancer that someone didn’t know about before they walked in. Saving lives is a common but extraordinary event.”
Many patients bring in gifts of gratitude — a plate of cookies, flowers, fruit, a handwritten note — following a successful surgery. But early diagnosis is the best prescription for success.
People should receive a full-body skin check once a year, recommends Nicholes, explaining how skin cancer can grow anywhere — behind your ear, on your scalp, or under your hair.
Sometimes it’s too late.
“I’ll tell you a sad one. One young mother in her early 20s came in and thought she just had something funny on her, a discoloration of her skin,” Nicholes said. “It was melanoma and it had spread. Within weeks she was gone. She left behind a husband and a baby.”
NID wants to reach those people through the rippling effect of strong communication.
“There is just constant communication here. The collegial atmosphere — they are friends, they like each other, use each other and refer to each other,” said Nicholes. “We have lots of meetings and training sessions — as much as just in the hallway, on-the-fly communication as well.”
The communication shows.
“It’s the best place I’ve ever worked,” said Nursing Department Administrative Assistant Nancy Loken. “And I’ve worked a lot of places. I’ve never been able to say I love my job, and I love my job. I love the environment. I love the people I work with; I love the camaraderie and the team work all the way up to Dr. Craig who doesn’t set himself above us. He’s a part of us.”
“They are my family,” agreed Amy Hart. “We have a good time, we get things done, we take care of our patients. It feels, as a single woman, a secure and stable place for me to be and still continue to grow in my personal life, like buy a house and be a mom to my two chocolate labs.”
When employees and patients are happy, Nicholes feels like he’s accomplishing his job.
“If we’re doing that and providing services and we’re profitable and can continue to operate, so that not only people can get cured of their cancers but other employees can feed their families and pay their mortgages, everyone wins,” said Nicholes.
Growth comes from multi-faceted marketing, Dr. Craig said.
“We use the newspaper. It has a really good ability to build top of mind awareness.”
“We have an ad that’s a banner,” chimed in Nicholes. “We do lots of new marketing — mobile marketing, text messaging, Facebook contests, and all kinds of social media. We like to try new stuff as well — health fairs, barbecues, and speaking appointments.”
Patients see the difference. Interns see the difference. Employees see the difference.
“People watch what we do and how we do it,” Loken said, “and they’re in awe of it. Patients will say, ‘Everybody seems so happy here and it’s genuine.’
“What you see is what we are. It’s like a family. When good things happen, we are there, and when bad things happen, we are there.”
It can happen to even the most seasoned of business owners: Habit.
As the world seems to spin continually faster, demands on time and energy seem to increase exponentially until it’s all one can do to tread water before collapsing at the end of the day. So we fall into, and depend blindly upon, habits.
Meanwhile, customers change. Their needs, interests, and perceived purchasing limits change and with it their attention sways from where you want it: squarely focused on your product or service. So every once in a while it’s good to take stock of marketing strategy and its foundation: the customer.
A few tips and reminders from an informal research survey of marketing experts:
1. Trading places: Know your customer.
Sounds simple, but whether your business is new or well established, don’t rest on your laurels. Who most needs or wants your product today, and why? Maybe that’s changed in 10 years, or even two.
Imagine their lives, schedules, and what they’d respond to – from their perspective, not yours. Is it a busy, working parent? Young, old, or middle aged? Concerned more about time, cost, or convenience – or a balance of those? If a service, what would most convince this person to pick your business (testimonials, certifications, on-site/no-fee come-to-you offers, weekend hours)? One way to get to know your customers is to ask those you have for feedback; but make it convenient for them, not time-consuming.
2. Fifteen minutes of fame.
Follow customers’ lives by watching for them in the newspaper. Local papers make a point of name-dropping, photos, and community connections to appeal to readers, so you may see your customers featured. Make a point of letting them know you noticed, and care. They’ll feel a more two-sided, personal connection with your business and want to be loyal.
When you read about them, display big accomplishments by your customers, not just your own business, prominently. Add other personal touches like keeping track of birthdays and acknowledging them with a special “birthday coupon.”
Ask to use satisfied customers’ likenesses in ads, with quotes if possible. Locals like to see locals and tend to trust them more.
3. Simple, consistent messages.
Offer each customer (and potential customer) a brief, bullet-style fact sheet (each item just a few words) that shows your expertise in making this product or service, its superiority, and benefits.
Hand it out with receipts and thank-yous; have it by the register. Convert parts of the fact sheet into newspaper print and Web ads so the same fact list repeats, sticking in customers’ minds like slogans. Reward referrals, at minimum with a thank-you card.
4. Take advantage of current events.
Stay abreast of local and current events and tie your brand to it by offering related specials, placing ads with discounts, well-wishes, or congratulations. Linking to well-known and locally respected groups adds credibility. Associating with World Series or election fever keeps your brand in the community’s mind beyond your industry.
5. Give and get back.
Sponsoring charitable fundraisers, with cash, facility donation, employee time (make sure they wear your brand), or free products tells customers you care and keeps them thinking of you when they decide to purchase or refer. People want to help those who help others, and businesses get advertising benefits with sponsor listings at events, often quite prominently.
While not charity, don’t forget people with disabilities. As stereotypes dismantle and education spreads business owners are wising up to this historically underappreciated market share. A little accommodation can earn loyal and lucrative new customers.
6. Become an expert.
Associating expertise with your brand adds trust and marketing power. When it relates to current news (editors know carefully disguised advertising when they see it, so make it relevant), send letters to the editor covering topics related to your industry.
Educate yourself on the latest in your industry, then perhaps offer free seminars to the public. Advertising these doubles as another brand reminder. Be sure even your “lowest” employee is well-versed in your product or service. Customers are more impressed if their questions can be answered immediately.
7. Be a joiner.
Part of this goes under “caring,” part under “branding,” and the rest is just smart. People make your business; chambers of commerce, associations (check your local library to find them), even social clubs help make connections for mutual benefit and education. Chambers do more than connect businesses with each other and the community; they lobby for favorable business laws, connect with local colleges and training for a ready workforce, and discuss common concerns and solutions especially for small business owners.
In the people arena, don’t forget employees. They’re your first ambassadors, so if they feel ignored, unappreciated, or under-equipped (in information as well as tools) your customers will feel it and avoid your business.
8. Try the buddy marketing system.
Think a big ad is too expensive? Think again. Aside from special offers and negotiations with ad reps, teaming up can cut costs in half. Is there a product or service that is compatible with yours, perhaps on the way up or down the chain of customer use?
A restaurant and theater company might advertise a “dinner and a play” special with coupon-ad. Tires and oil changes at the business next door? How about wine and flower shops teaming up for a “date” ad, featuring a handsome local with one in each hand at her door? Possibilities are endless, and the power of suggestion mighty.
Whatever your marketing approach, try shaking it up a little. Customers will sit up and notice.
Despite low employment levels, construction is slowly digging its way out of the depths of the recession.
Significant population growth spurred more construction workers to settle in Kootenai County during the first half of the decade. High employment and population levels soon gave way to grim declines in employment and slower population growth through the most recent economic contraction.
Over half the people working in construction were victims of the bursting housing bubble. Since hitting bottom in 2009, the data show construction employment still declining in Kootenai County year over year but at a much slower rate.
Employment levels dropped 22 percent in 2009. The erosion slowed to 14 percent in 2010 and then to just 8 percent in 2011.
Where it stands, employment is near the levels of the mid-1990s and well below the peak of the housing boom.
Business activity spurred employment in building construction as it continues to rebound and is the only subsector of the industry which saw near-growth levels for the first time since the recession began in 2007, hovering around zero by 2011. Heavy and civil engineering construction escaped further bruising during this period with the assistance of many stimulus-funded projects.
While construction employment is still down overall in Kootenai County, The Conference Board’s Help Wanted OnLine report found a 35 percent increase in job ad activity from 2011 to 2012, signs of improvement on the job front.
The housing collapse produced an excess supply of homes that combined with a flood of foreclosures, and residential construction withered. Total residential building permits declined 62 percent in Kootenai County from 1,661 in 2007 to 623 in 2011.
However, preliminary 2012 figures suggest an improvement with permits increasing to 848 total housing units throughout the year.
Though those numbers tend to be lagging indicators of the industry, leading indicators include consumer and building confidence, interest rates and building material costs.
According to the Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, building confidence is at its highest level since 2006 and, until last month, has consistently posted gains for eight consecutive months.
A combination of higher consumer confidence, now at pre-recession levels, and low interest rates have resulted in receding inventories. Lumber prices have been on the rise, which is a sign that the housing market is gaining strength.
Construction activity will continue to gain traction throughout Kootenai County as the housing and commercial markets continue to recover and construction employment mends from its depths.
Alivia Metts is regional economist for the Idaho Department of Labor.
The body twitched.
Did you see it?
Commercial real estate activity, reflecting the lifeblood of a region’s economy, might be rising from its dormancy if not its deathbed.
“There’s life being breathed into commercial real estate in the region,” concluded Joe Fabiano, vice president of commercial sales with Windermere Coeur d’Alene Realty.
Fabiano said outside investor interest is growing, almost across the board — for offices, retail, multi-family, and land for future development.
“The spark seems to be coming from some of the depressed real estate areas, like Arizona, Nevada and southern California,” he said. “The predominant buyer profiles and inquiries are coming from those areas.”
Fabiano said commercial real estate development and investment are key to the local economy, even though investment takes different forms at different times. He said our region isn’t lucky enough to boast scores of big corporate offices packed with high-salary jobs and massive economic multipliers, which puts more pressure on small businesses and the service industry to stoke the region’s fiscal engine.
“In a thin economy like ours that’s even more important,” he said.
Fabiano subscribes to the theory that low interest rates will continue to encourage real estate investment, and that for a change, a little bit of uncertainty can go a long way down the investment path. He cited prospective changes in capital gains and IRS 1031 Reinvestment Provision laws as two potentially positive drivers.
“The nervousness has created some incentive for people to move some money around,” he said.
Here’s how Fabiano assessed the state of four key areas of commercial investment:
- Commercial land: Buyer’s market. Supply exceeds demand.
- Multi-family housing: Seller’s market. Demand exceeds supply.
- Retail – lease: Buyer’s market. Recession has left plenty of inventory.
- Offices: Buyer’s market. Recession has left plenty of inventory.