An Independent Monthly Newsmagazine Serving the Community since 1989

The Gauntlet

Politicians to speak at business conference

The New Mexico Rural Alliance Economic Development Forum, the New Mexico Economic Development Department, and the New Mexico Industrial Development Executives Association are joining forces to sponsor a major business conference this August. The 2002 Economic Vitality Summit will highlight issues of concern to business and local communities. The summit’s agenda will include discussions about water and economic development, education and workforce, security impacts on the economic development climate, and ways to market New Mexico.

Senator Pete Domenici will be a featured guest speaker at the conference, as will the two major party candidates for governor, Bill Richardson and John Sanchez. Conference chairman Pat Vanderpool says, “This conference is meant to bring the business and elected leaders together to talk about New Mexico’s economic development future.

To register, call 888-0080 or go to www.summit.nm.org.

 

How to save hometown businesses

Ty Belknap

An Utne Reader article entitled “Homegrown Economics—Local businesses stay ahead of the game,” written by Stacy Mitchell, research associate for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, features the Boulder Independent Business Alliance, a pioneering coalition of nearly 150 locally owned businesses determined to defend the city’s homegrown economy from being taken over by out-of-town chains.

Mitchell points out that since 1990 more than thirteen thousand locally owned pharmacies have closed, the market share of independent bookstores has fallen from 58 percent in 1972 to just 15 percent today, and Home Depot and Lowe’s have captured one third of the hardware market. She adds that five companies account for about 42 percent of all grocery sales, that Blockbuster Video rents one of every three videos nationwide, and that Wal-Mart captures 7 percent of all consumer spending.

With another Wal-Mart Superstore imminent in Rio Rancho, our community stands on the brink of a globalized loss of hometown businesses signaling a threat to our sense of place and community.

We sent the Utne Reader issue to Greater Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce president Fawn Dolan, who had this to say about the “Homegrown Economics” article:

“I love the idea of joint, collaborative advertising to inform shoppers of alternatives to big box retailers. I also love the idea of organizing small businesses into advocates for equal rights with local government policies. Small businesses should get tax breaks and incentives instead of the big guys who can afford it from day one. If small businesses and women-owned businesses are the backbone of the economy, where are the perks, where is the incentive? We work hard, long hours for years before many of us see a payoff or a steady check. In the interim, we burn out, lose good help that was hard to find in the first place, and are forced or exhausted enough to close our doors.

The other side is that small-business owners can be their own worst enemy. I know many small-business owners who are uninformed, who don’t read the papers, who are too overwhelmed to get involved in organizations where they can network and get positive feedback and moral support. They become prisoners to the dream they had that would set them free from corporate life or home life or the routine of 8 to 5. I’ve also been in small shops where the proprietor or employee won’t get off the phone long enough to acknowledge your existence or offer his or her help. Small businesses have to realize that they have to work harder to obtain and sustain customer loyalty. They also have to realize that they are in a wonderful position to nurture the customer service end of business—they can make amends immediately if there is a real or perceived slight without waiting for the complaint to go through the “proper channels.” They can make changes in policy, ordering, hours, and any other aspect of business keeping them on the cutting edge, if they listen and respond to customer feedback. The big guys get stuck in the muck when it comes to adapting to change—look at Kmart, Wards, Home Base. The small-business owner is lithe and quick on his or her feet—as long as they aren’t so exhausted or numb to care.

As small-business owners, we have to realize that the adage “Build it and they will come” only works on the big screen. Our mantra needs to be “Build it and they may come.” Provide quality customer service, above and beyond their expectations, and they may come back.”

The Utne Reader article offers these tips to small businesses:

1) Shift as much of your spending as you can to locally owned business. Don’t assume that this will mean paying more. Many independents offer “frequent buyer” discounts, and some will match a competitor’s price if you ask.

2) Educate your friends and neighbors. Most people don’t realize how shopping at independent stores can benefit their community. Write letters to the editor. Organize an educational event or demonstration in a busy part of town or in front of a prominent chain store.

3) Encourage local nonprofits and community groups to turn concern for locally owned businesses into part of their mission. Such organizations have an inherent interest in maintaining local businesses and vibrant downtowns.

4) Talk with local business owners. Find out what their challenges are and how the community can support them.

5) Organize against any sprawling corporate retail developments planned for your community. For help and information, contact Sprawl-Busters at www.sprawl-busters.com.

6) Advocate for new rules. To insure the long-term survival of community based enterprises, we’ll have to rewrite public policy, particularly planning and zoning ordinances, so that they support local businesses, not large corporations.

Stacy Mitchell produces an electronic newsletter at www.newrules.org to support locally owned businesses. For local information, contact the Greater Bernalillo Chamber of Commerce at 867-1185, www.bernalillochamber.org, or the Placitas Chamber of Commerce at 867-3011, www.placitaschamber.com.

 

Windmill Mercantile closing August 31

Ty Belknap

The Windmill Mercantile was a good idea. Anyone who has built a house or taken on a plumbing project in Placitas knows how frustrating it is to lose hours of work because of another run into town for tools, parts, or lumber. There was always something you had forgotten. Joe Neas knew the problem well, and he had a pretty good idea from years of experience just what items might save residents a little more time for whatever project they might be working on.

Susan Neas had been working at her parents’ Acoma Pet Center since she was five years old. When the store closed in 1995, she found herself out of the retail business for the first time in her life. The Neas family opened a store on a rare piece of Placitas commercial property that they owned, and worked hard to provide the personal service and convenience of a local mercantile store. Last month they announced that after three and a half years, the Windmill Mercantile would close on August 31 due to lack of business.

Apparently, people chose to save a few bucks at Wal-Mart, Home Depot, or some other giant chain store when shopping for hardware, plumbing supplies, propane, kerosene, pet supplies, feed, lawn and garden supplies, tools, flags, greeting cards, art work, crafts, bath oils, fancy soap, keys, work gloves, and sunglasses. Now they have no choice.

Susan said that they had no hard feelings and that they had quite a few loyal customers. “We gave it our best shot. Business just started to fall off every year, and this past year with the economy so bad, people are buying less and trying to stretch their dollars further. They can buy some items at the big stores for less that we got at wholesale. When we started dipping into our savings to keep the place going we decided that it was time to quit. I never did give myself a paycheck. Luckily, Joe’s business [backhoe and well service] has been good.”

The Windmill was constantly adding new lines of products over the years in an effort to fill the shopping niche that should have been there somewhere. Now that it’s closing, people can go see what they were missing and at the same time find reduced prices on an incredible array of great stuff.

Susan says that she’s finished with the retail business. Joe is getting out of providing well service to the subdivisions and is now building some residential rentals in Placitas. They don’t know at this point what the Windmill building will be used for. “Our perspectives have changed over the last couple of years,” explained Susan. “The Windmill wasn’t about making a lot of money, but when it wasn’t making any, we decided that we’d rather have more time for family and volunteer work.”

 

 

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