Long Branch Business News Portraits of Long Branch Business
Community Thrift Store’s James Wilt Community Thrift Store sells just about everything: clothing, household items, furniture. The store is clean and wellorganized. The staff is pleasant. Business is going well.
And yet a year ago, when James Wilt first came on board as the new manager, having just moved to the area from his native West Virginia, Community Thrift was in trouble.
Volume 5, Issue 1
Sales were low. Losses from theft were averaging almost 20 percent of sales volume. Children were running around out of control. Even adult customers sometimes behaved inappropriately. There was a group that loitered all day in the furniture department, drinking and turning the store into their personal club house. And those were the easy problems. The tough one was location. Community Thrift isn’t located at street level. It’s on a second floor. It is well known that second-story retail is difficult. “There are no spontaneous shoppers,” Wilt explained. “You know, people just walking by? And people don’t like to walk up stairs!” For the record, the store does have an elevator. Wilt didn’t have the option of moving to a first floor, so he focused on what he could change, starting with employees’ expectations about excellence and customer service. His first day on the job, Wilt said, he gave his employees a pep talk. He asked for loyalty and honesty, and made clear that he would accept nothing less. He also brought in some new policies. Customers who misbehaved would be asked to leave. Children had to be
Next Business League Meeting Wednesday, Dec. 7! supervised. The store had to be clean, pleasant, and well-organized.
(details, back cover)
The new policies were put into action right away. Some didn’t like the changes. “Our store took a 20% loss in the first three months,” Wilt said, frowning. Instead of despairing, Wilt took to the streets with his marketing campaign. He visited apartment buildings to hand out flyers, and discovered that many people in the neighborhood had no idea his store even existed. He spent several weeks at metro stops handing out coupons – simple bilingual coupons that he made himself, with a little map and picture of the store on one side, the coupon on the other. If you bought $5 worth of merchandise, you got $2 more for free. Wilt dressed up in a Gumby costume and handed out toys – mainly stuffed animals – to children in the (See James Wilt, back cover)
Frogs hanging out at new Flower Avenue Market (story, p. 2)
INSIDE … New Street Market!
Learning from NoMa
Laundry, Love, etc.
Making Streets Live: Learning from NoMa When the Flower Avenue Holiday Market opened Nov. 26, it added a much-needed splash of color, variety and life to Long Branch. Funny thing is, once people succeed in adding life to one area, it makes you want to find ways to add more! As it happens, that was exactly the theme of the September Long Branch Business League meeting. Its main speaker, Rachel Davis, described how her group adds beauty and fun activities to something called the North of Massachusetts Business Improvement District (or NoMa BID). NoMa is located just north of Union Station in Washington, DC. A BID is a service organization that collects fees from property owners in order to make an area more attractive and commercially successful. They normally operate in areas that, unlike Long Branch, have lots of big office buildings. No way we can ever match their budget. But we can still learn from them. Davis, the group’s marketing expert, said that when the NoMa BID was first created in 2007, the neighborhood was scary and dangerous. It was full of pot holes, broken fences, vacant lots and trash. Their challenges were far greater than those of Long Branch. Their first priority was to pick up trash and remove or repair anything broken. Then they planted flowers. Then they tried to make people feel welcome, and
Rachel Davis heads up marketing for the NoMa Business Improvement District in D.C.
helped strangers find their way, with full-time on-the-street staff members called ‘Ambassadors.’ Davis stressed that volunteer effort can substitute for ready cash: the more volunteers you have, the less you need cash. (Are there volunteers out there willing to be Long Branch ambassadors, to greet folks who look lost, or help keep streets clean?) Today the BID concentrates on bringing public spaces to life. Davis and her team organize outdoor movies, farmers markets and lots of lunch time
“ In Long Branch there is plenty of room for public art ... ”
concerts. For the concerts, Davis’s team places folding chairs on the sidewalk (and wherever else they can squeeze a few in: the NoMa area has no public squares or parks) so employees and passers-by can relax and listen to the music. Locals love pop, jazz, R&B and Motown, but are allergic to Country. As for Long Branch, if the experience of El Golfo Restaurant is any indication, local music tastes include, at the very least, both jazz and traditional Latin American guitar styles and ballads.
Musicians of any style interested in enlivening the Holiday Market should contact market manager Chris Lancette at Chris@orionsattic.com. Perhaps local stores can also lend the market some folding chairs. Davis works with a wide variety of arts groups to bring programming to the NoMa neighborhood. A theater group performs plays. Another group hands out Irish books on St. Patrick’s Day. Davis also organized an art exhibit of photographs and stories in the windows of a vacant retail space, which got good press and cost almost nothing: just the price of printing the images and stories. In Long Branch there is plenty of room for public art. In fact, a few local artists have recently begun to express interest in using Long Branch walls or windows as their canvass. More flowers have already been added by property owners Greg Fernebok and Charlotte Wolpoff, but here again volunteers are needed to keep flowers watered and cared for, especially in the summer.
Flower Avenue Holiday Market Opens On Saturday, Nov. 26 the Flower Avenue Holiday Market opened in the formerly empty parking lot at the corner of Flower Avenue and Arliss Street in Long Branch, courtesy of property owner Greg Fernebok. The market, hosted by Orion’s Attic, will be open every Saturday through December 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Page 2
Orion’s Attic co-owner Chris Lancette says that he wants the market to bring together the whole community for both fun and shopping. He is actively seeking more vendors, especially people who sell antiques, collectibles and home décor. Learn more at www.orionsattic.com or email Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Long Branch Business News
Long Branch Energy Study Shows Savings Potential (Part II of series) At the request of the Business League, a local energy audit company recently did a quick survey of several Long Branch businesses. These were not full audits. The goal was to look for some easy ways Long Branch businesses could save money. These ‘mini-audits’ were performed by Reuven Walder, co-founder and V.P. of the award-winning local energy auditing firm ecobeco, which normally audits homes and apartments. As a result of his walkthrough of several Long Branch businesses (including a Laundromat, a restaurant and a few retail stores) Walder came up with several recommendations.
Get a Green Energy Provider According to Walder, Long Branch stores could save on electricity costs if they switched to a lower cost energy generation source. Your store’s electricity bill actually covers two separate costs: electricity distribution, which is always done by Pepco, and electricity generation, which can be provided by a variety of different companies, of your own free choice. Walder recommends that several Long Branch stores get together as a group and change to a lower cost ‘green’ provider, such as Clean Currents. Groups get a lower rate than a single store. Companies like Clean Currents also provide help with publicity, for example by providing free signs. You could have a sign advertising your Long Branch Laundromat as running on 100% wind power! The Long Branch Business League meeting on Dec. 7th will be a great opportunity to talk about taking this step as a group.
Volume 5, Issue 1
Plug ‘Leaky’ Appliances Many electric appliances, particularly older ones, use energy even when not in use. This can happen with everything from audio systems to microwave and even standard ovens. From what he saw in Long Branch, Walder suspects that business owners could save money by unplugging some of their older appliances when not in use. Unplugging things all the time is not very convenient, of course, so Walder suggested a few solutions: •
An inexpensive ($40) Kill-a-Watt meter can be used to find out which appliances are wasting energy
get a ‘smart strip’ which lets you easily cut power to such appliances when not in use
Lighting Warm light and good atmosphere are particularly important for restaurants and clothing stores, of which we have several in Long Branch. If you’re considering upgrading your lighting system, Walder recommends taking a look at the new LED light bulbs: “They have a nice mood and you can leave them on 24 hours a day, and they’ll last for 10 years.” They are also the most energy efficient bulb on the market, and they’re environmentally safe.
ecobeco Although, as noted, ecobeco normally performs energy audits in homes and apartments, audits of small businesses are an area of potential expansion for the firm. But Walder says he also just has a soft spot for Long Branch. “I like Long Branch,” he told the Newsletter. “It’s very cultural and quaint and it deserves some attention in terms of energy efficiency.”
Las Noticias “Mercadito” El sábado 26 de noviembre se inauguró el Mercadito al aire libre en el estacionamiento localizado en la Avenida Flower y la Calle Arliss. El Sr. Chris Lancette, quien habla español y es co-propietario de Orion’s Attic expreso que el propósito del Mercadito es cautivar a toda la comunidad con el fin de compartir momentos de diversión durante sus compras navideñas. Este Mercadito estará abierto todos los sábados de las 9 a.m. a las 4 p.m. hasta el día de Navidad. Al momento, el Sr. Lancett desea integrar al Mercadito más artistas, músicos y vendedores de artículos de antigüedad. Puede comunicarse con el Sr. Lancette al correo electrónico email@example.com
Ahorro en Costos de Energía En noviembre, la empresa local de auditoría de energía, ecobeco realizó de forma gratuita una mini “auditoria” en varias tiendas y restaurantes de Long Branch en búsqueda de formas de ahorrar dinero. Las recomendaciones de ecobeco incluyeron el utilizar luces LED siempre que sea posible y utilizar un artefacto especial llamado “Kill-aWatt" para determinar cual de sus electrodomésticos utiliza electricidad aún cuando no está en uso. La empresa también sugirió a las tiendas de Long Branch negociar como grupo un generador de energía como el conocido "Clean Currents" con el fin de conseguir tarifas más económicas. Para mayor información, favor de acompañarnos a la reunión de la Asociación de Negocios de Long Branch pautada para el día 7 de diciembre. (Nota: La agenda de dicha reunión se encuentra en la parte superior de la página 4).
December 7 Business League Meeting !
Good Management ... (James Wilt, from page 1)
Agenda de la Reunión de Negocios de Long Branch
Mercadeo de redes sociales, etc.
‘Guerilla’ and Social Marketing
Nuevo mercadito en la Flower Avenue
New Market on Flower Ave.
Discusión de la Línea Morada (con Michael Madden, MTA)
Discuss Purple Line changes with Michael Madden (MTA)
Cooperating to save on electricity costs
Cooperando para ahorar costos de energía
Miercoles, 7 Dec. 9:00 am—10:30 am Cyber Web Latino 8703 Flower Ave.
Wednesday, Dec. 7 9:00—10:30 a.m. Cyber Web Latino 8703 Flower Ave.
Laundromats, Long Branch, and Relationships Recently the Newsletter happened to come across Maryland State Comptroller Peter Franchot, neatly dressed in a dark suit and red tie, picking up his weekly load of household laundry at Spin Cycle Laundry on Flower Ave. “Mr. Franchot!” the reporter exclaimed. “Surely you have a laundry machine at home?” “Yes, I do,” he replied. “But my wife also works. I’ve achieved domestic bliss through this laundry service. And Kim [the owner] does a great job.” In fact, a growing number of suburban Marylanders are bringing their laundry to Long Branch’s friendly full-service Laundromats. Some of these clients come from as far away as Bowie, Md. and beyond. It’s not surprising. Many locals hold stressful commuter jobs all over Greater Washington D.C. After battling through traffic jams morning and evening, then rushing to the store, then rushing to cook dinner, there’s not much time left for doing laundry. The success of this business model depends, it seems, on having an
experienced and dedicated staff. At both Spin Cycle (soon to be renamed Rainbow Laundry) and Wishy-Wash they sort clothes by color and preferred detergent, then wash and fold and have everything ready for pick up the same day. Clients frequently leave detailed instructions that the Laundromats keep on file for reference. To be sure, all Long Branch’s Laundromats depend on their regulars – locals who do their own laundry. These do-it-yourselfers account for the majority of their business volume. Nonetheless, about a fourth of Spin Cycle’s customers drop off their laundry, and the number is growing. Wishy Wash likewise has hundreds of drop-off customers.
MegaMart parking lot. He dressed up as Santa and handed out toys in front of the Bank of America on Flower Avenue. All the toys came with a coupon attached. Parents started showing up. Wilt even knows which locations worked best because his coupons were numbered and dated. Wilt’s smart strategy and hard work paid off. Sales are up by 30% for the year, and in recent months by even more. Part of his success strategy, Wilt said, is refusing to take short cuts. There are ways to quickly increase sales in the short run that are disastrous in the long run. For example, selling clothing wholesale. “You shouldn’t sell bulk in a thrift store,” Wilt said. “It isn’t sustainable.” It pays to be patient and sell items for a higher price. All the same, Community Thrift has lots of bargains. You might find lightly used Gucci, Coach and Louis Vuitton handbags, or Prada shoes, or Armani suits, all for a fraction of their prices new. Women’s blue jeans are their largest seller, followed by women’s evening gowns and dresses. Men’s slacks and business suits are also popular. “It’s definitely a place to do Christmas shopping,” Wilt said.
What is more, Wishy Wash’s owner Rick Mollica says that at least four or five times a year he is told by clients that his laundry service has saved the marriage. “And one guy,” recalled Mollica, “said he had to make cut-backs because of the tough economy, so he told his wife: ‘You can keep the house cleaning service or you can keep the laundry service, but not both.” She kept the laundry service.
A Community Thrift is located at 706 University Blvd. E, above MegaMart
Long Branch Business News, a quarterly publication Paul Grenier, Editor 301-622-2400, x 41 pgrenier@MHPartners.org
Long Branch Business League NL Dec 2011