Is the Surface Creek Valley open for business?
That was a question on the minds of those who attended a community meeting co-hosted by the Town of Cedaredge and the Cedaredge Area Chamber of Commerce recently, where the results of the consumer/business survey were revealed and priorities discussed. The goal of the 2018 Surface Creek Consumer & Business Survey was twofold, asking first for feedback from consumers on how area businesses can improve and earn more of the consumer's dollars. The second part of the survey asked business owners or managers to give feedback on how the town or the chamber could be more effective at supporting new and existing businesses.
"Overwhelmingly, we heard that consumers want to shop locally, but one of the bigger barriers is that businesses aren't open when consumers are available to shop," said Kami Collins, executive director of the chamber. As one survey respondent put it, "Open your businesses. If you want people to purchase, be open when I want to shop or eat." One meeting attendee said it seems as if the Surface Creek Valley closes at 5 p.m., which makes it difficult for much of the community to support local businesses -- even though they want to.
On the other hand, noted a business owner, it goes both ways. If a business offers extended hours and no one shows up, business owners not only get hit in the wallet with extra costs (and no extra revenue coming in) but they also get discouraged and can be reluctant to try new things down the road.
"It's definitely a catch-22," Collins said. "But this came up so often within both the survey and at the meeting that it's obviously a priority for our community, and so it's something we need to work on."
Hand in hand with the response of more availability on business hours was the request for better customer service. One of the survey questions asked why people chose to patronize local businesses, rather than shopping elsewhere in Delta County or shopping online. "Make friendly customer service the number one priority," one survey respondent wrote. "Poor service and unfriendly staff are the two reasons we do not spend money with some of the local businesses."
That sentiment was given time and again within the survey, said Greg Brinck, Cedaredge town administrator. "People speak with their dollars. If they go into a business and aren't greeted with a smile and a welcome, if the staff is rude, if the store is dirty, or if it takes too long to get your water glass refilled at dinner, people walk. And they take their money with them. We heard from consumers that if businesses want to keep that money in the Surface Creek, we all need to get better at customer service." Several comments were made at the meeting and within the survey that consumers would like to shop locally more often out of convenience, but that businesses have to offer something more than just being the convenient option, Brinck added.
He also noted that there was not any surprising or new information that came from the survey, but that the results verified the anecdotal comments both entities hear often. "We hear a lot that prices are high and that customer service could be better," he said. "Those are obstacles the town and the chamber will work with our business community to overcome." One woman who attended the meeting said, "You might remind businesses that customer service doesn't cost a thing!"
Collins also noted that they didn't get a ton of feedback from business owners/managers on services they'd like to see from the town and chamber, but the feedback they did get are things both entities are actively working to address.
As with any survey, the results are only beneficial if stakeholders take action steps to address service gaps, Brinck said. The town and the chamber each plan to enhance their services to the business community. One issue is signage within Cedaredge, pointing locals and visitors to public parking and downtown businesses. The town is currently working on its wayfinding signage project as finances allow. He and Collins also plan to begin visiting with businesses to share some of the survey feedback, and during those conversations will address specifically the issues of customer service and business hours.
"We hope to work with businesses on better promoting their business, overcoming some of the misconceptions about their price point or inventory selection, enhancing what they have to offer and connecting businesses to more educational opportunities for both owners and their staff," Collins said.
Mitchell Gronenthal, owner of Cedaredge business Reve Portraits and the president of the board of directors for the chamber, noted that his organization, too, was unsurprised by the survey results, specifically regarding the chamber's services. "We do recognize that we can do better for our members," he said.
He added that one problem facing the chamber is the perception of what the chamber's role is. "It's hard for people to remember that we are a member-driven organization," Gronenthal said. "Our job is to provide support to our members first and foremost." The chamber provides cost effective marketing, members-only advertising opportunities, networking, referrals and members-only access to the chamber's digital/social media presence, he said, and added that the chamber is committed to working more effectively for members while balancing community-wide business support.
He pointed to a recent change the chamber recently made to improve the benefits offered to members. "As a board, we decided to stop charging our members to attend Business After Hours," he explained. At the first fee-free event earlier this month at member 4B's Brewery, chamber directors noticed a sizeable increase of attendees who came to network with other business owners, and many of them said that doing away with the charge influenced their decision to attend.
"We will continue working to enhance our benefits to better support our member businesses and nonprofits," Gronenthal promised. The board also plans to begin hosting quarterly membership events where new members will be introduced and highlighted, business educational opportunities presented, and targeted networking opportunities made available.
Full survey results can be obtained by emailing Collins at firstname.lastname@example.org or Brinck at email@example.com.