The town with a women’s rights museum

The town with a women’s rights museum

Seneca Falls, New York, came to my attention as an avid fan of the film, It’s A Wonderful Life. There are many similarities between the fictional Bedford Falls of the movie and this lovely Finger Lakes town. So much so that Seneca Falls started a winter festival every December, which my wife and I attended.

Statue Seneca Falls

Statue commemorating women’s rights in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

What we learned when we got there was the town’s connection to the American suffragette movement and women’s rights. Seneca Falls is home to the Women’s Rights National Historic Park, celebrating the first women’s rights convention in the U.S., held here in 1848. There’s also a unique store called WomanMade Products, just across the street.

“I am thrilled that WomanMade Products has found a home in Seneca Falls, home to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer and the first women’s newspaper, The Lily,”  owner Becky Bly says on her website. “For WomanMade Products, Seneca Falls is a feminist address for a feminist business.”

In 2015, I took a motor coach full of tourism operators and farmers from Norfolk County here, to explore how this town uses its unique attributes to attract tourists. Check out the blog post.

Happy International Women’s Day!

3 qualities needed for tourism success

3 qualities needed for tourism success

Thinking of starting a business aimed at tourists? Here are three important qualities that your operation needs to have in place for any chance of tourism success.

Your offering needs to be viable, reliable and buyable.

Viable

Being viable is a basic element. Viability means you have a solid business plan behind what you are planning to do. Without a firm financial foundation, your business will not be viable.

You must have realistic expectations about revenue and a clear understanding of how to control your costs. You may need to operate your business in the red for a while, until you gain enough exposure and market share to sustain yourself over the long term.

Plus, what is your unique selling proposition? What’s your target market? Who’s your competition? Don’t know? You need to figure out these things immediately. Your local business resource centre or a website like SmallBizSurvival can help.

Reliable

Reliability is the next core element of tourism success (or any business success, for that matter). Is your product or experience of satisfactory quality? Is it consistently satisfactory?

Is your product or service available when the customer wants it? Consistently?

Do your staff offer good service? All the time? This is what reliability means.

Customers may not expect a “wow experience” of you. But if one of your staff provides “wow” service and the rest are ho-hum, then you have a reliability problem. It’s about meeting the expectations of your customer.

Buyable

Finally, the most important element of all: assuming your product or service is viable and reliable –  is it buyable? When the customer wants to purchase your offering, is it available for sale?

The ability of a customer to buy your product on impulse is extremely important. It will be the difference between your sale and your competitor’s sale.

Fab Food Trails of Dublin / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Fab Food Trails of Dublin / Photo: Clark Hoskin

Having a menu of opportunities on your website, linked to an on-line purchasing system, is key to success.

For example, Fab Food Trails in Ireland posts their available walking tours right on their front page, so you can easily buy them.

If your service is promoted in cooperation with your local tourism authority as well as other agencies and websites like TripAdvisor, customers may buy it easily.

For example, Long Point Eco Adventures may close its doors in the winter, but you can still book and pay for experiences next spring on their website.

Remember that we live in an anywhere, any when economy, thanks to technology. Some customers may want to book your experience at 1 a.m. because they live three time zones away and they finally got the kids to bed.

There are many online tools you can use to create an online booking system, from Eventbrite to Resmark Systems.

Even if you don’t plan to sell online – is your business buyable? Is your store open when tourists are passing it? 70% of all consumer retail spending in bricks-and-mortar stores takes place after 6pm, according to tourism guru Roger Brooks. If you’re not open, you are turning away a lot of business.

Make sure your tourism product or experience is viable, reliable and buyable. If it is, you are making huge strides toward business success.

 

 

Going mobile: rural opportunities

Going mobile: rural opportunities

Mobile third spaces are among the “trends you need to know to be relevant” in 2017, according to the ad agency sparks & honey.

Why should rural people give any thought to forecasting by urbanites? These ideas offer food for thought about rural opportunities. Many entrepreneurs in rural areas are already acting on these trends.

Food trucks are so 2016. There are many more business opportunities that can be located in an old VW bus, panel van or Airstream trailer. Shopping and leisure activities appear to be the focus when the vehicle isn’t just selling food.

Mobile Cigar Lounge

Mobile Cigar Lounge Co. / mobilecigarlounge.com

From a mobile knitting yarn boutique in California to a mobile cigar lounge in central Texas (“have cigars, will travel”), if you think of a business, you can probably put wheels under it. The American Mobile Retail Association offers tips to creating a new business in a vehicle.

In Norfolk County, Canada, there are many food trucks. But there are also two new mobile businesses that focus on promoting leisure. Red Apple Rides is a vehicle packed with bicycles ready to connect your group with amazing experiences. Ride the Bine is more than a tour bus. It is operated by two women with deep connections to local terroir, food and wine.

Sparks & honey predicts many more mobile third spaces will open.

“Third spaces like cafes – places that are neither home or office – provide us with opportunities for socializing and learning,” says the ad agency. “Expect to see growing numbers of mobile third spaces emerge.”

Some examples of new mobile third spaces include an art gallery in a car in Portland, Oregon. A spin class housed on a bus in the U.K. is currently still conceptual, but over 24,000 people have registered to use it when it launches.

For a mobile business to stay viable in a rural area, it is advisable to avoid wacky offerings. Instead, put a spin on an experience that is authentic to the region, one that will appeal to many demographics.

You can read more about the sparks & honey A-Z Culture Glossary here.

© 2017 Clark Hoskin

Artist residence program boosts county’s culture

Artist residence program boosts county’s culture

Small but mighty Yates County in upstate New York has many inspirational stories for rural advocates. In this case, art lovers and culture mavens can learn from Sunny Point – a property and a program coordinated by the local arts centre.

Sunny Point, located on Keuka Lake south of Penn Yan, is owned by the Arts Centre of Yates County. During our Finger Lakes study tour last spring, we met Kris Pearson, Executive Director, and Sandy Murrin, Board President, who explained that the property was bequeathed to ACYC by Dr. Annie Smith of Toronto, a former cottager on the lake.

The Host Residency program allows artists to host their own students for a week at a time. The Artist in Residence program is open to professional visual, literary and performance artists. The ten-day residency is an award made by ACYC twice per year. Residence and studio space are provided at no cost to the artist, but travel and meals are not included.

Sunny Point ACYC

The Red Barn at Sunny Point

When we visited, the “red barn” was undergoing interior renovation to expand the space for workshops. The “white cottage” provides accommodation for up to eight people, is offered as an Artist Retreat on an as-available basis, and includes linens and full kitchen. There is a rental charge and a non-refundable deposit. The boathouse will be used as a seasonal ceramics studio. By summer 2016, Sunny Point had hosted many classes.

ACYC’s artist-in-residence program encourages artists to come to the area, which adds depth to the cultural tourism product on offer in this community. Sunny Point also provides an additional revenue stream for the Arts Centre, which hopefully will help the program sustain itself.

Developing local bonds at GreenStar

Developing local bonds at GreenStar

When a group of Canadians visited Greenstar Coop in Ithaca, New York, they observed how a commitment to selling local food can be lucrative.

GreenStar is a member-owned, community consumer cooperative with over 11,000 members in a city of 30,000. Joe Romano, Director of Marketing, showed the Canadians around and provided background about the organization and its activities.

Local LabelGreenStar celebrates fresh, whole foods, sustainable living and the transformative power of a strong local economy. Sales in 2015 were approximately $19.5 million.

GreenStar carries more than 4,100 local products (within 100 miles) and 3,300 regional products (within 300 miles), resulting in over $4.9 million reinvested into the local economy, and over $1.7 million reinvested into the regional economy.

The Canadians were touring the Finger Lakes region of New York State, gathering ideas and insights to consider using in their similar region of Southwest Ontario, Norfolk County.

Greenstar“[It’s] amazing that they can compete with the larger scale grocers and it works! Grassroots and that deep local feel that everyone craves,” said one of the participants.

Supporting local builds strong relationships with vendors and customers. Even stronger bonds are created when member-volunteers earn discounts by working in the store.

In 2015, GreenStar had 81 full-time employees and 53 part-time employees. GreenStar provides opportunities for its members to act as “SuperWorkers” or in-store volunteers. By committing to work 2 hours weekly at designate times for a 4 month minimum, the SuperWorker receives a 15.5% discount in addition to the 2% standard member discount on most purchases.

In 2015, 480 member-owners (and their share partners) saved $187,455 through their participation in the Member Labor Program, an average savings of $391 per member-worker.

“Co-op Markets at their best … saw so many members filling shelves,” said another participant. “Although expensive, found the concept fascinating.”

For the full story on GreenStar, start reading on page 19 of the Finger Lakes 2016 Study Tour Report.

Downtown insights in Penn Yan, New York

Downtown insights in Penn Yan, New York

A walking tour last spring of Penn Yan, New York, yielded some interesting insights of downtown revitalization for a group of Canadians from Norfolk County.

Among the key observations: second-floor apartments can be converted into higher revenue overnight tourist accommodation.

Steve Griffin of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center led the walking tour of Penn Yan (pop. 5,200). His organization is the sole economic development agency responsible for Yates County (pop. 25,000).

Penn Yan downtown Clark HoskinOur first stop was Chris Wright’s second-floor apartments, which he renovated with assistance from the town’s façade improvement program. The 800-square-foot two-bedroom apartment is now advertised as tourist accommodation. Chris can now rent the space out for $300 per night to tourists, as opposed to $400 per month to low-income tenants.

One tour participant would later write that the key take-away for them was “how important it is to have lived-in downtowns.”

Next stop was Birkett Landing, a project by developer Chris Iversen. The former historic industrial building has been gutted and renovated into a mixed-use development containing 13 residential market-rate apartments and about 4,600 square feet of commercial space.

To read the full article, download the Finger Lakes Study Tour PDF and go to page 9.

More about the Finger Lakes Study Tour 2016

5 learning moments on the Finger Lakes Study Tour

In the Finger Lakes Study Tour Report, you can read all ten learning moments. To keep this read short, let’s concentrate on the first five. The next five are listed in my August 25 post.

FLX Group shot

This friendly group of Canadians spent two days together learning about businesses and communities in Upstate NY in April 2016

Here are just a few of the ideas and concepts the group from Norfolk County and Ontario’s Southwest learned during the Finger Lakes Study Tour in April 2016:

  1. Enabling Neighbourhood projects: The city of Geneva operates a “center for neighbourhood initiatives” that encourages and supports projects and volunteers that revitalize all parts of the city. Musical porch parties and concerts in the cemetery engage residents and get them communicating and working together.
  2. Upselling second-floor apartments: Chris Wright in Penn Yan upgraded his second-floor apartment in the downtown core and listed it as overnight tourist accommodation on Air BnB. He’s now earning $300 a night for an apartment that used to take in $500 a month.
  3. Story-telling for Business: Telling your story is the most important thing you can do when you are operating a business whose target market is consumers. Ports of New York in Ithaca is a small business but offers a powerful, memorable experience because the owner narrates his family’s story so well.
  4. Social Enterprise: Social enterprises can address community needs by raising money from tourists and consumers. Milly’s Pantry in Penn Yan and the GreenStar Coop in Ithaca are great examples of non-profit organizations that rely on income from one stream of business to subsidize the costs of a social need in the community.
  5. Collaboration and Community Mindfulness: Collaboration is everything – there is no “them”, there is only “us”. It was clear in most communities – Corning being a good model – that work got done when people rowed in the same direction, especially if a major corporate sponsor is on board. There was acknowledgment that all players in the community have a role. When everyone respects one another, a lot gets accomplished. As one participant put it: “I love that every place we went was community minded.” This kind of collaboration enabled the ‘Race for Space’ program in Geneva, where entrepreneurs competed for a discounted downtown storefront lease.

The goal of the study tour was to learn from people at similar businesses in communities similar to those in Norfolk County and other parts of Ontario. A report prepared by Norfolk County staff, based on a survey of those who attended the tour, summarizes the learning moments that participants experienced in the Finger Lakes. The report has detailed information about each stop along the way, including key observations and learning moments.