Main Street Retail in the Time of COVID-19: Interview with Kristin Smith of The Wrigley

By Alison Davis, CEDIK Executive Director

It’s no secret that times are tough for Main Street businesses in this new pandemic reality our country finds ourselves in. CEDIK’s efforts have centered on working with community stakeholders to find ways to support thriving downtown businesses. At this moment, CEDIK faculty and staff are looking for ways we can contribute meaningfully to recovering and stimulating Main Street.

As events designed to protect the health of our communities have unfolded rapidly, we have been watching small businesses cope with this new landscape. We have been inspired to witness innovative ways our local businesses have endeavored to keep the lights on and their employees paid, all while safely continuing to provide their services to the local community.

Earlier this week, we had the chance to correspond with Kristin Smith, Executive Chef of  The Wrigley, located on Main Street in Corbin, Kentucky. Read on to learn more about how this restaurant in Appalachian Kentucky is navigating this new normal, and what advice she has for residents, community leaders, and other retail businesses.

Capture
Executive Chef Kristin Smith of The Wrigley in Corbin, Kentucky.

CEDIK: How can residents support Main Street businesses?

KS: If you have a small, local business providing goods you could get there rather than a big-box store, do it.  Every single item sold counts toward keeping the doors open. If you’re limited by location or you want to keep that social distance, call the business and order a gift card, whether you use them or not. When we all reopen, consider staggering using the gift cards over the next few months to help us even out our cash flow in the beginning. If you’re in a rural area, we’re seeing challenges with internet outages and phone outages due to overload of the network—so please keep trying if you get a busy line or slow server on the online systems. We really do want to take your money—we promise! Also, practice safe social distancing. When you do order takeout or pickup, use curbside and online as much as possible to help us maintain our social distance. Observe the spacing the business establishes—especially in checkout lines where it is easy to scoot closer to the person in front of you—follow what we ask, even if you think its overkill. We are following recommendations to the letter and in some cases going over and above. I stay awake at night worrying if one of my staff or customers gets sick—it hasn’t happened yet, but it’s a constant fear. Every time anyone touches a door handle, a touchscreen, or waits for their order inside or outside, we are sanitizing everything after every interaction. But with a skeleton crew, that is an extra task on top of everything else.

CEDIK: What is the most innovative “thing” you have seen a Main Street business and/or community do during COVID-19?

KS: Our city voted to suspend local, tourism, and alcohol taxes to help us offset our costs. That was a huge help for us to float us through. They’ve also been really innovative at curbside, delivery, and even take-out wine and bottled beer sales. It’s been nice to see how quickly they’ve made some of these changes happen to support us any way they can.  It feels like our local leadership really wants to support us through this. On a fun note, our mayor has started a regular “wave parade” route through local neighborhoods for kids and families to come out and see her to talk with her from a distance. It’s a good way, fun way to break up the day for families who are newly homeschooling!

CEDIK: How can philanthropic organizations support Main Street businesses?

KS: Being willing to donate money and trust the business owner to allot it where it needs. The stimulus package should help with payroll and rent, utilities. But what about our other things that need addressed? If philanthropic organizations will make donations to businesses without stipulations, that would be so helpful. We see so many restrictions on the different grant and loan programs—but—for example—we’re having challenges with plumbing, and we were planning to replace our kitchen floor this month before all of this happened. Those things still need to be repaired, but we no longer have enough cash flow to fund them. If a donor called us and said, “Hey, I want to pay to have your kitchen floor replaced,” that would send me over the moon!

CEDIK: What is your biggest fear of something that will be overlooked or unintended consequences of this stimulus package?

KS: Honestly, we’re so busy in survival mode, we haven’t had time to sit down and really analyze and understand the stimulus package. We are getting so many emails and phone calls from people telling us to apply for this loan or that grant, but we aren’t sure what the best option for us is. What is the time frame for payback? We have fellow restaurant owners who, once the additional $600 a week unemployment was announced, had staff quit because they believed they would be safer staying at home and drawing more money on unemployment than working. Whether that is true about the $600 or isn’t, they believed so and it negatively impacted her business.

Will the bailout be timely enough for restaurants to get enough money to sustain until we can actually reopen? Every day it takes for employees to receive their first unemployment payment is another day that they are giving up and going to work in other industries. Once you lose those well-trained employees, it is hard to retrain a new crew. Everything changes. We are already seeing a surge of “temporary job offers” with “the possibility of permanent employment”. Most likely those businesses will keep the positions temporary—but every day we are closed it is a risk that we won’t be able to reopen at the end of this even if we can stretch our money to last.

CEDIK: Were you prepared to go online? What do other businesses need to know about going online?

KS: Be very patient with businesses trying to be open and transitioning their entire way of business. We scrambled to flip every aspect of our operations over about a 48 hour period. We didn’t have online ordering yet—we were planning to launch it in April. Well, we have it now! We had some big kinks to work out and we’re really appreciative of the customers who were patient with us and told us about their experience. We’re glad now we were able to get it up and running—online sales are around 60% of our sales now and we plan to keep it once we reopen. But there are extra fees with online sales: our Point of Sale System charges an extra 2% for every online order and an extra 1.5% for every credit card we have to type in, rather than swipe. It may not seem like much, but it really adds up at a time that we are counting every penny. I wish that processors would waive some of those fees but we need them to do business, so we are using them. We still don’t have a good way to sell gift cards online because our Point of Sale system won’t integrate with an online platform in that way, which is hurting us because we think people would be buying more gift cards if they could purchase online.

We are new to packaging takeout silverware, ketchup, sauces—all of it. We are really adapting every hour, so give businesses grace if they don’t get every aspect right. It’s a lot of change very fast. We’re even changing our menu to prepare items that can keep well until someone gets home to eat it rather than our usual practice of items that are enjoyed right away, piping hot and fresh. It’s a whirlwind of changes.

CEDIK: Is there anything else you’d like to share?

KS: This is so lonely for us, as an industry built on hospitality and human contact. Part of why we love doing what we do is because we serve our community, we see birthdays and anniversary celebrations.  What I love about The Wrigley is that I have my regulars. I can ask them how their new grand baby is, how their kid is doing their first year at college, or how their dream vacation went. It is so isolating to have to switch to a sterile and distant method of communication. How do you maintain a feeling of community when we have to stay so far apart? We are figuring it out, and we understand the importance—but it doesn’t make those feelings of social isolation any less. We are already planning for when we do reopen—should we remove half of our dining room tables to ensure that we still maintain a distance for a few months to avoid another surge? Will the feeling of community, warmth, and love still be there after all of this?

 

Which Kentucky Communities Are Most Able and Which Are Most Vulnerable to Take Advantage of the Shift to Remote Work

By Dr. Alison Davis, CEDIK Executive Director
Written by Roberto Gallardo and Richard Florida (see post) and adapted for Kentucky communities by the author

The authors explore two factors when assessing a county’s readiness for remote work: the availability of digital connectivity and/or the share of workers employed in industries and occupations that are amenable to remote work. “If a particular county has both limited digital connectivity and a higher share of non-remote work workers, it will more than likely struggle to leverage e-learning and remote work. We looked at the geography of remote work across America’s 3,000 plus counties.”

The analysis for Kentucky reveals that 75 of Kentucky’s counties are considered moderately or highly vulnerable to the remote work shift. The map below highlights county-by-county analysis. Kentucky rural communities tend to be more vulnerable for two reasons: access to high-speed broadband and a large share of employment is based in manufacturing, healthcare, and retail trade. For most of those industries it is a challenge to “bring work home.”

Kentucky Counties Vulnerable to Shift to Remote Work (Chart and Map)
Over 62% of Kentucky’s counties are considered moderately or highly vulnerable to the remote work shift.*

chart_KY_county_vulnerability_remote_work

*Access to broadband is measured through the FCC which does not always fully reflect true conditions and overstates access.

KY_map_vulnerability_remote_work

 

Kentucky Census Tracts* Vulnerable to Shift to Remote Work

KY_map_tracts_vulnerability_remote_work

*11 census tracts were too small to provide a measure.

What does this mean?
Not all counties are equally suited to shift to remote work during the COVID-19 crisis. This analysis also does not account for an employer’s ability to shift to a remote work system (including mindset, information technology, etc.). Not surprisingly, more urban areas are less vulnerable than rural areas, but even within urban and rural areas, the ability to access consistent high-speed broadband is mixed.

If it’s a challenge for employees to remote work due to lack of broadband access, it will also be a challenge for students to access online learning materials. In addition, it is a challenge for individuals to socially connect through FaceTime, Zoom, etc. Many rural communities have relied on accessing public Wi-Fi through libraries, schools, and McDonalds. With those entities closed, access is greatly diminished.

What can we do?

Right now…

  • We don’t assume everyone has access to the same resources we do and we don’t isolate individuals.
  • We are patient with everyone and understand that it may take longer to get responses back or deliverables.
  • We use our cell phones to connect, where service is available.
  • We call people to make sure they are okay and to socially connect.

 

To prepare for next time…

  • Consider portable technologies like MiFi (Wi-Fi hotspots) that households can borrow. Schools, libraries, and other non-profit entities could host the equipment. Click here to learn more.
  • As a community, identify the pockets of the county that do not have access. This gives first responders, non-profits, etc. ideas about where to deploy resources first. Click here to learn more about how to assess connectivity.
  • Employers can assess current capacity for remote work and then create a plan to expand access. Click here to learn more about creating an effective teleworking program.

PDF of this post

Improving Access to Healthy Foods in Kentucky

By Daniel Kahl, CEDIK Associate Director and Jayoung Koo, CEDIK Community Design Specialist

You can’t get that here!

At the beginning of a new year many people make resolutions to improve their diet by eating healthier. But eating healthier is not always as easy as making a resolution to do so.  In a recent study,  Survey of SNAP Food Providers in Eight Kentucky Counties: Store Access and Availability of Food Types the barriers of access to healthy foods became evident.

A survey was conducted of stores accepting SNAP electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards in the Kentucky counties of Bourbon, Boyle, Breathitt, Jackson, Knott, Lincoln, Madison, and Owsley.  The survey was a component of research conducted by CEDIK at the University of Kentucky, in conjunction with the Kentucky Grocers and Convenience Store Association to gain a better understanding of local food environments and to learn more about grocery store policies and practices. While survey response numbers were small, this study revealed multiple barriers to healthy food access to consumers in the study area.

Access Impediments

Stores responding to the survey acknowledged that transportation can be an issue for customers. Lack of reliable personal transportation, restricted public transportation, and cost of travel all contribute to challenges of EBT card users when wanting to access stores. In addition, distances of travel in rural areas can often add to the challenge of access to groceries.

IMG_1147

Restricted Hours of Store Operation

Like many businesses, some stores operate on a regular business time schedule. SNAP food service providers who responded to the 2018 Grocer’s Survey in Central and Eastern Kentucky have hours of operation that overlap with a typical work day. This can create an accessibility issue for people working a typical 8am-5pm job. On average, consumers in Eastern Kentucky experience 49% fewer hours of access to food per week than consumers in Central Kentucky counties.

Limited Food Types

The types of foods available to customers in the study differed depending on the store’s main function. In particular, convenience stores were the most frequent respondents to the survey in the eight counties and had the most limited fresh or healthy food options. Availability of foods offered in the store were assessed by the percent of floor space dedicated to food type.  In a graphic comparison between Grocery and Convenience store type between Eastern and Central Kentucky regions, it is easy to see that food access in Eastern Kentucky is distinctly different than in the more populated counties in Central Kentucky.

Key Insights

While the number of businesses participating in this survey make it difficult to generalize broadly, the results did indicate challenges related to healthy food access for EBT Card users. Ultimately, the consumption of fresh, healthy foods is a two-part process that must be embraced by all parties involved to achieve the desired goal. Residents must be willing and purposeful to seek out and consume healthy foods, while food providers need to better supply stores with healthy food options and adjust business operations to accommodate their customers. Healthier eating is a resolution that needs to be supported by the entire community!  Want to learn more? See the full series of reports on Food Access on the CEDIK website.

Daniel Kahl is the Associate Director of CEDIK and an Assistant Professor in Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky.

Jayoung Koo is a CEDIK Community Design Specialist and an Associate Professor in Landscape Architecture at the University of Kentucky.

Improving Business Communication

By Daniel Kahl*, CEDIK Associate Director

Advertising is a necessity for business.  Obviously, for people to purchase a business’ products and services, customers must know about the business.  This is why much of marketing focus is on pushing messages out to the broadest crowd possible to increase awareness and connection to the business.  When CEDIK asked EBT food providers in Kentucky about how they communicate with customers (Namkoong, Fawcett, Kahl, Koo, & Rossi. 2019), nearly 60% indicated they use social media, 29% utilize their local newspaper, and 18% use radio to inform customers about their business.

UK Economic Development Collaborative

While most advertising is about pushing a message out, how do businesses receive feedback from their customers? The most frequent way of getting feedback in this study (indicated by 71% of respondents) is word of mouth.  One important implication of using word of mouth as a communication system is that due to the informality of “word of mouth” communication, it is possible that feedback will be missed. Typically, “word of mouth” is not a formal system of collecting feedback. Customers may share comments to staff or other customers, without the feedback making its way to the owner or manager. Without a formal structure in place, customers do not have a clear avenue to share insights, ideas, or feedback. Not having a mechanism or system in place may also send a message to customers that their concerns are not important.  Waiting on word of mouth comments to filter up to management also means that management may only be hearing a comment once, when it was expressed by a dozen people, or inversely, management may be making decisions based on one person’s feedback.

Improving the communication loop

Customer feedback is more than fielding complaints. If a customer invests their energy to speak up, there is an opportunity to listen and to retain that customer.  Stores wanting to hear customer needs, suggestions, or concerns can develop systems to improve the collection of feedback. Customer comment boxes, on-line or paper surveys, and social media polls are just some of the ways businesses can connect more purposefully with customers to learn about their shopping and service needs.

Business owners can actively use social media polls to better understand their customers shopping preferences, shopping schedules, or purchase needs. For a report on business tactics and more ideas visit Getting the Word Out: Communication Methods on the CEDIK website.

Businesses need customers like communities need businesses

Just as businesses must listen to their customers, communities must also listen to their businesses. If your community would like a process to listen to business owner needs, the Business Retention and Expansion program offered through CEDIK can help your community improve the communication loop.

*Daniel Kahl is the Associate Director of CEDIK and an Assistant Professor in Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky.

Going About Your Business

By Daniel Kahl*, CEDIK Associate Director

Communities are in a relationship with local business

Experience tells us that relationships demand attention. Relationships require the investment of time, energy and attention to maintain effective communication and trust. The risk is, of course, that if we stop investing in relationships, the relationship will suffer and could even end completely.

Communities are in a relationship with local businesses. Without on-going communication, trust building, and concern for the well-being of those businesses, the business/community relationship can begin to break down.  When the relationship ends, the business may just begin to search for a more engaged community.

img_3307.jpg
Downtown Cynthiana, Kentucky. Photo credit: Sarah Bowker, December 2019.

What do we learn by listening?

The Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK) at the University of Kentucky has been listening to business needs. Across Kentucky, surveys and listening forums are telling us that small businesses need community support. In a recent report published by CEDIK (Kahl, Fawcett, et.al. 2019)  73% of store representatives identified finding and retaining employees as one of their greatest business challenges. Other challenges raised include: taxes, training employees, and keeping up with rules, codes, and policies. While the above study was a small sampling, a statewide assessment of community issues hosted by University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension (Statewide Community Needs Assessment, 2019) noted business support and workforce development as some of the most pressing issues in counties across Kentucky.

What can a community do to improve the local business environment?

While every business will have unique needs, businesses in a community often share common concerns that the community can address. The Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) program offered through CEDIK is one way to document business needs and keep business and community relationships on track. The BR&E program is designed for local government, economic development offices, or Chambers of Commerce. The program is designed to facilitate a listening process that can bring the interests of local business into clear focus. By listening to the concerns of the local businesses, leadership can mobilize resources and energy to respond to local business priorities.

Businesses frequently support local efforts, and the BR&E program helps communities find ways to reciprocate investment in the relationship. For a community, “going about your business” means strengthening the economic environment and relationships with local businesses. Visit the CEDIK website for more information on services to improve your economic environment, including the BR&E program.


Referenced work:

Kahl, D., Fawcett, K., Koo, J., Namkoong, K., and Rossi, J. (2019). Survey of SNAP Food Providers in Eight Kentucky Counties: Business Needs and Community Connections. Available online at:  http://cedik.ca.uky.edu/files/business_needs_community_connections_pse.pdf

Kentucky Cooperative Extension Community Assessment, Statewide Report (2019). https://extension.ca.uky.edu/files/kentucky_extension_community_assessment_2019.pdf

*Daniel Kahl is the Associate Director of CEDIK and an Assistant Professor in Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky.

The 3 Key Questions to Ask Business Owners in Your Community

By Luke Ramsay, CEDIK Economic Development Extension Specialist

The Business Retention and Expansion Program (BRE) is….a mouthful.

However, when it’s boiled down to its most basic components, BRE is a way for communities to engage their businesses in an approach that leads to growth and stability. Simple as that.

Usually, we think about BRE as an event. A research-type study where business owners are interviewed, data is collected and evaluated, and reports are made to decision makers so that they can take action to address the concerns of the businesses. It’s tempting to see BRE as a silver bullet. Of course, that’s not really possible. Economic growth and development is a slow process, with lots of moving parts.

So what is an economic developer to do?

Start thinking about BRE as a process or a cycle. It’s a series of targeted conversations designed to help YOU keep tabs on what is happening (or GOING to be happening) in your business community.

You can also start to think about BRE by rearranging the phrase. Instead of “Business Retention and Expansion”, think “How My Businesses Thrive and Grow”. THAT’S a process you can start today. You, personally, can start finding new ways to help your local businesses thrive and grow. And sometimes, it’s as simple as asking the right questions.

Below I’ve included three questions that you should make sure you’re asking every time you sit down with a business owner. Whether that’s at the post office, over a cup of coffee, in their factory, or at the grocery store. Keep these three questions in mind.

Question #1: What’s your 20%?
welder-673559You may have heard of the Pareto Principle. It says that 20% of your activity will account for 80% of your results. Or, you may have heard it talked about in terms of business as, 80% of your profits will come from 20% of your customers.

So when you ask “What’s your 20%?” you’re trying to get that business owner to look hard at their bottom line and recognize where their most valuable activities are. This is a GREAT question to help owners zero in on where their time is best utilized, and where their time is wasted.

There is something about being an entrepreneur and small-business owner that makes people think “I’ve got to do it all.” Not only is this not true, it’s also a huge barrier to growth. By asking the “What’s your 20%?” question, you can help your neighbors identify how to become more efficient and productive.

Question #2: Are you thinking about relocating?
dsc_7076.jpgThis may seem abrupt, but it’s critical. From a BRE standpoint, this may be the most important question on the list. Business RETENTION and Expansion is all about keeping businesses local. When a company moves, it takes away a tax base. It takes away the service or product that had been provided. It takes away jobs. It lessens the robustness of your community.

Asking if a business is thinking about relocating, you’ve done a couple things. First, you’ve established that you care. You want to know something about the business other than the product or service they offer. Second, you may have just short-circuited a thought process that would have led to a business leaving. Finally, you’ve opened the conversation up so that you can now learn what might be done to prevent the business from leaving.

market-3244792Question #3: If our community could do one thing to help you grow, what would it be?
I use this question whenever I visit a business. It’s my favorite single question to ask a business owner. This is a question I use when I only have time to ask one question. You’ll be surprised by the answers.

Some owners see this as an opportunity to air their grievances about local government, their neighbors, their competition, or anybody else they see as responsible for their hard times. And that’s okay. The venting process can give you some really interesting insights into the overall health of the business community.

Some owners will give you their ideas about ways the city can be improved through infrastructure improvements and developments. Again, a great response. Enough of these conversations and you’ll have a clear view of where the passions and priorities of the individual businesses in your community are.

That’s it! Keeping these questions in your hip pocket will ensure you’re not only meeting business owners in your community, but listening to where their pain-points are as well. Understanding those concerns is a huge first step in retaining and expanding your local businesses.

YELP Transformed into Hogwarts Experience for Lexington Fifth Graders

By Mercedes Maness, CEDIK Extension Intern

The Youth Engagement Leadership Program (YELP) is a highly adaptable curriculum that has been introduced to rural and urban youth across the Commonwealth. In the case of the fifth grade students at William Wells Brown Elementary School, located in Lexington, Kentucky, they got a full day immersion into the program. Throw some Harry Potter into the mix, and you have a recipe – or a potion – for success.

On Tuesday, May 16th, at approximately 9:30am, 37 fifth graders filed into the multipurpose room of the elementary school that also doubles as a community center, ready to start the day. The students were given acceptance letters to the fictional Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, and sorted into their respective houses, all in accordance with the popular children’s book series. Lexpecto Patronum, the Lexington, KY Branch of the Harry Potter Alliance, provided materials, as well as  volunteers.

Though perhaps not in direct correlation, community engagement and social responsibility are concepts that can be tied to Harry Potter, or nearly any other topic. From art to economic development, YELP allows youth to evaluate their communities, both assets and issues, and reflect on what businesses or enterprises would help create a vibrant economy that would encourage community development.

A main priority of YELP is to allow students develop personal, as well as communal identity. One way to foster this identity is through a variety of art forms. Students at this program took a personality test, created a coat of arms, and drafted their own version of George Ella Lyon’s poem “Where I’m From.” Each of these exercises aims to open up the conversation about what we value and what experiences we have that both set us apart and unify us.

WWB_YELP_1
CEDIK Extension Intern Mercedes Maness talking with Gryffindor students about their Coat of Arms, an artistic exercise in what we value and how we present ourselves to others.

Youth voices – while often overlooked – are incredibly insightful. For example, the students at William Wells Brown were aware of many issues throughout their community, including gun violence, hunger, and homelessness. YELP curriculum focuses not just on business development, but also social entrepreneurship and the impact that businesses can have on communities. YELP helps students develop a business plan, and many of the students taking part in this particular session had business plans focused on addressing the issues mentioned above.

WWB_YELP_4
Using the “Where I’m From” poetry exercise by George Ella Lyon is a great prompt to discussing our sense of place and what makes us who we are today!

After refining business plans, playing a few games, and practicing business pitches, students then presented to school officials, who had the difficult job of choosing a winner for the House Cup. The students each left with a new copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and a wand, as well as a heightened sense of personal and community identity.

YELP is not about just about community development, local economies, or public issues, but more how each of those overlap and interact with one another. Our own personal experiences shape how we view the world around us, and how we develop solutions to the problems we face each day.  Instilling a sense of civic duty into youth is key to raising up a generation of change makers.

WWB_YELP_15.jpg
Students and volunteers showing off their new magic wands.