The vast majority of businesses in New Port Richey are small businesses. My own business, Gulfcoast Networking, is one of them. Large businesses that employ hundreds of people, like Morton Plant North Bay are the exception. How small businesses fare is critical to the health of our city.
The early years are pretty brutal. Only about half of all businesses with employees survive five years. The numbers tail off after that with 30% or thereabouts still around after 15 years. (Source sba.gov)
What does that mean for us? I believe we can safely conclude that the city needs to be continuously recruiting new businesses to replace those that go by the way. Just a few years ago, the vacancy rate downtown was close to 50%. That number has dropped dramatically, especially in the historic district (west of Madison and east of the Main Street Bridge).
We lost Jimmy Ferraro’s Studio Theatre earlier this year. Tellingly, the Richey Suncoast Theatre swooped in to secure the location for a second theatre of their own. The Bank and Main Coffee Shop closed earlier this week. Within 24 hours multiple businesses were looking at the spot as a potential location for their business. At this point, I suspect we’ll have a new business announced before the end of the month. The site simply won’t stay vacant.
We also need to offer guidance, and sometimes a helping hand, for new businesses trying to establish themselves. The business incubator that we ran in the old post office was an example of that sort of assistance. The building is now full with some very young companies that have the potential to make a major impact on how the rest of the world views New Port Richey.
Crazy Cat Boat Tours set up shop in Sims Park a few months back, despite glowing reviews from folks who have gone out with them, they have struggled to gain traction.
As a small business owner myself, I’ve faced a lot of the same challenges that Matt and Jean have faced with their new business. Guerrilla marketing and competing against larger, better funded competitors is not something that comes naturally to most business owners.
Another local businessman let me know that Matt and Jean were about to pull the plug on their venture and we arranged to meet Matt for a little boat trip one Sunday afternoon. The boat trip consisted of heading upstream into the Grey Preserve and back and included a couple of hours of my coaching Matt on things he could do to successfully compete for his share of the boat tour business on the Cotee River.
I also pointed out, as nicely as I could, that he was invisible to visitors to Sims Park because he had no signage. There is a reason that my company has foot high lettering on our front window. People won’t use your services if they can’t find you.
Leasing dock space in Sims Park does you absolutely no good if nobody in the park knows you are there and how to contact you. There is a precedent for boat tour signage at the entrances to Sims Park. Gill Dawg offered kayaks at Sims Park for a while. They had little A-Frame signs announcing that fact. I encouraged Matt to contact city staff to confirm that he could put similar signs up at the entrances to the park, announcing that boat tours were available. He put a banner up for the December 3rd Boat Parade weekend. Hopefully, it helped give him some visibility.
I asked our economic development officer, Mario Iezzoni to work with Crazy Cat Boat Tours and he got permission for them to park their boats in the unused Hacienda parking lot short term to also boost their visibility.
The sum total expense to the city to help out? A couple of hours of my time for a very nice boat ride and some work by Mario to help Matt get the short term storage issue resolved. If Matt and Jean can get their new business stabilized, then it will have been time well spent.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve had to work hard to make my own business a success. Billy Joel had it right in his song, The Entertainer: “Things I did not know at first, I learned by doing twice.” Running a small business is hard work and most small business owners need all the help they can get. Most successful small business owners will tell you that it took years of hard work to become an “instant success”.
Some business owners seem to naturally “get it”. Mike Ottaway is a good example. He has done quite a few things to make his ice cream shop a destination for people heading to Sims Park for various events. I went to last night’s Suessical the Musical performance in Sims Park. There were people eating ice cream while waiting for the show to start. Given how cold it was, it brought back great memories of my wife and I eating ice cream one chilly November day on Red Square. The Suessical will be repeated at 3pm Sunday.
We’ve got a number of other business owners that seem to understand what it takes to compete.
Rose Mohr of Rose’s Bistro gets it. You can safely assume that I’ll be making Valentine’s Day reservations again in 2017 for an amazing dining experience on Valentine’s Day. My wife and I were overwhelmed at the experience we had there this year.
Kelly Maki Hackman also gets it. She recently expanded her White Heron Tea Room to include the gift shop next door.
What can you do? Support your local merchants. Take a boat tour. Buy some Christmas presents at Kelly’s place. Check out the cameras at Pasco Camera. Buy an ice cream cone from Mike Ottaway. Buy a sno-cone from the Sno Shack. Pick up a gift items at Brenton’s Handcrafted Soap, Vingage Chickabees and the Gateway Gallery Emporium. You can even drop by Gulfcoast Networking and let me tell you what I do in my “day job”.
Is it the mayor’s job to help local businesses survive? Maybe not, but then again, I believe it is. I’m an unabashed supporter of New Port Richey and our business community. I believe that building a strong business community is an integral part of making New Port Richey the sort of place that families are going to want to choose to as a place to settle down.
There are other things that make New Port Richey the perfect place to call home. Amazing parks and a modern Recreation Center are among those things, but I’ll leave that discussion for another NPR Note. The same goes for our ongoing efforts to spruce up our residential neighborhoods and US 19. I promise I’ll address those topics and more in the coming weeks.
It’s time for me to head out to spend a couple of hours volunteering for New Port Richey Main Street.
Rob Marlowe, Mayor