Over the past year, I’ve shared quite a few stories of small business owners finding ways to be more resilient during the tough economy; but recently I spoke with Christy Williams, who shared an experience about business and community working together to be more resilient.
Christy opened her store, Teacher’s Stop, in New Orleans in 1996, as a place for teachers and parents to purchase educational supplies with the benefit of a certified teacher’s – Christy’s – insights. Her business grew steadily (expanding her footprint tenfold in three years) until August 2005, when Hurricane Katrina struck. Despite the damage to her roof and inventory, she tended to customers by taking phone orders and making personal deliveries. Soon she realized, though, that the few schools that re-opened were required to spend their ‘re-start’ money through state-approved vendors. Unable to get their business, she focused on parents and letting them know she was open.
Christy got help from Stay Local!, an organization in New Orleans created to help local businesses compete against larger, national chains. Though created before Katrina, Stay Local! gained momentum afterward, when their staylocal.org website connected the city’s citizens to local businesses that were open. (Their site now includes almost 2,000 businesses.)
According to Stay Local!, when a consumer spends $100 at a local business, $45 of that circulates within the community, compared to $13 when spent with chain retailers, and this means a larger contribution to jobs, public services and local philanthropy. Their mission is to support local businesses through education, marketing opportunities, and connections like the SBA. While theirs is not the only organization of their kind, they are one of among the limited number that are free to members, and they also provide a broad range of services, including free promotion on their website and a program that invites university students in entrepreneurship programs to assist small business owners in areas like marketing.
They’ve also initiated an awards dinner to recognize local businesses that go “Above and Beyond” for the community. Last year, Christy was a recipient, appropriately enough, in the category of Resiliency.
In recognition of March as Women’s History Month and as part of our ongoing commitment to support women business owners, American Express OPEN is producing an online resource center with information to help women business owners grow and manage their businesses. Visit OPENForum.com/women for our “New Rules for Business” Guides and additional insights from our 2010 Women’s Business Summit.
If you would like to learn more about Christy and Teacher’s Stop, you can visit her website at www.teachersstop.com. And, you can learn more about Stay Local! by visiting their website at www.staylocal.org.