By Emily Bamforth
Advance Ohio Media, Cleveland
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Several Cleveland entrepreneurs share how storefronts can compete with — and even take advantage of — online commerce.
Online shopping giants like Amazon can alarm small business owners, making them worried their brick and mortar storefronts can’t compete.
But successful local Cleveland entrepreneurs like Mike Malley of Malley’s Chocolates think that shopping in-person still has an edge.
“We look at chocolate as a fun experience,” he said in a panel at JumpStart’s Startup Scaleup event Tuesday. “We like to enhance that experience.”
Startup Scaleup is a day of more than 35 workshops and panels to provide resources to Cleveland’s business community.
Malley sat beside Christie Murdoch, owner of local boutique Banyan Tree; Tammy Lyons, the owner of Inner Bliss yoga studios; and Waverly Willis, who owns Urban Kutz barbershops.
Amazon makes up 43 percent of all online sales, and one in four adults have Amazon Prime, according to Inc.
The Internet also presents challenges for services. With YouTube making online video easy to post and access, people can go to the site to learn how to do yoga by themselves and even cut their own hair.
“Thankfully, they’re not doing a very good job,” Willis said to laughter.
Here are some lessons the panelists shared on how storefronts can compete with — and even take advantage of — online commerce.
Make your store an experience
It goes all the way down to the smells and lighting in your business, Lyons said. She hopes that when someone enters a Inner Bliss studio, they feel a sense of calm and fellowship; she makes sure each customer is greeted.
Malley’s is considering adding more chocolate dipping stations to their stores and more information about cacao sourcing. Malley said in a Facebook Live interview with cleveland.com that a big plus for the business is their ice cream parlors, where people can go for family outings or first dates.
Be a community hub
For Willis, it means serving the customers in his store with a smile, but also listening to their problems and celebrating their successes. It’s an emotional rollercoaster, he says, but he encourages every barber who works in his shop to try and make that human connection.
“They passed a million barber shops to sit in your chair,” Willis said “These people need to know I seriously care.”
Murdoch said when she started her Tremont location, people walked in to ask where they should eat and what’s open. She told her staff to familiarize themselves with the community around them.
“We’re kind of like a concierge,” Murdoch said.
Adapt to the changing space
Malley didn’t start Malley’s Chocolates — he joined the family business. The stores have to adapt to the influence of online shopping.
For example, stores that previously anchored areas like Sears or Macy’s are slowly going out of business. Malley’s used to focus on those places for scouting locations, so now they might need to turn their attention to places that offer experiences, like coffee shops or salons.
Give back to the community
All of the panelists said their businesses give back to the community in some way, mainly working with charities. Lyons said Inner Bliss offers free community yoga events and five to six times a year donates proceeds from classes.
Urban Kutz works to offer blood pressure screenings to customers. The barbershops also frequently offer free haircuts, something Willis said not only helps the community, but expands his customer base.
“Sometimes you have to give away something in order to build,” he said.
Don’t be scared of e-commerce
Both Murdoch and Malley said they’ve explored e-commerce options. Murdoch said she mainly uses her website to draw in customers to her store. She’s not focused on e-commerce right now; Murdoch said she’s much more inclined towards design and curation of pieces. She wouldn’t rule it out in the future, though.
Malley said e-commerce is a new opportunity for the chocolate store. It’s important to make sure they can scale up without running into any problems, but it’s an easy way to sell out of state. Malley said there was a couple who had Ohio ties and got Malley’s chocolates shipped to them for their wedding in Italy.