Why I’m so Vocal About “Local”

Written by guest author, Heatherleigh Navarre
Owner of Boston Tea Room

Years ago, when I was a child out running errands with my father, I noticed that everyone we met knew him by name. The woman who got him his coffee at the donut shop on the corner, the man at the dry cleaner where we picked up Dad’s shirts, and even the gas station attendant who filled our tank (it was THAT long ago), all called him “Pete” and chatted amiably with him for a bit. When I asked him that day how all those people knew him so well, I got my first lesson in the importance of shopping local.

Dad explained that these were all small locally owned businesses that made it a point to get to know their customers, which meant that he always got better service there than at other places where he wasn’t known. As dad put it, “This winter if there’s a cold morning when my car won’t start, I can call Ed at the station here, and he’ll come help me out, because he knows I always fill up my tank at his place. It pays to know folks, kiddo.” It was a lesson I never forgot.

The Boston Tea Room
Boston Tea Room, located on 9 Mile in Downtown Ferndale

It’s more than thirty years since then, and that lesson has proven true over and over again. Now that I’m a small business owner myself, I remember that day, and I try to follow that example of getting to know everyone who visits my shop. It’s fun, because in case you haven’t noticed, people are fascinating creatures. It helps that I am an extrovert by nature, and I really do believe that everyone has a story to share. But getting to know my own patrons isn’t where it stops for me. I also strive to get to know my neighbor businesses, and lend them my support whenever possible, in order to help nurture and grow a thriving environment for my own shop.

When my not-so-local clients come in to visit, I need to be able to suggest a great lunch spot nearby, along with which restaurant has the most vegetarian options, which shop has great gifts for men, or who hosts the best happy hour in town, or nearby places that may have what they need when my place does not – and that means getting to know as many other local businesses as I can. And that’s not just good for my business; it’s good for my community, too.

Many of my customers are also my neighbors, living in the same town, and by trying to ensure that the local business community thrives, I am doing my part to co-create a vibrant place for all of us to live, work, and play. So there’s a component of good business practice, and there’s an altruistic component, as well. I want to live in a place where there is a diverse, creative, and unique vibe, where small businesses are able to succeed, and where individuality is valued and encouraged.

MBrew
MBrew, located on Vester Street in Ferndale

Of course, there’s a selfish motivation, too. The night before Thanksgiving, my staff and I were hard at work, and getting a bit ravenous. We called one of our favorite local eateries to get some food delivered, and were told that they had already closed for the holiday (darn it), but that since we were regular customers, he would make an exception and bring us whatever we needed (hooray!). I doubt any of the corporate chains would’ve been so accommodating (thank you Felix and the whole crew at M-Brew!)

Small business owners are my heroes and heroines. They are scrappy, industrious risk-takers. The owner of that donut shop I mentioned earlier gave me my very first job, and taught me the value of a good work ethic and that there is dignity in every task. “To feed people is to bless them,” he told me once.

Jacki Smith and Patty Shaw, Owners of Coventry Creations
Jacki Smith and Patty Shaw, Owners of Coventry Creations in Downtown Ferndale

The owner of a record store where I worked in the nineties taught me that to complain about ‘the public’ is nonsensical. People are individuals, and lumping them together robs them of their humanity, so don’t do it.” Six years ago, it was Jacki Smith and Patty Shaw, local owners of Coventry Creations, who actually invited me to open a shop here in Ferndale, right next to their business, for which I am eternally grateful.

More recently, another local business owner, Cheryl Tucker, of Rouge Makeup and Nails, sat down with me over coffee and spreadsheets and helped chart a course for making some big changes for my little shop in the New Year. We had a great time brainstorming and accomplished so much – far more than I could have done on my own.

Rouge Makeup and Nails, located on Woodward in Ferndale
Rouge Makeup and Nails, located on Woodward in Ferndale

Local businesses are always on the front lines: they are hit hardest in recessionary times, and they are the drivers of any economic recovery, not to mention being the sole economic support of so many of our friends, families, and neighbors, so when I spend my money with them, I know it’s going into the pockets of the people in my community. I learn far more from them than from any class I’ve ever taken, or business book I’ve ever read.

So, support your local small business owner. Get to know them, and your life will be better for it, and if you dare, BE one. The world needs more courageous fools living their dreams.

Boston Tea Room Collage

Heatherleigh Navarre is the owner of Boston Tea Room, a family business in downtown Ferndale. Boston Tea Room is an award-winning independent book store, gourmet tea shop, and psychic reading salon. She loves reading, road trips, and long conversations with other small business owners over piping-hot cups of tea. More information at bostontearoom.com

The Community Spirit of Ferndale

Photo credit: SoPlat Media
Photo credit: SoPlat Media

Written by guest author Jay McMillan, President of Royal Services

I believe that Ferndale, perhaps more than other communities that I have lived, played, and been a part of, is one of the most giving communities. This is just one of the unique ways Ferndale adds to our lives.

As the Chair for the Ferndale Area Chamber of Commerce, and a business owner and president of Royal Services, I know this to be true:  Giving to the community creates a sense of belonging, a sense of pride, and a sense of caring.

Giving to the community, whether it be through contributions, offering a helping hand to our neighbors, or through taking part in community activities, gives back to me that feeling of “WOW, I am proud to be a part of Ferndale!”  Sharing the joy of successes of ourselves and others makes me stick my chest out a little further, adding to the pride of being part of Ferndale.

If I ask myself, where do I belong and where does Royal Services belong, there is only one logical choice – we belong in Ferndale.  Through Royal Services logomy activities with organizations, volunteer efforts, or just by  sitting and speaking with new business owners, I realize that I do these things because I really want to! Never an expectation of getting anything in return, but from the pure joy of giving.  The payback, if you will, is that the community has reached back and offered a strong sense of belonging.  I am PROUD to say I am from Ferndale Michigan – look at what we have become and where we are going!

The last component is that Ferndale is a caring community. Plain and simple, we care about each other and for many of us, we are there to offer that helping hand when we are needed most. Those business neighbors who are most successful give to the community without a second thought. Not because it’s good business, but because they care.

Jack Aronson receives "Special Service Award" at the 2014 Ferndale Area Chamber Gala.
Jack Aronson receives “Special Service Award” at the 2014 Ferndale Area Chamber Gala.

With the floods of 2014, those that cared most stepped up and took the lead in offering support to those that were devastated. I look at Jack Aronson, owner of Garden Fresh Salsa, and his efforts through flood relief and the Ferndale location for The Boys and Girls Club. I watch Jim Pool, Pastor of Renaissance Vineyard Church, and know that he genuinely cares  about our city, offering a helping hand to those in need of help.  I look at Kyle Van Buren, owner of Biggby Coffee – Ferndale. He is one of the newer members of our community, and has already embraced Ferndale and the Ferndale Public Schools, taking part wherever he can.  I can look at any number of individuals in our community who have similar stories.

It’s what we’re all about – helping one another succeed. Thank you Ferndale for letting myself and Royal Services make this our community home.

#SupportLocal

So…Why Small Business Saturday?

Cristina DDAWritten by guest author Cristina Sheppard-Decius, CMSM
Ferndale DDA Executive Director

I do not “do” Black Friday. Never have. So when American Express came out with Small Business Saturday a few years back, I thought, “Well finally, someone gets it.” I always thought I was alone in feeling this way, which come to find out, I am not. This is not to disparage those who have made Black Friday a family tradition nor to change that habit either. There is obviously room for both, I just secretly hope to play an active role in swinging more folks around to my kind of thinking.

Jerry's at Rust Belt
Jerry’s Shirts original space in Ferndale,  at The Rust Belt Market

I know some of you may think that Small Business Saturday is just an American Express marketing gimmick or made-up holiday. To me, Small Business Saturday is so much more than that, and there are many other small busines advocates who agree. While American Express my have coined the term and are spending thousands on marketing it to earn a greater return, what they have really done is help strengthen the voice of small businesses everywhere and bring greater awareness as to the why you should shop on Small Business Saturday.

DDA Modern Natural Baby
Modern Natural Baby

So why Small Business Saturday?

Location, Location, Location. Small businesses keep it local. Did you know that small businesses reinvest 70% of every dollar earned back into their local community? It is two times more than any national chain or online business. Downtown Ferndale is also pretty easy to get to, we love biking (even in the winter), and we are completely walkable to over 350 businesses.

It’s About the People. Small local businesses are about the people who run them; your neighbors, your friends, your children’s friends or their parents, your family—the person willing to put everything on the line to go against the corporate grain and take a chance on themselves. It’s a big risk running a small business, but usually comes with a great reward—and it’s not money, it’s gratification. Gratification that you are doing what you love. (Although being able to cover your expenses, support your employees and family is really important, too!).

DDA Christmas
“Downtown Ferndale is overflowing in originality, and that is what makes our city the place people want to be.”

Many of our Downtown Ferndale business owners are Ferndale residents, and the same holds true for a significant majority of their employees. They not only invest in their downtown, but also in the people who live here.

Genuine Service. No where else will get you a more genuine experience, the best customer service and full appreciation from shop owners than when you shop at a small business. Small businesses work harder to make sure you’re happy.

Originality. Small businesses are born from the idea of one or sometimes a small group of individuals, whose individuality shines through in what they do, how they do it and what they provide. Downtown Ferndale is overflowing with originality, and that is what makes our city the place people want to be. Downtown Ferndale has a whole host of creative gift buying options – you are sure to be the hit of the party or make your loved ones’ holiday special. There is also comfort in knowing that the dollars you spend on Small Business Saturday will directly impact your community.

More Fun Than Not. I’m just going to say it. Shopping in a downtown is just a heck of Leave Your Printa lot more fun than being stuck in a line or being packed in like sardines in a mall or big box. I love being able to have a real conversation with the real owner of the store, and take my time making my shopping decisions. Small business owners know how to help you, even when you don’t know what you’re looking for. We also have over 60 restaurants and entertainment venues to add to that shopping experience, which to me is a winner! Nothing beats a day of shopping than to be able to sit down, kick back and enjoy a meal someone makes for me (and a beverage I might add). Stress be gone!

Found Sound DDA
Found Sound

So what are you doing this Saturday, November 29th? After reading this I hope you are taking it to the streets of Downtown Ferndale for Small Business Saturday. Start your day with brunch, then make sure to pick up the Downtown Ferndale Passport to specials and savings at more than 30 businesses. Every time you make a purchase, get your passport stamped. With each stamp, you will be entered into a raffle of amazing prizes from our merchants. With each stamp you know you are supporting your community! For a list of businesses and all the details, go to www.downtownferndale.com.

#ShopSmall #ShopLocal #DowntownFerndale

Seeking the Success of our City

Jim Pool Bio Photo
“Wherever I am, I try to support the community, love people, encouraging all that is good that is happening in the city.”

Written by guest author, Jim Pool

When we opened our doors as the Renaissance Vineyard Church nearly three years ago, one of our values was to be a great friend to the city. We wanted to serve and support our local community, to not only love the people but to actually like the place that where we were at! For us, the church is not the building. The church is the people. So every Sunday, at the conclusion of our service, I encourage people to “go out and be the church.” To go love people and seek the success of our city.

We support our local community in a number of ways. We actively participate in Chamber activities, building relationships, helping network, and hosting connection opportunities in our building for small businesses that may not have a space of their own. We empower the small business owners in our church community. We championRenaissanve Vineyard Inside local events like the DIY, including them alongside our church events on our calendar. We advocate for our great school district. And we care for hungry area families and our homeless neighbors. Our food pantry (including our new garden providing desperately needed healthy vegetables) feeds 80-100 families a month, and our Warming Center sleeps about 75 homeless women and men for 12 days at the start of each new year.

The following story embodies the essence of the posture we’re trying to take. As Ferndale continues to grow, one of the really cool things that’s developed are the many charitable 5K runs. As the City has continued to work on the intricacies of the standardized route for these runs, many of them have gone right by our church building (at 9 & Pinecrest). Which is awesome. On one such occasion, the bulk of the runners raRenaissance Vineyard Front Shotn by from 10-11am on a bright blue Sunday morning. When the start of our 10:30am service came, less than half our group was present. Rather than complain, we happily went outside and started cheering the runners on with gusto, encouraging them to finish strong, waiting for the rest of our community to be released from traffic. I loved it! I was so proud of our church.

I’ve lived in Ferndale for 13 years now and I walk around town every chance I get. I love being in the schools and parks and businesses and bars. Wherever I am, I try to support the community, love people, encouraging all that is good that is happening in the city.

I was in the Army for a short time before becoming a pastor. During that time, the rule of thumb was that for every infantryman on the front lines, there were seven heroic women and men making what that soldier did possible. You might say the Renaissance Vineyard Church is a little like that. Our church is filled with heroic women and men and kids caring for people on the frontlines in need, serving and supporting the great business, educational and civic leaders we have in our community.

The Renaissance Vineyard Church is so thankful to be part of our community and we are happy to #SupportLocal.

The Business of Supporting Local

 Written by guest author, Sandy Levine

When I started in the restaurant industry at the ripe old age of 11, I was already a really competitive kid.  I loved sports and hated losing.  It seemed natural that in the coming years, as I moved my way up through the ranks in kitchens and dining rooms, that other nearby restaurants with similar concepts were viewed by my bosses as the enemy (or at least the opposition).  Whether it was a deli, a pizza place, a burger joint, or a steakhouse, I was always very loyal to where I worked and ready to tell a guest why we were better than somebody else.

In the early 2000s, I moved to Philadelphia, and my eyes were opened to a completely different culture.  It seemed not only that restaurant owners (and managers, servers, bartenders, etc) communicated with one another, they often acted as champions of one another’s places.  In many cases, they would hold events at their competitors’ venues, or team up with other chefs for charity events.  It wasn’t rare if we happened to overbook, that we’d call another restaurant down the street, asking if they could squeeze in a guest we didn’t have room for.  The drastic difference in restaurant/bar industry climate in 1990s Detroit vs. 2000s Philly wasn’t lost on me.  Being so close to New York, we noticed that the bar scene had a similar communal aspect, with bartenders working one or two nights a week at a few different bars.  Everyone sang everyone else’s praises to whoever would listen.

This is the climate that has been building in the Detroit area over the last few years, and it’s

"We were really nervous about how a bar with such a different concept would be received, but something special happened."
“We were really nervous about how a bar with such a different concept would be received, but something special happened.”

intoxicating.  My wife and I signed a lease on a space in downtown Ferndale just over 4 years ago that became “The Oakland,” a craft cocktail bar.  At the time, it was a very new concept that not a lot of people understood (or necessarily cared to).  We were really nervous about how a bar with such a different concept would be received, but something special happened.

For the first month or two we were open, our guests consisted almost entirely of restaurant/bar industry and retail people, who not only liked what we were doing, but told lots of other people about us.  Our business has increased steadily since we’ve opened, and we’ve relied completely on word-of-mouth rather than traditional advertising. The community of Detroit area service industry professionals is growing and strengthening.

I’ve called other owners to borrow ice when our machine was down, to send a free round to our regulars who we knew were there, asked for a bottle of something we ran out of.  We’ve also done the same for several other places near us.  If a guest mentions that they’re headed to one of our friend’s establishments, we’ve been known to send a “special delivery” (read: shot) to the bartender on duty.

If we have a guest who walks out on their bill or is unruly, or if underage kids try to drink at our bar, we send out a text to our neighbors warning them.  I’ve discussed systems and strategies dozens of times with a bar owner that we’re compared to constantly.  All of this lends itself to each establishment improving, our city’s food and drink culture growing, and ultimately a better experience for the guest.  The proof is in the pudding – GQ named Detroit the “Best Bar City in America” in their Bars Issue last August.

#DowntownFerndale
#DowntownFerndale

We were at a soft opening for a new restaurant the night before this post was written that knocked our socks off.  I counted at least 10 separate tables with owners or managers of food or drink establishments, all of whom were cheering on this new establishment.  They all raved about the new place on social media, too.

#SupportLocal

Do you hate working on a team?

A previous post listed some of the so-called “soft skills” that employers look for in potential employees. We know that technical skills can get people hired and soft skills let folks keep their jobs…. But what if you’re really not good at a particular soft skill?teamwork 1

Teamwork is a great example of this. Few people actively dislike working with others – or at least few would admit it – but there are definitely a lot of negative examples of teamwork in action. Our mock interviews are full of stories of teams in which one person did all the work but had to share the credit, supervisors who played favorites, frantic last-minute scrambles to finish, non-existent training programs, and other factors that make job seekers inwardly flinch at the thought of answering the Dreaded Teamwork Question.

A Google search of teamwork defines the term as “the combined action of a group of people, especially when efficient and effective.” This definition makes it obvious why an employer would care about teamwork – who wouldn’t want efficient and effective workers? If you’re struggling to find good examples of a functioning team, expand your thinking a bit and consider the reasons why we work on teams in the first place:

  • Most jobs or tasks are larger than one person could realistically complete on their own
  • The skills of others compensate for areas where you lack knowledge, experience, skills or expertise
  • You can better develop your own skills by teaching them to others
  • Working with a team provides support when things are not going well
  • A team can provide accountability and structure in your work
  • People who work in environments in which they are supported and feel a sense of belonging are more likely to stay longer, be more satisfied with their jobs, and be more productive

Anyone can say “I work well with others,” but you need to give examples in your interview. Think about other facets of teamwork that can highlight teamwork 2your skills:

  • When have you worked with a larger group to complete a really big project? How did your work fit into the overall project?
  • When have you learned from someone else? Are you comfortable asking for help when you need it, instead of trying to work it out on your own and possibly taking more time/making mistakes? Can you accept training from a co-worker on your level (or a subordinate), not just supervisor?
  • Have you taught, mentored, trained, advised, or otherwise instructed a co-worker on an aspect of the job? How did this help the person do their job better or benefit the team overall?
  • When has a project gone terribly wrong? What did you learn? What would you do differently?
  • Are you comfortable being accountable to others, or do you get defensive if someone asks for a progress report? Does working with a team help you stay better organized? Are you the person who hands out assignments and keeps everyone on track?
  • What are you looking for in the next team you work with? What elements have been lacking in the past? What skills or strategies have you developed to compensate for working with less-than-stellar teams?
  • How do you resolve conflicts within a group? How do you take criticism from peers? How do you provide feedback to others?
  • Have you gone above and beyond or done work that wasn’t your responsibility in order to benefit the group or company?

Be prepared to give examples that show how you work as part of a team, following the PAR (Problem, Action, Result) format. Showing teamwork skills can highlight other important soft skills, like communication skills, creativity, flexibility, a positive attitude, and the ability to accept feedback. Even if working with a team hasn’t been a great experience for you in the past, having a good understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses will help a potential employer understand how you’ll fit in and what talents you’ll contribute to your new team.

There’s nothing optional about “soft” skills

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the difficulties employers are having qualified candidates for jobs, even among candidates with great education and credentials. The missing factor? The so-called “soft skills.” As an employer told me recently: “We hire based on what you can do, and fire on who you are.” soft skills 1

At a first glance that seems harsh, but let’s unpack this statement a bit more. You get hired based on your performance at an interview – a one-time (or two- or three-time) encounter that you’ve prepared for extensively. Everyone is on their best behavior. Once you get settled into the tasks of a job, the ways that you interact with others – what you’re like on a day-to-day basis – become incredibly important. Employers can train an employee on your skills, but they can’t train attitude.

So how do you know what qualities to emphasize? The following list of skills showed up most often in my informal survey of articles about the importance of soft skills:

Teamwork

How well do you work with others? Teamwork means more than just sharing a job description or dividing up tasks. Members of a high-functioning team can collaborate, resolve internal conflicts, and negotiate responsibilities. What’s your role in a team? Are you the informal leader who keeps everyone on task? The one who makes sure everyone has a voice in the process? The Steady Eddie who holds the team together? Be prepared to give examples in an interview.

Flexibility

In a competitive job market, you never get to say, “That isn’t my job.” How do you react when someone asks you to do work that’s outside your area of responsibility? How do you prioritize equally urgent tasks? Can you hit your deadlines without a supervisor telling you what needs to get done? Are you dependable? Having a can-do attitude and prioritizing appropriately shows that you understand the importance of your role in the company – and others will, too.

Communication skills

Communication is more than just the ability to talk to other people. When you talk, do others understand your message and priorities? Are you a good listener? Are you paying attention to your body language and non-verbal communication? Can you convey information in writing? Are you good at explaining things to others? The communication skills that are called for will vary by environment; having solid examples ready for an interview shows your self-knowledge and demonstrates your understanding of the job for which you are interviewing.

soft skills 2Positive attitude

Nobody wants to work with someone who’s always negative, cranky, or brings their personal problems to the workplace. Positivity is contagious – stay optimistic and upbeat and put your best foot forward at the start of each day. Maintaining a positive attitude in the face of deadline pressure, external pressures, or personality conflicts shows confidence and reinforces other soft skills, including teamwork, integrity, resilience, communication skills, and more.

Creativity

The ability to consider problems in a new light is valuable in any line of work – unexpected issues always come up, and being able to think on your feet and solve a problem quickly can make a huge difference in a company’s bottom line. Are you a problem solver? Can you try alternate approaches until something is done right? Can you look past “the way it’s always been done” and consider new solutions? When a new project or process is rolled out, you’ll be the person that leads the way for the rest of the team.

Accepting feedback/having accountability

The way in which you accept feedback and take responsibility for your actions says a lot about the quality of your character. This is an important thing to remember in interviews! If you were faced with a difficult situation, such as being terminated, what you learned from it and how you handled yourself afterward can give a potential employer confidence that you can learn from your mistakes and become a better employee.

Wikipedia defines soft skills as “personal attributes that enhance an individual’s interactions, job performance and career prospects.” Soft skills can be a differentiator between equally-qualified candidates, and can determine who stays with a company during tough economic times. Technical skills are important to launch a career, but soft skills are essential to maintaining one.