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

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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.

Being a Good One

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Abraham Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”Abraham Lincoln

Most people who feel they’re struggling in the job search are having difficulty deciding what they want to do. With all the upheaval in the world of work in the last couple of decades, there’s no longer any such thing as a permanent job or a lifelong career, and sometimes we’re left wondering “What’s next?” Our career search plans and expectations haven’t necessarily kept up with the times.

Here’s what I hear every week: “I’ll do anything.” “I’m open to any kind of work.” “I just want to get my foot in the door.”

If we were really honest with ourselves – and not speaking from fear and anxiety – we’d admit that not every job is equally appealing. People love to use the example “I can’t even get a job at McDonald’s!” – they forget that hiring decisions are business decisions. If the manager at that McDonald’s hires the first person who is capable of running the register or cooking the burgers, s/he has solved a problem or filled a need (at least for the moment). But if that new employee is already on the lookout for something better, a few months later that manager is going to be in the same position of looking for another employee. That manager has a responsibility to find someone who wants that job, not just wants it until something better comes along. If you’re going to do something – be a good one. Be all in.

We’ve become so used to thinking about the job search in terms of what we don’t have, it can be easy to forget that we actually do have skills to offer the right employer. It’s our responsibility as job seekers to articulate the value we bring – and this starts with self-knowledge. Have you recently considered:

  •  What kind of work setting brings out the best version of you? If you really love working with people, a job sitting in front of a computer in a cubicle somewhere is going to suck the life out of you. If being with people exhausts you, don’t pursue jobs that require constant contact with others. It’s easier to be “a good one” when you like where you work.
  • What do you absolutely NOT want to do? Just because you’ve done something in the past doesn’t mean you’re stuck doing it in the future. While you may take a “survival job” in the short term, your job search is also an opportunity to consider where you want to go and start taking the steps needed to get there.
  • Remember that it’s not the employers’ responsibility to guess what you want to do or understand what your skills are. If you can’t explain what you would bring to this new job, don’t expect someone else to do it for you. This is the foundation of your career search, your resume, your networking conversations, your interview answers – take the time to understand yourself and help your next employer see what you’ll contribute.
  • Get the word “just” out of your vocabulary. “I was just a waitress.” “I was just a mom.” “I was just a driver.” You have to believe you have something to offer before anyone else can believe it. Whatever you were, you were a good one – and you can be good at the next thing you do, too.
  • Know your audience. If you want to work in a particular industry or company, go into those conversations armed with better reasons than “I want a job with a pension” or “I know the industry.” Like people, employers want to feel special – why did you choose this company over a competitor? What is appealing about this industry? How well do you understand the day-to-day tasks? Going into a job search without knowledge of what you want and why you want it is like going on a blind date and telling your date, “I’ll go out with you until someone I’m actually interested in comes along.” Focus your attention on the job you want and you’re more likely to find an opportunity to do it – and be a good one.

In a tough economy, it can be easy to fall into the trap of chasing after a job you don’t really want, just to be employed again. Think about quality over quantity – focus on the things you’re good at, the things you’re interested in, the things you want for yourself – and you’re on the way to being “a good one,” whatever it is.

“That’s Not My Job!” – Flexibility in the Workplace

This is a story about four people named Everybody, SomebodyAnybody and Nobody.

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it.

It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.not_my_job

Something like this probably happens in most workplaces, at some time or another. There’s a job that nobody wants to do, because:

  • it’s boring/time-consuming/gross/thankless/menial
  • everyone is already busy
  • it’s not in their area of responsibility
  • they’ve already done it and feel it’s someone else’s turn
  • they lack the skills or training to do it

In a competitive job market, employees typically don’t have the luxury of saying “That isn’t my job.” If you’re tempted to pass the buck, consider the consequences:

  • Important tasks may not get done at all. When it comes to cleaning, maintenance, and other routine tasks, leaving the mess for someone else can also lead to compromises in safety and efficiency.
  • If undesirable tasks get pushed down the chain of command, the people at the bottom end up doing all the lousy jobs and are less likely to stay. When those people leave, guess who gets stuck doing their jobs?
  • Bad attitudes are contagious. Refuse to pitch in, and your co-workers are sure to remember it next time you need help with something.
  • Be the person who says, “Sure, I’ll help with that,” and your boss is more likely to remember who looks out for the good of the company during the next round of layoffs.
  • Become cross-trained in different tasks or functional areas and you’ll get a reputation as the “go-to” person. You’re more likely to be considered for collaborative projects with other teams or internal moves or promotions.
  • You were hired to solve a problem or fill a need, not just to do tasks. Find a way to solve a problem and you’ve demonstrated that you can be valuable to the company no matter how much the job changes.

not my job 2If you legitimately don’t have the time or training to take on extra work, look for other ways to contribute and ease the workload on the entire team. You shouldn’t be expected to take on unrealistic workloads or tasks in which lack of training could present a hazard to yourself or others, but your first response should be finding ways to demonstrate your value to the company even if it means stepping outside of your job description.

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.