SH survey sheds light on business

Sean C. Morgan

A survey of 22 Sweet Home businesses generally confirms that the Sweet Home Active Revitalization Effort is headed in the right direction, according to Brian Hoffman, SHEDG economic development director.

Hoffman is boiling down the 32-question, 18-page draft summary report, garnered from personal interviews conducted in April and May with the 22 business owners in Sweet Home, to three pages of findings, expanding on five or six of the most important findings.

“It’s going to outline these critical areas and hopefully, it’ll outline actions,” Hoffman said. It will serve as a sort of guide for SHARE. “Those areas where we’re already performing, it’ll allow us to do that better.”

Members of the SHARE Steering Committee conducted the interviews personally, putting a human face to the survey with one-on-one communication, Hoffman said. In the future, it will make it easier for the committee members to relate to the rest of the business community.

The survey wasn’t scientific or formal, Hoffman said. SHARE selected businesses that had participated in SHARE programs, but the survey wasn’t closed. It was opened up to any business owners who indicated they wanted to participate.

A lot of the comments focused on communication both ways, Hoffman said. The completion of the final document will take a step toward improving communication.

“When the final document is created, we’re looking at having those same teams return to the businesses,” Hoffman said. “So now the businesses will know where we’re going also.”

The Steering Committee members will have to explain it to the businesses, he said, meaning they will need to be familiar with it and able to answer questions.

“A lot of the complaints was when we do these things is we never hear anything back,” Hoffman said. “We’re bringing the findings to you.”

He’s not sure exactly what the final document will look like, he said, but clearly, a majority of businesses rely on the tourism industry. That means the community needs to find a way to promote and improve tourism.

For 55 percent of businesses, May through August is the peak season due to tourism, Hoffman said. The next highest is December, suggesting an opportune time for a “buy local” campaign.

“Tourism just happens at this time,” Hoffman said. “We’re just fortunate to have natural resources in our backyard that people want to come to.”

“It is important to help business owners learn to broaden their customer base and create a destination retail business,” Hoffman said in the draft findings.

Among the findings, the committee learned that 94 percent of the businesses interviewed had been operating in Sweet Home for more than two years. More than half of them had been in business for more than five years.

Some 64 percent of the businesses own the building where they operate, which is a positive for streamlining the Commercial Exterior Improvement Program.

Some 59 percent of the business owners employ themselves and only a few part-time employees.

Sixty-four percent estimated their customer bases were mostly local residents, while 45 percent said their competitors were located outside of Sweet Home but in Linn County.

The highest percentage of business transactions take place from 3 to 5 p.m. The largest employers in Sweet Home, White’s Electronics and School District 55, have large numbers of personnel ending their work day beginning around 2:30 p.m.

Also among the findings, SHARE will need to identify which events reach the objectives set forth in its work plan and add value to businesses.

Of the few businesses that do not participate in the “Buy Local/Think Local Campaign,” all said they would be willing to participate. SHARE needs to figure out why they aren’t already participating, Hoffman said.

Creative ad campaigns through cooperative programs would heighten “shop local” awareness, he said in the draft findings.

“Business assistance programs are important for growth,” Hoffman said in the draft. “Owners need specific help focused on how to effectively use tools readily available to them through technical assistance and business development programs. Programs such as graphic design, marketing and advertising, maximizing Internet and e-commerce opportunities and customer service, to name a few.”

The survey also revealed that most businesses plan to make some changes and improvements sometime in the next two years, Hoffman said. None are planning to downsize or sell.

“That was very positive,” Hoffman said, and more than half of them were planning to make exterior improvements. “For the most part, people are looking at expanding or investing in the next two years. We need to continue providing tools to make that easier for them.

“I think we need to look at creative ways of doing this where it doesn’t put too much expense on the business.”