Three Gloucester Main Street business owners have earned their Certificate in Retail Operations from the Retail Alliance Foundation’s Center for Retail Excellence and were awarded more than $25,000 in grant funding to expand their services in 2019, the Gloucester Main Street Preservation Trust announced this week.
“Combining incentives with education was something Retail Alliance had not done before, but because the Trust had the experience of doing the Community Business Launch program in 2015 we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to continue the mission to Launch Gloucester and bolster the businesses in our community,” said Jenny Crittenden, Executive Director for the Trust and a member of the Board of Directors of Retail Alliance. The Trust is a premier partner with Retail Alliance.
“Opening a business is one thing, but keeping it afloat and thriving is another,” Crittenden said. “Providing continuing education and incentives for people to grow their businesses, as well as for the Trust to incentivize businesses to locate in Gloucester, is at the heart of our mission. We are grateful to Retail Alliance for this opportunity to tap into such a great program to assist our entrepreneurs.”
Retail Alliance Foundation classes to earn the Certificate of Retail Operations commenced in Gloucester in late 2017 and ran through 2018, offering training in seven key must-haves for operating a retail business, ranging from business planning and financial management, to merchandising and marketing. The program was taught partly online, for convenience and accessibility, and partly face-to-face, for networking, mentorship and support. The course falls under Retail Alliance Foundation’s Center for Retail Excellence and the same program is offered on the Virginia Peninsula and Southside Hampton Roads.
“We don’t promise you success if you do all of these things we teach, but we do promise you failure if you do not,” said Susan Moore, the former Director for the Center for Retail Excellence who led the courses in Gloucester. “Business is inherently about risk. You have to have a certain amount of toughness, but you also have to have a certain amount of humility and willingness to ask questions and reach out to learn more to grow.”
Graduates of the course, the first taught in Gloucester, included Crystal Burton of Sweet Tooth Café & Bakery, Terri Crowder of Northern Neck Popcorn Bag, Liz Ware and Laura Brewer of the Gloucester Brewing Company and Ryanne Tyler of Rye’s Flooring.
The Trust, with its mission to bolster Main Street businesses, awarded $15,000 to the Gloucester Brewing Company which opened in late 2018 on Main Street in Gloucester as a new business; $5,500 to the Sweet Tooth Café & Bakery for their expansion in 2019 that will include a new commercial freezer and display case to show off a wider selection of cheesecakes; and $4,700 to Northern Neck Popcorn Bag for their second location that opened on Main Street in 2018.
The grant money the Trust awarded also included scholarship money to help pay back part of the $995 cost of the course with the Retail Alliance Foundation. The Trust’s Board was confident in its investment into the businesses, Crittenden said, partly because of the work each participant had to put into the planning of their business as a requirement of the program.
“We are committed to investing in our Main Street businesses through a variety of grant vehicles, and in this case, we were able to use the Retail Alliance Foundation program as a way to almost vet the businesses we were awarding money to,” Crittenden said.
As part of the program, for example, the students participated in a capstone project that Retail Alliance Foundation calls the Minnow Bucket, a spin-off of the popular Shark Tank television series.
“The students had to present their business plans to a panel,” Moore said. “We call it the Minnow Bucket because we say that’s where you learn to swim with the sharks.”
The Retail Alliance Foundation plans to offer the course in Gloucester again in 2019, starting in early March. The courses are open to all businesses, including those outside the county. However, businesses already located on Main Street or looking to expand or open on Main Street, can potentially access grant funding and scholarships for the courses by submitting an additional application through the Trust. Visit launchgloucester.com or call 804-824-9614 for more information about enrolling. Applications (both for the Alliance and the Trust) will be due by mid-February.