Monday, October 12, 2009

Tales from Philly: Small Business Marketing at its Finest

A few weeks ago I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing business owner James McManaman, owner of Absolute Abstract, a ‘frameless’ art store with two locations in Philadelphia, one on 13th Street and the other on East Passyunk Avenue where I was doing some work with the local BID.

James is an excellent businessman who puts into practice all the strategies that we consultants often preach about.

Location, Location, Location
James opened his second store on
East Passyunk after attending an evening social event sponsored by the East Passyunk Business Improvement District (EPBID). It was an eye-opening experience for the entrepreneur, who knew about the neighborhood, but professed to being surprised at the changing neighborhood demographics. With its evening traffic of restaurant-goers, the district was a perfect fit for his inexpensive frameless art. It met the need of potential customers who were wandering the streets in the evening looking for something to do before or after dinner. In a stroke of good luck, he found some space in the district that was ‘retail ready’ – it had been a gallery before going vacant and needed very little, if any tenant improvements. What a coup!

Advertising in the 21st Century
James understands that his that the process of building a clientele is organic. He doesn’t believe in too much advertising, instead choosing to donate art to events in the neighborhood and building good will that generates buzz for his business. He also piggy-backs on EPBID’s evening social events by raffling off art and providing gift bags to participants and truly understands the power of great visual merchandise display. He takes extreme care with his window displays – changing them every three days!

Also critical to James’ success is his email distribution list of 3,000 customers. He makes every possible effort to get every person’s email and is the quintessential provider of customer service. He makes every effort to greet every single customer who walks into the store, telling them first about his strong concept of ‘frameless, affordable, custom-sized’ art. You can’t be in the store for more than ten seconds before hearing these buzz words. As a customer, I was immediately intrigued (anything ‘affordable’ intrigues me these days – and I’m not alone!).

James also created a website where customers can purchase art and provides free consultations. In fact, customers can send a picture of the wall they want ‘designed’ and he will create an assemblage of art to meet the customers needs. What a great concept!

It’s Not Just the Store, It’s the District
James understands that his business is not successful in vacuum. He was instrumental in helping to form a merchants group at his first store in
Midtown Village, and is at it again along East Passyunk. He knows the power of district marketing and is pushing for a map of the district that can be distributed in all stores. He is also committed to helping his next door neighbor (a long standing district merchant) improve their window display. On the day he went to speak with the owner, he found himself standing in the near empty store for 20 minutes before the merchant came to help him. Undeterred, he plans to go back and find a way to help the merchant, while ensuring they are able to ‘save face’ even as they accept his help. This from a man that won’t let customers go ten seconds without being recognized and greeted.

Overall, I say kudos – and what a fantastic addition to this already bustling commercial district!

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