News Local

Businesses can succeed in today's economy

CECILIA NASMITH Northumberland Today
Interviewed April 17 at the Pineridge Broadcasting station in Hamilton Township, Downtown Business Improvement Area co-ordinator Andrew Hall (left) and Pineridge Broadcasting Inc. general sales manager Dave Hughes display the logo of the Prosper Northumberland initiative, complete with the seven decorative bars that represent the countyÕs seven municipalities. CECILIA NASMITH/NORTHUMBERLAND TODAY/QMI AGENCY

Interviewed April 17 at the Pineridge Broadcasting station in Hamilton Township, Downtown Business Improvement Area co-ordinator Andrew Hall (left) and Pineridge Broadcasting Inc. general sales manager Dave Hughes display the logo of the Prosper Northumberland initiative, complete with the seven decorative bars that represent the countyÕs seven municipalities. CECILIA NASMITH/NORTHUMBERLAND TODAY/QMI AGENCY

NORTHUMBERLAND - Pineridge Broadcasting Inc. general sales manager Dave Hughes has united players from across the county to ensure Northumberland prospers with an initiative called Prosper In Northumberland.

He was inspired by a rather dispiriting sales-staff meeting, Hughes said in an interview this week.

"They were telling me about the mood of the business community. They were to a point where they were saying there are some retail members out there who are very, very disheartened and distraught at how the economy is and how it has been, I guess, since the fall of '08," he recalled.

Hughes called a quick meeting of local media representatives Feb. 9 to see if that sentiment was universal, and found it was. That's when he arranged a meeting with more wide-ranging input.

Representatives of the local media (Northumberland Today, Northumberland News, Snap, Classical 103, Pine Ridge Broadcasting) and the business community (the Business Advisory Centre, Downtown Business Improvement Area, Heritage Business Improvement Area, Port Hope and District Chamber of Commerce, Northumberland Central Chamber of Commerce), along with the County of Northumberland, make up the membership, Hughes said.

The goal was to find ways to get a positive message into the marketplace and restore both consumer and business confidence and overall morale.

"Dave's phrase was, 'You can't chance the economy, but you can change people's attitudes,'" Downtown Business Improvement Area co-ordinator Andrew Hall said.

"Although it's a world-wide downturn, we can help our local retailers and consumers work through this tough time," Hughes agreed.

The first thing they did was agree on a top-10 list of successful Northumberland merchants and find a way to share their success stories through weekly newspaper features and radio vignettes. They are about halfway through the 10 now, Hughes said.

Each merchant is interviewed live, without seeing the questions in advance, and the unedited tape is the material they use.

"These are people who really think outside the box, for the most part, and understand they have to do something different to survive. There are some very interesting twists," Hughes said.

The top 10 are Bud Lauria of Lauria Hyundai, Linda Marr of Buttermilk Cafe, Carl Fletcher of Northumberland Hearing Centres, Karen Williams of Lux Boutique, Tony Pulla of ReMax Lakeshore, Ralph Moulton of Canadian Tire, Blake Holton of Holton's Flowers, Tracy Osborne of Absolute Therapeutics, Arleigh and Linda Campbell of Basil's Market and Deli, and Ken Bell of Bling On King and Kenneth Bell Jewelers.

Northumberland Today publisher Mark Holmes, one of the first local media reps to come on board, was inspired by the hope of making a difference in the community. Holmes is happy with the way the series is moving forward. The reaction he is hearing is that people are enjoying the different installments and looking forward to the next.

"All the features so far have come up with some good advice, and we hope businesses that hear these vignettes and read about them in the papers are absorbing them and picking up a little bit of information that maybe will help in their own business," Hughes said.

He is amazed with how happy these people are to share the keys to their own successes and, in some cases, simple things can make the difference.

Reviewing the series so far, Hall sees two common threads: a focus on the customer and the willingness to diversify.

One of the hardest things to do is ask for help, Hughes continued, but the committee members represent a powerhouse of expertise that they are willing to share.

"They want businesses to be successful in Northumberland County. There are resources you can tap into, for the most part, absolutely free of charge like mentoring programs to help if you are struggling in your business."

Hall is blown away by the amount of progress made in so short a time, and attributes it to the fact that they are a motivated group, largely private-sector and driven to achieve success for the sake of their own livelihoods.

He is also excited by the event they are arranging to cap off the 10-part series on May 24 at a venue to be announced.

The 10 business people will form a panel that will share their successful methods as an adjunct to a special keynote speaker: Barb Stegemann, author of 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen, chief executive officer of The 7 Virtues Fragrance Collection and honourary colonel for the Royal Canadian Air Force (possibly the first Canadian woman honoured with an honourary military commission).

Hall shared her story - a woman who had been unable to join the Canadian Forces, but did have a friend who served in Afghanistan and came back critically injured.

Determined to make a contribution as a civilian, Stegemann established ties with the Afghani farmers who grew poppies for the opium trade and eventually convinced many of them to switch to orange blossoms.

"You can derive fragrance for perfumes from orange blossoms. And the mark-up in the perfume industry is substantial, so it's very lucrative for farmers," Hall said.

Stegemann even accomplished the extraordinary feat of appearing on CBC's Dragon's Den and getting buy-in from four of the five dragons that enabled her to expand. She is now working her magic in Haiti.

"She is almost single-handedly changing the state of the industry in Afghanistan in terms of farming, while creating a sustainable and profitable operation," Hall said.

"We hope she will be able to inspire our local business people to think differently, to think entrepreneurially, to think socially and effect change in the local economy."

"She is a great example where people told her she couldn't do it and she succeeded," Hughes said.

"She is a dynamic speaker and does a great presentation. When the night is done and Barb's completed her talk, I am sure there will be a lot of people in that audience who will be inspired to get back to their businesses and say, 'We can do anything we put our minds to, and we can be as successful as anyone. If things are going to change, it has to start with us."

Tickets will be free, but must be obtained in advance, he said.

It's all a good strategy to build toward tomorrow, when the typical eight- to 10-year economic cycle turns around.

"Businesses today that are doing things smart and really trying to stay above the line are the ones that will be more successful than they ever dreamed," Hughes predicted.

"The ones that harp on the negativity - they would be that way even in a prosperous time."

cecilia.nasmith@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/NT_cnasmith