While Searcy, Arkansas, and the six winning businesses have been filming for Small Business Revolution Main Street Season 4, I wanted to learn more about what the future might hold for our small town. In addition, in recent months I’ve become a fan of the previous seasons of SBR and have wanted to meet in person the small business owners featured on television. Knowing I would be in Indiana for another event and just two hours from Wabash, I reached out to Season 1 winners to see if someone would meet with me for an interview. I was thrilled when Christine Flohr from Wabash County and a prominent member of the Season 1 cast not only responded to my message but also set up a meeting with four of the business owners and the mayor in Harry’s Old Kettle Pub and Grill, which was the made over business of Season 1 Episode 2.
I was a little nervous when I first arrived to Harry’s Old Kettle. I wasn’t sure whom I would see first or how we would recognize each other, but it didn’t take long before I was shaking hands with Harry Kilmer himself, Mayor Scott Long, Lisa Downs (from Ellen’s Bridal and Dress Boutique, Episode 3) and Christine Flohr. We pulled some tables together, and in the meantime Matt Haynes (Filament Tattoo, Episode 4), Maria and Mike Smyth (Eclectic Shoppe, Episode 7), and Judy Kilmer, Harry’s wife, arrived.
We met for at least an hour and a half. They asked me questions about Searcy and our SBR experience, and I asked them about theirs. Everyone was kind and hospitable. I even got to try Harry’s pulled-pork salad with meat smoked on the smoker gifted to him on the show by Deluxe. We discussed the positive impact SBR has had on Wabash, and while I was listening to the growth that has occurred in the last 3 years, I got the firm impression that Wabash’s revolution had begun long before Deluxe came to town; but at the same time, SBR gave the community the economic and communal boost that would lead to a prosperous trajectory for years to come.
Following the meeting I took a brief walking tour around downtown Wabash. It was great to stand in front of Eclectic Shoppe and the old Ellen’s Bridal as well as the new location after Lisa had to move to a larger location. I walked by Schlemmer Brothers Metalworks, Thriftalicious, Filament, and even MoDocs Market, the coffee shop that served as Brinkman and Herjavec’s “war room” in each episode. Christine also showed me the Wabash County office and several other sites downtown that are important to the community. I saw new construction for loft apartments and the “all access” park.
Finally, I saw several examples of new businesses that have moved to town after SBR Season 1 aired. Wabash, Indiana, now 3 years later, is doing quite well. They have shown what hard work, a dedicated plan, and a commitment to community can do to transform a place.
My mission for this trip was to collect wisdom from the first winners of SBR. The four business owners, Christine, and Mayor Long shared with me valuable points for Searcy and other small towns to consider as we take part in this revolution for small towns and small businesses. Below are the tips from Wabash:
Have the infrastructure ready for growth that includes small businesses, local government, and other interested entities. Both Wabash and Searcy have experienced tremendous community support, but a successful future will depend on an overall infrastructure that will allow for development.
Listen to the advice given by Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution. Those who implemented the changes advised by Deluxe have done well. Though, as Matt mentioned, SBR does not “give you everything.” The six winners had to put in a lot of sweat equity, take risks, and be willing to commit to the guidance of the Deluxe SBR experts. Furthermore, not only the six featured businesses get help. Deluxe hosts small business seminars and has a wealth of information online.
The revolution needs a champion and political support to keep the momentum going. Christine is obviously the heart that keeps the momentum pumping, along with Mayor Scott Long, of course. After the Deluxe SBR team is gone, it is up to the small businesses in town to attract traffic, maintain and update websites and property, and advance their marketing strategy. All parties involved need to keep pushing the momentum forward.
Beginning with the six businesses, all small businesses in town need to network and support each other. The Wabash small business winners noted how other owners in town “lean on the six businesses” for advice and assistance.The winning six businesses are not in a vacuum, and when one owner brings in new business to town, it helps others. This ripple effect makes a wide impact.
Form a long-term marketing strategy for your town, which includes a sustainability plan for all small businesses. In the words of Mayor Long, “Success breads success,” but it won’t last long without a committed plan in place.
Wabash’s journey to greatness began prior to SBR Main Street, but there is no question the TV show and the Deluxe team has served this community well. I’m excited to see what the next three years has in store for Searcy, Arkansas!