We are thrilled to see this article about West Business Development Center CEO Mary Anne Petrillo give a presentation at The Gualala Municipal Advisory Council meeting earlier this month.

“West Center urges Gualala businesses to court ‘the new consumer By W.W. Keller

Copyright 2020, Independent Coast Observer, Inc. www.mendonoma.com

“The Gualala Municipal Advisory Council, which spearheaded the streetscape plan that will transform the town of Gualala, has also launched an initiative to help the Gualala business community meet the challenges of serving local residents and attracting more visitors to make the local economy survive and thrive for years to come.

GMAC invited the West Business Development Center to meet with local business owners in Gualala, and then make a public presentation to the GMAC last Thursday, Jan. 9. GMAC member Tom Murphy introduced the informal business, held at Cove Azul restaurant prior to the GMAC meeting.

The stated mission of the West Business Development Center is “West BDC’s mission is to help businesses through free one on one advising and low-cost workshops. West serves any business with under 100 employees in Mendocino and Lake Counties and they have specialist business advisors on everything from permitting to website development.†And in today’s small business environment, that means understanding who the new consumers are and presenting products and services in a way meets their expectations, according to Mary Anne Petrillo, the West Center’s CEO.

Local business, said Petrillo, needs to confront a number of dynamic issues affecting almost all small businesses across Mendocino County. First and foremost, she said, is to understand “demographic change,†such as the ongoing transition from baby-boom shoppers to tech-savvy Generation Y and millennial shoppers. “It’s the new consumer, “she said, “They consume things very differently. They want to see some continuity in the town. If you don’t have a website, you have a problem with the younger, new consumer. They need a website; they won’t buy without it. You have to give them a shopping experience.â€

In addition to the new demographics, Petrillo said businesses must respond to a number of contemporary issues that may not have been so important in the past. These include climate change, as evidenced by fires and floods that have destroyed businesses and, importantly, the homes of employees; accelerating technology change, which has fundamentally altered the ways in which people consume; workforce change, because in the new economy, people tend to be more mobile, and there are a lot of people who can work from wherever they are located. 

“You need to get data,†Petrillo said. “Why do people come to Gualala and the south coast of Mendocino County? Where do they come from? You can get this kind of data from any events you have. You need to analyze why people are coming here.â€

“We talk about buying local, but we do a lousy job of telling people what we have,†said Murphy, to which Petrillo responded, “Marketing is a deep and dark forest, and now it is much bigger.â€

ICO publisher Steve McLaughlin, who has been involved in Gualala business for 50 years, observed, “Most new businesses [that fail,] fail because of undercapitalization.†Petrillo concurred. “Yes, this is really true,†she said. “We like to be partnering with businesses before they open. If a problem comes up, the new business owner may not have the capital to ride it out.†She listed several ways that new businesses owners could anticipate and hopefully avert damaging early capital losses.

Murphy focused on finding a collective identity for Gualala, “Nothing in Gualala says, ‘Hey, this is who we are.’ There should be a common way of presenting the town.†

Several ideas were floated on how to approach the new consumer. “We have a real opportunity with the streetscape,†said Murphy, referring to Gualala’s long-planned redevelopment of the downtown area along Highway 1. Petrillo suggested, “Use your artists. Make a mural. They [younger consumers] love to have a place to take an Instagram photo.â€

GMAC chair Robert Juengling added, “We should also have a map, including a beach access map. And a business map,†so that consumers can learn more easily what the town has to offer. “We need a bike shop, with a sign that says, ‘bikes welcome,’†Murphy chimed in. “We should have a sign [at the south end of town] that says, ‘Congrats, you have survived the Bay Area.’â€

Several people noted that Gualala businesses are not represented in the community website, VisitMendocino.com. As a result, when tourists go the website, they are not directed to hotels, restaurants, and other businesses in Gualala. Petrillo said the easy fix is for individual businesses to contact VisitMendocino.com, and send them photographs and information about their stores, services, and products. “Use your assets, including the natural beauty, to draw in people,†she said

The bottom line, Petrillo said, is “you need a vision for the community and a plan to carry it out … Collective vision is number 1. You have to have a collective vision that people — most of the business owners — have in common. Do you want to increase foot traffic? You have to have a collective vision.â€

The West Business Development Center is ready to partner with the Gualala business community, Petrillo said. She urged local business owners to visit the Center’s website at westcenter.org to sign up for a 20-minute “Orientation Call.†During the orientation call, businesses can learn about a wide range of free business consultation and other services that the West Center can make available to them.

The West Center is a nonprofit organization, funded primarily by the U.S. Small Business Administration and Mendocino County, with offices in Fort Bragg and Ukiah. It offers free consulting, training, and technical assistance to small businesses in areas ranging from business basics to accounting, marketing, e-commerce, and employee recruitment, training, and retention. 

Murphy said he saw the day’s event as a beginning point in developing a vision for the business community. He asked business owners in Gualala to send their ideas on improving the Gualala business environment to him at GMAC95445@gmail.com.â€

This article was written By W.W. Keller

Copyright 2020, Independent Coast Observer, Inc.


Publisher J. Stephen McLaughlin


Copyright 2020, Independent Coast Observer, Inc.


Publisher – J. Stephen McLaughlin

Independent Coast Observer

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