Part digital age and part recession reality, consumers now have two pressing demands: convenience and affordability.
Business models have been whipped into a new shape by economic conditions, creating a chasm between old and new paradigms. Companies stuck in their ways – aka dinosaurs – have to adjust their methods for 21st century survival. On the other hand, businesses chasing innovative ideas are capitalizing on popularized trends – in many ways comfort goods-based models.
Springfield Business Journal shares five snapshots of industries in this make-or-break time:
- Journalism teacher Andrew Cline is spearheading a student-led news Web site emphasizing blogs and podcasts.
- Glenda Green is seeing a resurgence in her two decades-old resale clothing boutique.
- Mike Kahl manages a regional video store, where he emphasizes customer service.
- Zack Terhark runs a national über-niche classifieds site in the footsteps of Craigslist.com.
- Sandy Nance hits a trifecta for cost-quaint- and community-conscience consumers at her downtown cupcake shop.
The influence of the Internet on businesses cannot be understated. Perhaps no segment has been impacted more than media.
Andrew Cline, assistant professor of journalism at Missouri State University, helped start www.ozarksnewsjournal.com
for Missouri State journalism students last fall. He teaches a multimedia journalism class that provides content for the site and gives students experience writing blogs and recording podcasts. The site was established to address the changing needs of today’s students and consumers, Cline said.
Newspaper production and distribution peaked in 1993 with total circulation for U.S. papers at 62 million per day, according to the Newspaper Association of America. In 2007, U.S. newspaper circulation topped 51 million, and by 2009, the most recent data available at www.naa.org
, nationwide print circulation had fallen to 46 million.
Cline said students generally no longer expect to work one day at a major metropolitan daily, but they do expect to work online.
“For the last few years, I can think of no student of mine in journalism who has come into the program assuming they’re going to work in print,” Cline said. “They assume that most of their work will appear on the Internet or by some electronic means.”
Bernie Dana, director of the business department at Evangel University, said students who focus on Web-based or service businesses seem to have the brightest futures.
“Almost all of the growth in the gross domestic product during the last two decades has come from service-oriented business,” Dana said.
In the last year, several service-oriented dessert and cake shops have opened in the Springfield area, including Alexandria’s Cupcake Cottage, Fria, Gelato Mio, Orange Leaf and The Cup. The comfort-food trend continues with frozen yogurt shops Peachwave and FruityLand, both on East Battlefield Road.
Sandy Nance said her downtown shop, The Cup, is among those filling several consumer needs at once: low-cost treats, unique gifts and a place to commune.
“I do think cupcake shops are an extension of what you’re seeing in coffee houses. People are returning to some sense of community, and that could be them with coffee and a laptop on Facebook,” Nance said.
National trends include green businesses, coffee shops, wireless accessories, Web development, health care and fitness-related businesses.Adapting to an evolution
Zach Terhark, owner of Gunlistings.org, an online classified site for gun owners, said he started the site in August 2008 shortly after graduating from Evangel University with an accounting degree. Terhark, the product of an Iowa farmer who grew up with a love for guns, said he is using his free listing site to launch an online ammunition-sales company. Springfield-based Gunlistings.org received more than 200,000 visitors in February.
“One day, I wasn’t thinking, and I typed in a gun that I wanted to buy on Craigslist.com. I realized there were no guns on Craigslist,” Terhark said. “Then I went to Google and found that there just weren’t any alternatives out there.”
Terhark’s brother, who owns an Iowa Web design firm, helped him launch the site. “A lot of the companies in the sporting industry are a little behind the curve in terms of technology, so I feel it’s a great field to be in,” Zach Terhark said.
Glenda Green, co-owner of The Review Shoppe at 2752 S. Glenstone Ave., said her resale clothing boutique is flourishing with 15 percent revenue growth in 2010 and around $600,000 in annual sales.
“People are getting more information about a smart way to shop, and we are seeing lots of new faces,” Green said.
The Review Shoppe sells designer clothing and purses, generally buying the items on consignment for 40 percent of the resale price. She said designer purses are the company’s biggest draw, ranging between $350 and $1,200.
“We have display cases full of the designer purses that people normally have to go to New York or Kansas City or a bigger city to see. We’re very upscale,” Green said.
She said the 21-year-old business had operated in multiple locations before it consolidated into its 5,000-square-foot Brentwood Center site. The Review Shoppe also sells products on Ebay.com and Amazon.com. Green said flexibility has been a key to success.
“We’re not afraid to try new things,” she said.
Some businesses, however, may struggle even though they are adapting to an online audience. Dana said companies that produce phone books, and now online directories, might become dinosaurs in the age of quick-search Google.
“Ten years down the road, there may not be much land-line use anymore,” he said, noting that through search engines, both customers and businesses have found a way to find each other that wasn’t available 20 years ago. “The Internet becomes a new approach to doing businesses.”Convenience beats service?
Cline said he believes the American media consumer is becoming more convenience-conscious. He pointed to home-video provider Netflix as being in tune with customer needs with its late 2010 launch of streaming-only subscription services.
“Apparently, even going to the mailbox is no longer convenient,” Cline said.
Even video-kiosk heavyweight Redbox, he said, could suffer the same fate as mom-and-pop video shops or the bankrupt Blockbuster Inc., which has a planned auction of its company scheduled for April 4. In February, Redbox announced it is launching its own video-streaming service to compete with frontrunner Netflix.
Mike Kahl, district manager for Family Video in Springfield, said keeping debt low and focusing on customer service has been a key to his company’s survival in recent years.
The privately owned video retailer operates 737 locations in 19 states, and added 132 stores in 2010.
“We own probably 90 percent of our properties, so we control the overhead, and work to pay off the mortgages in a short period of time and that allows us to be more profitable and sustain our brick-and-mortar business,” Kahl said, declining to disclose revenues.
Family Video has taken advantage of the failures of other video stores such as Movie Gallery.
“In the last nine months, Family Video created more than 1,000 jobs, with a lot of the stores that we (added) last year, a lot of which were Movie Gallery conversions,” Kahl said, pointing to stores in Ozark and Republic that were former Movie Gallery sites.
Kahl said there would always be a need for physical video stores.
“We want to make sure we keep focusing on customer service,” he said, “because customers can actually choose no customer service by going to a kiosk, pushing buttons and waiting in the rain.”
After the nation’s second-largest bookstore chain, Borders Group Inc., filed for bankruptcy protection in February, industry experts pointed to the emergence of online options such as Amazon.com and e-readers for its downfall. Cline said he’s a regular user of Amazon and can become irritated when he can’t find what he needs online.
“I’ve got a Kindle now, and frankly, if it’s not on Kindle, I’m kind of annoyed,” Cline said, adding that his Amazon purchases are not limited to literature but also include electronics and gadgets. “It all just comes to you, you know?”[[In-content Ad]]