The Future of our Small Businesses

Ann Duckett SWQ Holiday 2015

The Little Bleu Cheese Shop will mark its third year in December and during the time we’ve been open the energy we’ve created in our shop and in the community has been a source of great joy, pride and inspiration for me and my family. Yet, December will also sadly mark the closing of the retail side of our business.

This past May we, as a family, made the difficult decision to move Little Bleu in a new direction. The resulting changes will allow me the freedom and flexibility for more time with family and permit me to take advantage of growing opportunities from other revenue streams once the responsibilities and financial concerns of running the retail side of my business are mitigated. I can redirect my energy toward building an even greater and more supportive “artisan cheese community” through different vehicles in the Finger Lakes region and beyond. While we’re still working out the details around our new name, we will carry “Little Bleu” forward and are excited to be even more visible around town through new partnerships, projects and events.

I’d like to say that this decision was based solely on one factor – my desire to have more balance in my life and more time for family. Truthfully, it was made over many months peppered with sleepless nights; tearful conversations; huddles with our bookkeepers, bankers, accountants and business advisors; second-guessing decisions and choices; looking into partnerships and collaborations with other small businesses; but always asking, “What can we do differently to achieve a healthier bottom line?” Prior to opening Little Bleu, I spent 18 years working in higher education, corporate and not-for-profit positions in Communications, Public Relations and Marketing. I managed an annual budget of $100,000; sat on committees and boards; volunteered; led teams and worked hard to achieve the goals of those I served. I mention this to emphasize that many small business owners and entrepreneurs are educated and passionate folks who desire to bring an idea, concept, product or service to market; we are fueled by dreams we hope we can see to fruition.

In preparation, I worked with the Small Business Development Center and SCORE to complete our business plan and assist in securing our Small Business Administration loan. Fortunately, our business and marketing plans are defining our future but for countless others there isn’t a “what’s next” in the continuum or life cycle of their business. Many get just one chance to make it work.

In a city the size of Rochester SHOP LOCAL and SHOP SMALL is becoming more top- of-mind among consumers, yet a tsunami of online and big box shopping options often drowns out this message. We too understand that time is short, work and family responsibilities prevail, and convenience dictates (especially during the snowiest winter or the most lovely summer days).

But know that these are just a few of the challenges that impact the bottom line on the profit/revenue side much more quickly than those same challenges affect larger companies (often those that are in direct competition with us; many of whom don’t play nice).

We discuss the same issues and trends that affect our selected industries the same way larger companies do, examining things like our Return on Our Investment, sales trends, seasonal shopping, online markets, risk factors, growth opportunities, customer comments, loyalty programs and more. Our team felt we could meet any challenge through greater creativity and thinking outside the box; more events to draw people into the South Wedge and the shop; and through the advice of problem solving business advisors, coaches, accountants and attorneys. But, we committed to examining things after three years and the bottom line is we aren’t happy with our bottom line. Little Bleu has a remarkably loyal customer base, yet it’s not enough to sustain us or help us grow by retailing.

Quiet days for small business owners allow us to get caught up on administrative work but we’d rather have you in our shop or office. To us little guys, every customer is valued. Every sale matters. Every dollar counts. Small businesses offer what behemoth retailers and companies simply cannot, including –

1. Exceptional customer service.

As owners we get to know you personally. We know your preferences. And we deeply appreciate your loyalty and the relationships we have the luxury of building with you because we have the time to do so. One-on-one.

2. Deep product knowledge.

As often as possible, we work with artisans and craftsmen who take great pride in what they create and we help bring their goods to market. We pass their stories along to you every chance we get.

3. Special orders.

We love being able to source unique items just for you and often in less time it takes larger businesses to do. And, you’ll get a follow-up from us to make sure you’re happy.

4. Building a community.

We take great pride in supporting and improving the neighborhoods in which we do business. Many have organizations that improve things for the community at large like parking, safety, traffic flow, beautification and more. We’re so happy to have met so many wonderful people through the shop – many watched our family grow, sharing some incredible life moments with us. To those of you who gave generously your enthusiasm, excitement, support and kindness – welcoming us to the Wedge before we even opened our doors – know that you made an indelible mark in our hearts and on our spirits. We’re so excited about our future; so proud of our past; and so happy we met you.