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Business expert to offer tips in three WNC downtowns

With an economy still recovering from a recession, local businesses are reaching for ways to keep customers coming. Downtown associations in Franklin, Sylva and Waynesville will assist in those efforts by bringing in the expertise of a small business consultant.

Tom Shay, who has more than 25 years of experience in family business, will present “Strategies to Win in 2010” to motivate small businesses and educate them on how to survive the rough economy. Shay is scheduled to speak in all three towns, as well as meet one-on-one with local businesses to give individualized tips.

At his talk, Shay will address topics as diverse as promotions, customer loyalty, business management design, employee skills development, and financial control.

June Hernandez, chair of the Franklin Main Street Program and owner of Primrose Lane Gifts in Franklin, said she is looking forward to hearing what Shay has to say.

“I’m very anxious to have him come in,” said Hernandez. “We’re thinking of everything, but when you get in a situation like the economy’s in, it’s hard to think outside of the box.”

Hernandez said her store is still doing business, but her numbers are nowhere close to what they were even a year and a half ago.

She discovered at a small business forum last month that she was not alone. Businesses across the board, from thrift stores to gift shops, admitted they were struggling.

Hernandez said tough times have led merchants to team up rather than continue to compete with each other.

“I really see people pulling together,” said Hernandez. According to her, the focus has shifted from promoting a single business to encouraging shopping at local businesses in general.

“You do not have to go out of town to go shopping,” Hernandez said.

A local family has started a coupon book called Clip and Save to promote shopping in Macon and Jackson counties, while some shop owners have opted for joint advertisements that list multiple businesses to avoid covering the cost of the ads alone.

The Downtown Sylva Association is promoting The 3/50 Project, which asks members of the community to spend $50 a month at three of their favorite independently owned businesses.

“The community has got to support local small business,” said Julie Sylvester, executive director of the Downtown Sylva Association. “It’s great to have tourists, but if you really build a strong base locally, you don’t have to count on what’s going on in the world.”

According to Sylvester, Sylva’s downtown has definitely been hit hard by the economy,

“We had one business close last Monday. We’re hoping it’s not going to set a trend,” she said.

Waynesville’s downtown seems to be doing comparatively well, with some local businesses saying they have seen their numbers improve this year.

Melanee Lester, general manager at the Mast General Store in Waynesville, said sales have been up, but not by much.

“The economy is getting a little better,” Lester said. “It’s going to be a slow recovery, but it’s happening.”

Lester said the store has done more promotions and sales than usual to attract clientele this year.

Lindsey Ramsey, at Fifi’s Fine Resale Apparel in Waynesville, said they also held more sales this year. Ramsey said she noticed customer traffic during the Folkmoot festival was definitely slower, but August had been busier than expected.

Buffy Messer, director of the Downtown Waynesville Association, said even though sales may be “a little down,” the majority of businesses in downtown Waynesville were satisfied with their numbers.

Even so, many of the shoppers strolling down the Main Street in Waynesville Friday afternoon acknowledged their spending habits had changed.

Barbara Michael of Asheville said she had been shopping less overall. But when she does go out shopping, she prefers to go downtown.

“I always love Main Street. It’s just a lot more special to shop there than going to a big mall,” Michael said.

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