When Kimber Lanning started her small art gallery in central Phoenix in the late 1990s, the only neighbors she had were homeless and the only visitors, unwanted drug addicts. Everyone called her crazy for even moving into the area.
Things were so bad in the neighborhood she could not get pizza delivered. Surrounding buildings were abandoned and boarded up, bullet holes sprayed across the front of each.
A dozen years later, the block is no longer a blight in the community. It is known as an arts district that hosts one of the largest arts walks in the country on the first Friday of the month.
However, that change did not happen overnight.
With limited marketing funds, Lanning had to get creative.
She sent out handmade flyers and postcards and a buzz grew around the shop. Over time, new businesses moved in and the owners pooled their resources to reach even more customers.
Today, the area is known as Roosevelt Row and it boasts 12 art galleries, three wine bars, two coffee shops, five restaurants and a light rail stop. Crime is also down 60 percent.
“That is the power of small business,” she said.
Other businesses could have similar success if they learned how to collaborate, Lanning said, who is the founder of North America’s largest small business coalition, Local First Arizona.
At the March 21 Business Buzz luncheon, Lanning spoke to area small business owners about creating similar success in Payson.
“When I travel around the state, I don’t see enough collaboration,” she said. “You are all in the same boat together and you need to not only be thinking about what you do, but what others need to know about what your community is like.”
For example, a coffee shop that only focuses on marketing itself is missing the larger opportunity to market Payson as well, she said.
And creating a destination in the customer’s mind is key.
Customers go to Roosevelt Row not just because of Lanning’s shop, but to visit the other antique stores, restaurants and art galleries.
“You need to think about all of your existing assets” and highlight those, she said.
From the Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, Main Street, Zane Grey Museum, thrift shops, antique stores — Payson has a lot to offer Valley visitors.
But every year, Arizonans spend $6.5 billion vacationing in California. There is a huge opportunity to redirect even a small portion of those dollars to rural Arizona towns.
“Regional thinking creates new dollars for all,” she said.
One way Local First Arizona is helping small towns market is by creating videos that highlight local shops, restaurants and attractions.
The videos are part of a project known as Weekend Zona and the first video focuses on Cottonwood. Lanning said she would like to do a video on the Rim Country.
In the meantime, Lanning urged business to get together and share marketing costs to grow mutual customers.
Free tools like Facebook are an easy way to get started.
Read more on setting up a business page on Facebook next week in the Payson Roundup.