I recently had an amazing opportunity to listen, learn, mingle and network with some of Maine's finest entrepreneurs, small and large business owners, and creatives like myself titled, 'Small Business Learning Lab', hosted by the Retail Association of Maine (RAM) and the National Retail Federation (NRF)
With the Regency's Atlantic Room as the backdrop, we gathered around large packed round tables and enjoyed talks focused on a range of subjects encountering retailers from the web to bricks and mortar, security to legislation, failures, accomplishments and the lessons we learn along the way.
David Brooks of Flyte New Media got us started off with the importance and usefulness of social media, email marketing and being authentic. Amanda O'Brien of Planet Dog spoke to the everyday use of the all your data and how cross referencing is a layup to success. Brett Wickard of Bull Moose Music continued that conversation of data but not necessarily using data from the past but forecasting what it means in the future as well as the importance that everyone in your organization must be on the same page, focused and in the now.
I first met Brett when I was 13 in Brunswick, he just opened his music store (not the current Brunswick store, the one before that next the armory) and I recall walking in and seeing him sorting through boxes and boxes of tapes and cds. I became an instant fan for Brett carried music no one else did, plus he allowed me to help him work around the shop as if I was an employee, part of the team. We laughed about child labor law infraction but back then I didn't care, it was a cool place to hang out! Whenever I walk into a Bull Moose today I always think back to the hard work he exhibited then and how it has paid off for him now. Brett is still the same guy, a true inspiration and perfect example of "the more you put in the more you get out".
We transitioned into security, fraud, hackers, and that if you think you're safe from it you're not. Tom Litchfield, VP of Retail Technology at NRF, went into the technical side of things from a 40,000 foot view, Eric Shepherd of OTTO Pizza brought it down to ground level with his recent experience with being a target of a credit card breach. Eric and his staff did everything they knew how to remediate the issue of which was small in comparison, but on a local level it is crucial and imperative to be open and honest with your customers. Eric and OTTO did just that and are now more prepared and secure then ever and their customers are grateful for it, also grateful for their pizza, go get some!
Laura Hnatow of Sea Bags and Topher Mallory of Mexicali Blues spoke about on and offline marketing content and the importance of standing out from the crowd. If you follow Sea Bags socially you know they do it well, photography, stories, contests and a real genuine connection with their followers. It was the first time I met Topher and we seem to be cut from the same cloth, a tye-dye piece of cloth. Great guy, funny stories, well traveled and a real grasp on life, treat each other well, stand by your word, it's easy!
From there we enjoyed a group discussion with Matt Shay of NRF, Heather Sandborn of Rising Tide Brewing and Don Oakes of Sea Bags led by Curtis Picard of RAM. Matt was cool and formal but Heather and Don really made my ears perk up. Heather's story sounded identical to mine, career change, working from home, family, bills, trying to stay afloat, but like I she knew that if she worked as hard at her own business as she did for other previous occupations it would work out in the end. If you've tried one of their local brews you know they're on their way to great success.
When Don was asked a question, too many times I answered in my head the similar words that he spoke there after, was he reading my mind? Of course not but just in case I hid behind the person in front of me so he couldn't see me, just kidding but his story and business mind are much like mine so it was weird yet refreshing. He's a talent and, like I, spent many years at LL Beans, a Maine based business, the gold standard of customer service and a great example of how any business should run theirs. At Sea Bags he works closely with his team and has grown the company tremendously over the past three years while maintaining the quality and uniqueness of their products.
From there we mingled over Rising Tide brews and networked like a hive of bee's, it was awesome. I and a few others were thrilled to be asked to display our work as the center pieces of the tables, and as you can imagine I didn't hold back! It was great to hear feedback, compliments and suggestions to help solidify my path. I met and caught up with so many great folks and will always be thankful for the opportunity, never let one pass you by!