Thursday, June 5, 2008

Prospering on Mainstreet

We live and work in the historic downtown section of Milford, Delaware. And for the past fifteen years we have been active in the non-profit redevelopment group Downtown Milford, Inc. (Check out the group's website at Recently the group became a certified member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's MainStreet Program. (To learn more about the Main Street program visit the website Milford is one of eight cities in Delaware having such a Main Street programs. One of the advantages of participating in the MainStreet Program is that members receive a lot of good technical assistance. Recently the National Trust Main Street Center launched a monthly "webinar" series by means of which they are providing Main Street expertise right to your personal computer. The first webinar was on May 21 and focused on "Financing Business Expansion and Development". (Sorry, but access to these webinars are restricted to Main Street Network Members only.) One of the key points made in this presentation was the importance for businesses located in downtowns to continually work to develop additional new sources of revenue—for example by adding new product lines, marketing to other businesses, expanding into new locations, finding new ways to reach customers, etc. For me what was particularly interesting was the discussion on how the Internet can help a business expand. As readers of my previous blogs know, the LadyBug Shop was founded on the premise that the way to prosper in a small downtown without a lot of foot traffic was to sell both in the store and via the Internet. It seems so obvious! Yet in this webinar it was stated that only about a quarter of downtown businesses have any presence on the Internet. They listed a number of reasons why businesses have been slow in using the Internet and provided some suggestions on how to overcome these obstacles. One specific hurdle for many business owners was the challenge of building and operating a website. The webinar suggested that a good way to test the waters was to first try sales through,, and other online storefronts. Another approach is offered by a new company,, which provides a quick and easy way for businesses to get a basic online storefront up and operating at low cost. For the last three years our in-shop sales have grown at an average of 29% per year. But our Internet sales have grown at an average rate of 85% per year—and now represent 70% of our sales. While the bulk of our revenue now comes from Internet sales, we highly value being part of a downtown business community. This is how we got involved in Milford's annual Bug & Bud Festival--and why Rhonda and I have lead the opening parade each year. This April we were joined by our granddaughters Madison (her third parade) and Jordan (her first). You can't be in parade on the Internet!

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