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Lessons from boot camp; local merchants lay groundwork for year of amazing growth

By LISA WHALEY

Publisher

[email protected]

Jonesborough’s downtown merchants have survived boot camp.  And right now, they’re working hard to share all that they have learned.

“I look at things differently now,” said Corner Cup owner Debbie Kruse, who was one of the seven downtown store owners who recently returned from Destination Business Boot Camp, a two and a half day, intensive business-promotion training offered by nationally known consultant Jon Schallert at his base in Longmont, Colorado. “I think (everything we learned) can totally promote Jonesborough as a destination. Any business that really applies some of the things that we learned can only promote their business in a more favorable way.”

The idea to have Jonesborough merchants attend such a training got its start nearly five years ago, according to Main Street Director Melinda Copp, when Jonesborough was first dipping its toe into the water as a Main Street destination.

“Before we became designated as a Main Street community, we got invited to a community summit in Greeneville,” Copp explained. “Jon Schallert was one of the speakers there. He spoke for two hours. And after he got done, we all just looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, that was amazing.’”

Copp knew right then that Jonesborough needed this type of information to help its businesses grow into everything they could be.

A USDA rural development grant of $10,000 last spring suddenly brought her hope into the realm of possibility. The town researched several possible avenues to meet the criteria of the merchant consultant training grant, but none quite measured up to Schallert’s program.

But that program also had its own challenges.

“You have to go to him,” Copp explained. “He does not come to you.” And the grant would only pay consulting fees, not any travel expenses.

By tapping into Main Street Program reserves earmarked for such expenses, and through some help from the Jonesborough Merchants and Service Association, participating merchants would be offered $500 to offset their travel expenses.

The only thing left was to put out the word and see who responded.

“We sent out an email to all the downtown merchants,” Copp said. “Seven replied.”

Kruse was one of the first.

“I had no experience in marketing a new business,” said Kruse, whose business has been open just about a year. “I think what it did immediately for me is that everything he was saying, I was able to apply it to my situation. And I thought, ‘Oh, I can do that.’ ”

Other merchants who attended included Zac Jenkins with Main Street Cafe; Blake Yarbrough with the Eureka Inn; Janet Browning with Hands Around the World; Amber Hopson at Type A Design; Jeff Gurley with the Lollipop Shop; and Stephen Callahan at Tennessee Distillery.

“We went out there with a hope and a dream,” Copp said with a smile. “It started at 8 a.m. sharp every day. And we did breaks every hour and a half. After the first break, almost all of (the merchants) came to me and said, ‘He is awesome!’

“They have also all come back really motivated and really full of ideas.”

And ready to share.

As part of the Community Reinvention package they signed up for, Copp and fellow boot-camp survivors have been meeting with other downtown shops owners and managers to talk about what they have learned.

“There is so much to cover we’re really trying to pick out the meat,” Copp recently explained to a group of interested merchants at a meeting last Thursday.

And on April 11, area merchants will get the chance to hear the ideas from Schallert himself, as he comes to Jonesborough to check on their progress and present a seminar with more ideas on making Jonesborough businesses into consumer destinations.

“I think everybody was excited to hear what we brought back,” Kruse said. And now she can’t wait to see what happens to her Corner Cup, and those fellow businesses around her.