During the past quarter, the EDC engaged partners to create an innovative Retail Business Design Workshops, a 10-week program that included five merchandising workshops for small retailers in Kandiyohi County. There were nine partners in this effort—the University of Minnesota Extension, University of Minnesota (U of M) College of Design, EDC, Ridgewater College, Willmar Main Street, Spicer Economic Development Authority, Willmar Area Community Foundation, United Way of West Central Minnesota, New London EDA, and the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. These partners enabled this program’s success.
On alternating weeks there were coaching sessions for participants to implement and assist one another in applying the information from the workshops (the last session occurred on April 10th). Presenters at the workshops included a former VP of Merchandising for Target; a Director with Bluestem Brands (also known as Fingerhut) and consultant for Best Buy, Target and Marshall Fields; and the Public Relations Manager of Deluxe Corp. These sessions were facilitated by the U of M College of Design and U of M Extension staff. The small retailers were very pleased and motivated by these sessions (so much so that they would like to continue meeting on a periodic basis as a group).
A total of 22 small businesses from the region participated in the workshop/coaching sessions over the 10 weeks. There was a good mixture of types of businesses. About half the attendees were small retailers from Willmar, 18% were diverse business owners and about 72% were women-owned businesses. After an application process, four of the business participants were matched with U of M College of Design students for one-on-one technical assistance. The idea is to implement methods and techniques through the technical assistance that will have a direct impact on those retail businesses. The partners will prepare a final report and will write and distribute a local economic development best practices guide for retail revitalization efforts to be replicated elsewhere.