WOODSTOCK—Many years ago, DeWalt, a tool manufacturing company, kept itself relevant by asking customers a simple question — what do you want on a construction site and what problems do you have? DeWalt isn’t a small business, but Christine Kriz, director of the Lord Fairfax Small Business Development Center, used that company as an example of how all businesses should be run.
When DeWalt was struggling to keep pace with the competition, Kriz told a handful of prospective small business owners Tuesday morning, it took someone who was a construction novice and sent him to a work site to ask their customers what worked, what didn’t and what they wanted more of. The answer, it turned out, was a reliable way to listen to music on the site — in an age before streaming services and Bluetooth speakers, boomboxes were the primary means of music listening in public. DeWalt responded by producing a durable, construction-site-proof boombox.
That story resonated with Kimberly Ryman, a Woodstock woman who is considering entering the world of online sales through Amazon’s fulfillment center. Ryman said the DeWalt story revealed how important it was to zero in on her audience — who they are and what they want.
“I need to reach out to whatever my market is to find out what their needs are,” she said. “What’s the burning issue they need addressed so I can narrow down my product line?”
Concrete ideas such as picking which products she is going to carry and sell, or what her exact audience is, were things that hadn’t stood out as clearly before Tuesday’s seminar, Ryman said. With a background in banking and accounting, keeping her books wouldn’t be as big of a problem as learning how to target an audience.
For other business owners, Kriz said, bookkeeping and accounting are major obstacles to clear and if businesses trip, the consequences are dire.
“A lot of time finances and accounting are like a foreign language, so we try to help educate on that,” Kriz said. “Small business owners who don’t pay meals tax or payroll tax, the IRS and the state don’t care. The IRS will shut you down and put you in jail. You can’t just say you didn’t know. It’s your responsibility as the business owner to find out.”
Seminars like the one Tuesday are important for helping prospective businesses get started on the right food, said Sharon Baroncelli, executive director of the Shenandoah County Chamber of Commerce.
“It’s a wealth of information for anyone considering opening a new business,” Baroncelli said. “As a potential business owner, you’ve got a great idea; you’re very emotionally tied to it. This [seminar] gives you the raw questions, the down and dirty that [you have to ask] yourself.”
Kriz said she thought the seminar went well and the proof will be when she comes back in a few months and sees if anyone has moved forward with their business plan.
Despite the tools, Ryman said she is still nervous about getting started, but the seminar helped push her closer to her goal.
“You don’t want to invest money that you’ve saved and worked hard for and not have a return on it,” Ryman said. “That’s the biggest fear I think, just doing it and hoping that you’re successful.”