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Federal Way's Dash Point Village businesses survive without anchor tenant
Many Federal Way small businesses have gone through another trying year, and many, such as those at Dash Point Village, are determined to succeed despite it.
Last year started off with the shopping center's anchor tenant, Metropolitan Market, abruptly leaving Federal Way. The continued absence of an anchor is apparent by the scantly occupied parking lot and a few vacant storefronts that were operating small businesses just a year ago.
But the remaining businesses, most of them owner-operated, continue to survive and do all they can, with limited resources, to attract shoppers to Dash Point Village, located at 1600 SW Dash Point Road. It's rewarding to be the owner/operator of a small business, but it's certainly not easy. David St. John, owner of Gents Fine Grooming for Men; Adam Walker, owner of Walker Ace Hardware; and Kim Blake, owner of Splish Splash Doggy Bath, all said dedication to their business and customer service is how they've stayed open in spite of the down economy.
Gents is in its ninth year of business. The barbershop offers haircuts, shaves and scalp massages, among other things. A loyal customer base has been established. It took time and hard work. There were three years, when the shop first launched, that St. John and other employees came in on Saturdays, often as early as 5 a.m., to accommodate their customers.
"You know that that's what it takes to own a business," St. John said.
It's this type of service that's kept Gents in business. Each customer who enters Gents is guided through a 14-step service process, St. John said. Visiting Gents is about much more than simply getting a haircut, he said.
"It's more about having an experience," he said.
The barbershop is doing well. However, business has slowed some due to the economy. Traffic decreased a degree after Metropolitan Market left. Luxury services, such as hot towel shaves, are not as popular as they were a few years back, St. John said.
"You need a haircut," he said. "But everyone can shave themselves."
Ace opened at Dash Point Village in 2001. Walker bought a portion of the business from his father three years ago and took over the store last year. He works roughly 40 hours a week operating the register, helping customers, ordering merchandise and planning advertising. He takes two days off to care for his child. When an employee is sick or can't make it to work, it's up to him to pick up the slack. This makes it difficult to plan vacations or leave town.
"You can't justify leaving," he said.
Ace has seen a slight dip in business this past year. Walker employs two full-time and two part-time workers. One of those part-time employees is his father, who sometimes works for free. The store laid off a full-time employee not long ago.
Metropolitan Market's absence is noticed, Walker said. Many of the businesses in the complex signed leases with the understanding that the market held a 20-year lease and would be around for some time. Now, given Ace's recognizable name, Walker feels pressure to perform as an anchor tenant.
"Right now, they are considering us and Starbucks anchor tenants, and we're not big enough to be anchor tenants," he said.
With the pressure and the economy, Ace considers customer service its biggest ally in remaining operable, and its largest weapon against corporate competitors.
"We know we're not going to be cheaper than Wal-Mart or Home Depot, but we have better service," Walker said.
Just a few stores away, Kim Blake reflects on the hard work it's taken to own her dog-washing business. This is Blake's fifth year in operation. She left an accounting position with a corporate company to start Splish Splash.
Blake works 50 to 60 hours per week and employs do-it-yourself tactics to make operating her business more affordable. She and her family built the inside of the shop, including walls and dog baths, from scratch. She manages her own website. Blake refers to herself as a customer service provider, groomer, marketing representative, accountant, human resources manager, cleaning crew, plumber, buyer, web designer, graphic artist, publisher and a construction worker.
"That's the biggest challenge (of being a small business owner), you have all these hats; you can't let anything slide," she said.
Like St. John and Walker, Blake recognizes the importance of customer service. The music played in the store and the products offered all take the customers and their pets into consideration.
"Customer service is just so valuable," Blake said. "We want customers to feel this is an extension of their home."
Also like her fellow Dash Point Village owner-operators, Blake said Metropolitan Market's exit has affected business, but only slightly. Where people had a routine of getting their dog washed while they shopped, customers now mostly come in just when their dog is in dire need of a bath.
Despite bumps in the road, St. John, Walker and Blake all said they take personal responsibility for the success or failure of their businesses. The economy can only be blamed to a certain degree, Walker said. They take pride in their accomplishments and enjoy being small business owner-operators.
"I wouldn't give up the experience for anything," Blake said. "It's made me grow as a human being."