Words of wisdom for Federal Way businesses

A panel of business professionals offered advice to local small-business owners during the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce membership luncheon held March 4.

Panel members included Tim Weber of First Western Properties, which focuses on retail leasing and tenant representation; Patrick and Crystal McCabe, owners of Core Conditioning, a Pilates studio in Federal Way; and Rich Shockley, a former owner of several small-businesses who is a business advisor for the Washington Small Business Development Center.

What they said

• The best ways to attract new customers include direct contact, networking in the community and focusing on a niche.

• The traditional formula says 80 percent of revenue comes from 20 percent of your customers. Focus on that group of customers and their needs. The McCabes' Pilates studio often gets lumped into a fitness category, but they also cater to physical therapy clients. "Find out how much your client's dollar is worth to them," Patrick McCabe said. "Our clients are valuing their dollar more."

• Crystal McCabe noted the virtues of building personal relationships with clients through communication. One avenue to do that is through handwritten thank-you notes that let customers know how much you value their business, she said. As a small-business owner, the stakes are too high to do otherwise. "If our business doesn't make it, our family doesn't make it," she said.

• Likewise, Shockley recommends regular communication through e-mail and even social networking Web sites such as Facebook: "We need to think of it as one more touch with our customer."

• "I'm actually working now. The past four or five years, I was an order taker," Weber said of tenants leasing office space in today's economy. He noted that mom-and-pop operations have an opportunity to expand, while national businesses "are the ones that have their hands out." Tenants need to be adjusting to what consumers are saying, he said. Change your business model as you go. Cities need to be more involved with business tenants, Weber said.

• "Landlords that are getting deals done are the ones who are flexible," Weber said. He noted that tenants have a right to communicate with their landlord, and that most landlords are willing to listen if a business is hurting.

• Go back to business with a positive attitude, Weber said: "What comes from failure is success. You cannot have success without failure."

• Seek employee input and raise passion among your employees, Shockley said. "When there's chaos, there's lots of opportunity," he said. "We just have to work a little harder."

• Try joint ventures and form power partnerships with key players, Patrick McCabe said. For example, his Pilates yoga business could partner with local chiropractors and physical therapists whose clients benefit from one another's services.

• Crystal McCabe recommends keeping an open mind when networking — you never know when networking will pay off.

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