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TechTown Detroit's retail boot camp to put entrepreneurs on track to success

February 13, 2020, 2:24 PM

The following is content sponsored by TechTown Detroit, an entrepreneurship hub helping tech startups and local businesses launch and grow. 

Running a retail operation has never been simple or easy, but it’s rarely been more complicated than it is today. With the customer base splintered, unpredictable competition and hazards yesterday’s shopkeepers never encountered – Amazon Prime, anyone? – opening a storefront can be a daunting proposition.


TechTown Detroit is here to help would-be retail operators navigate some of these potential pitfalls.

Sarah Donnelly, director of retail services for the city’s entrepreneurship hub, says that while brick-and-mortar businesses are changing, they are not close to dying.

“I would say bad retail is dying,” she told Deadline Detroit’s Craig Fahle in a recent podcast. “Consumers just don't have the patience for things not being in stock or an experience being something they could have gotten online. So it needs to be personal, it needs to be custom.”

Customer service needs to be personal and it needs to be smart. If an item a customer wants isn’t in-stock, a retail outlet must be willing to go further than they might have in the past – shipping to a customer’s home, for instance. But “people want to have a tactile experience,” to try on, to sample, to touch, all experiences that remote retailers can’t offer.

Storefront shopping is closely tied to a neighborhood’s success. Residents want convenience of nearby stores, and good ones can lure new residents, boosting property values. But just signing a lease and hanging out an Open sign isn’t enough, Donnelly said.

TechTown tries to help both new and emerging businesses and long-established one, Donnelly said. The newcomers need to learn skills, and the establishment shops can often benefit from a freshening of their approach as the city changes around them. And many services are free or very low-cost.

“We have a pop up here that we host every single month called the shop at TechTown,” said Donnelly. “We have onsite coaching for retailers. And it could be someone that it's their very first retail popup and they could be right next to the veteran that has a shop out in the city.”

TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp, launching later this month, will seek to impart as much knowledge as possible to entrepreneurs in 10 weeks.

“No location is going to be 100 perfect,” Donnelly said. “Through those 10 weeks, it's how to pick a location with an architect. How can design impact that decision making? How can it save them money, in the long run?” That and many more subject areas will be addressed in the program.

“Brick and mortar retail, (and) retail in general is not for the faint of heart,” Donnelly said. “We are here to help and guide you whether it's our resources or someone else in the service provider ecosystem. We're here to connect you with things that you need at the right time.”

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