In honor of this year's Small Business Saturday, a day dedicated to helping small businesses thrive during the busiest holiday shopping season of the year, I wanted to point out that grassroots efforts to boost local businesses and small towns are happening across America. Maybe even in a small town near you. If you run into the problem Todd Thompson did, shopping in your hometown local stores might be difficult, especially if they've gone out of business or vacated the area.

Todd is from a small town called Pekin, Illinois, where the vacancies and lack of small businesses, like in many other small towns, became the norm. So much so, that when Todd would tell people where he was from, out of embarrassment, he eventually started leaving Pekin out of it, and just started telling people he was from Central Illinois. But as Todd grew with his construction business, he realized that you're from where you're from, and while you can't change where you're from... you can change where you're from.

A Vision Becomes Reality

When Todd and his partner made their way back to Pekin to assess the damage and figure out their plan, what they saw was an entire historic business district blighted, with a 72% vacancy rate. Pekin isn't special in this aspect, as much of small town America has witnessed the same process over the past few decades. What makes Pekin incredibly special is the revitalization they are now experiencing.

Todd and his partner got to work and started rebuilding and repairing the vacant buildings, and one-by-one, they began filling the buildings with local small businesses. But Todd began to notice the turnover and realized these businesses needed more to survive than just a landlord. If you are one of 353 Court's tenants now, it's not just a space you get. 353 Court strives to build personal relationships with each one of their tenants, and even coaches them on how to make sure their business thrives in every way possible.

It may seem odd to talk with your landlord, of all people, about problems you may be having in business, but at 353 Court this is the norm. As Todd phrased it, "We encourage our tenants not to make problems a bad thing. It's not about putting yourself in a position to never have problems, it's quite the opposite. It's about getting comfortable solving the problems you have... that's what growth feels like."

What Can A Business Coach Offer Small, Lifestyle Businesses?

A lot of the big name business coaches we see help multimillion dollar businesses large enough to have an exit plan. But what about these local small, lifestyle businesses, that need something different? It seems 353 Court's style of coaching is just the something different they need. The most common advice given to tenants:

  1. Find what you're passionate about: "I've learned that we can build a business around anything that somebody is passionate about, knowledgeable in, and willing to work hard at."
  2. Decide what your life/work will look like if you are successful: "You have to know what you're working towards so you celebrate those goals, and then set new ones."
  3. Build your business plan around those discoveries, so it is the right fit: "A lot of this is common sense business practices applied through coaching. Basics, like a really solid business plan, will take you far and help you focus on the right things."
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By adding coaching, personal connections, and options for tenants that worked with their business models, Todd and his partner were able to achieve a zero turnover rate. Yes, zero. Their 'Municipal Roundtable' allows businesses easy access to resources and local connections, which only adds to the foundation they are building towards success. When one of Todd's tenants knew they would struggle with rent, instead of scrambling, they talked about it. The result was a phased out rent agreement that allowed the tenant to pay portions of their rent in their slowest starter months. This allowed the business to focus on business without the stress of not being able to afford rent. Things like this matter for small businesses.

At 353 Court, they don't have LeBron James or a TV show and judging by their awesome success thus far, they are proving that you don't have to be on TV, or even famous, to revitalize your hometown.