New Logo, Renewed Focus on Land Use

We’ve got a new logo, but it’s not the only change underway.
On August 1st we closed our office in Burlington, Iowa and we have moved all operations to Everett, Washington.  And with this change we’ve renewed are focus on land use advisory and advocacy, winding down existing clients’ economic development planning projects.
Our physical location will now be:
3705 Colby Avenue | Suite 1
Everett, WA 98201
425-344-1523
david(at)toyerstrategic(dot)com

The Day We Saved the Wine

[sg_popup id=”2322″ event=”onLoad”][/sg_popup]willis-hallSmall businesses often run into big problems.  And they don’t have the resources to hire lawyers and fight for fairness. Instead, they need an advocate that can help them navigate a reasonable, cost effective solution.

The following case study is a great example of how we help small business:

The Day We Saved the Wine

John Bell parlayed his passion for wine into Willis Hall Winery in 2003.  By 2006, Seattle Magazine awarded him “Best New Winemaker in Washington.”

However, in late 2007 Snohomish County initiated a code enforcement action against Willis Hall Winery threatening to shut down the operation for failure to comply with the county’s home occupation code.  Mr. Bell hired a land use attorney to appeal the enforcement action, but such an appeal had some risks and was a slow process.  With millions of dollars invested, John couldn’t afford to shut down his winery or move aging barrels of wine to a new location.

Willis Hall retained our company in early 2008 to assist his land use counsel in the appeal of the County’s order, as well as explore non-legal remedies.

Seeking to avoid litigating the matter, our company proposed several alternative technical solutions – offering research that his business may be a grandfathered use, applying for a code interpretation that the winery was an incidental use to the residence, and seeking an administrative zoning variance under a set of binding conditions.  All of these solutions were rejected by county staff.

With the appeal hearing looming, we put on our lobbyist cap and approached the County Council. Recognizing the politics of shutting a business down, the Council Chairman was willing to consider adding an amendment to a zoning ordinance pending before the Council, providing a legal basis for the Willis Hall to exist.

Our company drafted the language for the amendment and worked with the prosecuting attorney’s office and planning department to ensure it wouldn’t run afoul of any growth management laws.

A short time later the County Council approved the amendment and Willis Hall was saved.

Is Red Tape Holding You Back?

The economy goes up, the economy goes down. Businesses do well, businesses do too well.  And the only thing that is guaranteed?   More regulation.

For decades business only had three solutions:

  1. Be big enough and wealthy enough to hire your own lobbyist;
  2. Join an association, federation or chamber of commerce that represents your industry in general; or
  3. Wait until things get so bad you need to hire a lawyer (or team of lawyers) to figure it out.

But now there’s a different way you can protect your business interests.

Toyer Strategic Consulting has nearly two decades of experience helping businesses, organizations and communities comprehend, combat and comply with new or pending regulations.  We can make a difference for your business without breaking your bank account.

Contact us today for a confidential consultation on how we can assist your business.

How We Helped This Business (and Could Help Yours)

Sometimes we are the last chance to save a business from drowning in regulations.

We recently helped a small business, The Grayson, resolve a zoning compliance matter that threatened to shut them down because their c0-housing solution to long term rentals for corporate relocation clients was defined as a “hotel” despite the fact it’s a far cry from a hotel.

Since it would be incredibly difficult to walk through the intricate challenges of their situation in a single blog post, we will try to simplify it.

The Grayson was an AirBNB style co-housing rental that the owners live in.  Unfortunately, such uses (businesses) aren’t defined in the County’s code.  When a use is not defined, it’s not allowed except that the County can interpret what use it most closely resembles.

In this case, their undefined use was found to be most closely like that of a “hotels” and hotels are not allowed in the zone where our client is located.

To solve the problem, we tenaciously pursued a code interpretation that argued our client was operating a boarding house.  And upon securing that code interpretation we helped bring the client into compliance with those regulations, saving the business.

Our client was willing to let us share her thoughts on our work. . .

“Toyer’s firm has a great background and working knowledge of regulations, zoning, and code. Toyer was able to navigate the complexity of county planning department and code, succeeding in getting a resolution that kept our business from having to close. More incredible was the fact that Toyer was successful where attorneys had failed to help us with the problem.  Without Toyer Strategic’s involvement, we would have spent thousands of dollars fighting a losing battle!”  Mariam Zinn, Owner, The Grayson

We’re proud of the work our company does and what it means to small business and entrepreneurs.

Got a zoning or zoning compliance issue?  We can help. Contact us

Experiencing Bellaire Michigan

Foreword: this blog post is the result of an excellent customer experience at the Bellaire Smokehouse, which we’re using in this blog as a prelude to highlighting some best practices that small communities (and their businesses) can deploy for economic development success in their downtown.

Our Bellaire Experience
This week we’ve been in Bellaire, MI on vacation.  How did we pick Bellaire?  Well, it happens to have a resort that accepts exchange points from a time share our family owns and it is conveniently located within a short drive of my wife’s best friend (and her family).

Bellaire has a population of roughly 1,000 and is located next to Lake Bellaire, but the village itself is not on the lakefront.  The village’s Bridge Street is their “main street” and it features restaurants, bars and shops. On it’s face, (and without diving into the data on the community) we assume that two season tourism is a primary driver of the local economy (especially given its proximity to several resorts).

Not to take away from the great food and service we got anywhere else in Bellaire, but the most memorable customer experience came at the Bellaire Smokehouse as my family (5 of us) and our friends (4 of them) were browsing through the various shops in the village.  They were familiar with the Smokehouse and suggested we go take a look and it was our full intent to drop in and just look around, especially since our 7 year old is an impatient shopper.

Not long after entering the Smokehouse, Karen (one of the owners) offered our 7 year old a fruit snack from a cookie jar or fruit snacks she had on the top of the counter.  Not only did that simple gesture change his mood, but it took some pressure off of us and allowed us to more comfortably look around.  And she let us try a couple of samples of smoked fish sausage.  By the time we left the store both families had made purchases including a few extras for the kids (like honey sticks).

So why was this such a big deal?  Because what Karen did as a small retailer was a perfect example of how local retailers in smaller communities are winning by creating both “emotional connections” and “unique experiences” for their customers.

Suggested Reading:
Inc Article on Why Shopping Experiences Lure Customers
Read “Customer Service and the WOW Moment” in this ShopKeep blog
Shopify Blog: The Science of Free Samples (and how it can boost sales)

What Successful Communities & Business Are Doing
One of the biggest challenges for small and rural communities is the struggle to stay relevant and survive (let alone thrive), as they face the squeeze of online shopping, competition from nearby big box stores and, in many cases, declining populations.

For those retailers and communities that are successful, it usually comes down to things they are doing that the unsuccessful ones aren’t.  The most common are:

  1. Selling More than Stuff.  The retailers aren’t just selling products, they are developing emotional connections and selling customer experiences. Our experience at the Bellaire Smokehouse was awesome, but there are more examples of it.  In one instance we saw a small clothing retailer located next door to a restaurant who would offer customers spending over a certain amount “lunch on them” via a small gift card.  And for multiple customers visiting the store together (who spent a certain amount) they would let them know the store would be happy to reserve an after hours, by appointment time for them to come back to shop as a group and enjoy some food catered in from next door.  Those experiences may sound like something out of a “Real Housewives of. . .” show, but this is happening in a small town of 8,000 in rural Iowa.
  2. Working Together.  The retailers survive because of a “pack” mentality.The example we most often see is that multiple stores carry each other’s local products and they aren’t afraid to recommend that if you like “X” in our store, you may want to visit Store A to see what they have too. And even more important, if their a clothing retailer is located next to a popular coffee shop, they ARE NOT posting “No food or drink in store” on their entry.  Why? Because if I have to shop with my wife without that latte in my hand .  . . well, you get the gist.
  3. Activity Draws Interest.  They create activity to draw in more activity. Being open from 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday doesn’t work for small retailers in small communities.  Unless you have heavy traffic from tourists, you’re not open when those who have money can spend it with you.When downtown businesses in small communities stay open nights and weekends, and their communities support them with outdoor spaces and even activities (like live music, extra large sidewalk jenga, etc.) the combined efforts draw large crowds of people into common places, resulting in increased spending.  For more ideas, we suggest checking out the Downtown Destination Association (Roger Brooks), who encourages communities wanting vibrant downtowns to have over 250 events per year.
  4. An Identity & Pride.  They have an identity as well as community pride. In Bellaire, I was impressed with how even their police cars reflect community spirit by displaying the school’s “Eagles” logo.  Communities that are winning demonstrate their local pride through public art, well maintained public spaces, and investments that support their identity. Communities that are losing out are those that have identities or slogans that do not match their appearance.  There would be nothing worse than to be City X with a slogan, “A place you’ll love” that has broken sidewalks, overgrown parks and dilapidated buildings.  As the saying goes, if you can’t love yourself, you can’t expect anyone to love you!  And one final thought, whatever you do, absolutely do not make your slogan a “great place to live, work and play” as it’s overused, unspecific and the topic of this blog post.

Want to learn more about how we help small communities thrive?  Visit this page