Both Geneva and Batavia are about the same in terms of lifestyle, population, incomes, taxes, and so forth, and both are along the same Fox River. Yet Geneva is increasingly more attractive to business, while Batavia tends to languish. Why?
Not long ago, both downtown areas ran into trouble. Along the major corridors to the east and west, major Big Box stores moved in. Suddenly there were massive supermarkets, franchise super-stores, hardware stores, all the things you see in Mall America. Downtown started to empty out, shoppers went to the main corridors, and troubled times came about.
Geneva had an inspiration. They zoned the downtown area commercial and business. They also worked hard at keeping the existing family homes along the main thoroughfare, preventing them from being torn down to make room for "business" stores.
The result became an arcade sort of area reminiscent of Paris. When you go to downtown Geneva, you don`t "feel" as if you`re downtown. Instead, there are all these wonderful houses, but they`re actually stores. There`s a famous chocolate company, and they`re located in a regular-looking house.
When you walk into a business like the chocolate company, it`s like you`re entering your grandmother`s home. There are rooms, hallways, windows, and wood floors, but everywhere furniture would be, there are nice displays of merchandise. Same with some of the boutiques and craft stores.
Interspersed with the boutiques are new restaurants, coffee shops, tea shops, bakeries, and other odd and interesting little one-of-a-kind stores. In the summer, people sit outside at small patio tables, having a snack or watching people go by. In winter, there are many decorations, lots of things for kids, and it all looks like a picture postcard.
Batavia, on the other hand, has done nothing to promote a "shopping community." When you`re downtown, there are empty brick and stone buildings, a few shops, no place to walk, and little to see. It`s a typical midwest small town, undifferentiated from a million other small towns.
Last year, Batavia needed to repair the main bridge crossing the Fox River. The project was necessary, and shut down the central road for most of the fall and winter. Many businesses failed, what with no plan at all to help them through the shutdown.
The lesson here is that Geneva is highly interested in *attracting* people to the area, offering all kinds of aesthetically pleasing walkways, sights, shops, and decorations. They`re interested in attracting unusual boutiques, working to keep a sort of "theme" for the entire downtown area.
Batavia has no interest in any kind of theme, could care less about a unified approach to building a thriving downtown, and does nothing to attract anyone, much less particular businesses.
Instead, Batavia business owners put up a shop, hang out a sign, then hope people will somehow notice and stop to buy something. There`s no central marketing system, no real shop-owners` association, and no *plan.* Yes, some of that exists, but not at all as organized as in Geneva.
So what will you do in 2009? The competition is the same as it`s been throughout history. An online business is no different than a local downtown area. You`re facing massive conglomerates with million-dollar budgets for marketing, promotion, and distribution.
Are you attracting people to your area of the Web? Or are you putting up a shop, hanging out a sign, and hoping someone buys something? What`s the plan, Stan? :-)