Businesses urged to lend hand to startups

By Sean Janssen, The Union Democrat November 13, 2012 12:34 pm

To encourage new commerce in Angels Camp, the city’s business community is being asked to chip in to help them get off to a strong start.

This and other programs to assist new and expanding businesses, publicize them and learn lessons from the tales of businesses past that have closed were presented Monday night at the final 2012 monthly meeting of the Angels Camp Business Association.


The initiatives are being launched by Destination Angels Camp, the public-private partnership between city government and area merchants that serves as the city’s official economic development corporation.

 Destination Angels Camp evolved from the city’s branding leadership team, which developed after the 2009 unveiling of the city’s effort to promote itself as a base camp for Sierra Nevada mountain sports.

As part of the “business incentive program,” businesses in the city are asked to grant 25 percent discounts, up to as much as $1,000, on their products to new or expanding businesses. The recipients of this generosity must be setting up shop in the city or its designated “sphere of influence,” be in at least a one-year lease and meet other requirements to be eligible.

“Within the business community, we’re all each other’s customers. When businesses grow, we all benefit,” said Wes Kulm, a DAC member who is also a city councilman-elect set to take office in January. “You’ve made a new customer and that person is just one step closer to becoming a successful business.”

Three businesses have signed on thus far to lend a helping hand and Kulm noted that if enough offer services a new business can use, the effect can be massive.

“The cumulative effect of that could be a savings of $10,000 to $20,000,” he said.

“That sounds a pretty powerful message that we want your business, we support your business.”

There’s also an “opportunity response team” charged with attracting new businesses and helping existing ones to grow and be more profitable.

The city has garnered interest from large companies in the past “but for whatever reasons, it didn’t happen,” said City Councilman Roger Neuman, who represents the council on the Destination Angels Camp board.

Neuman said the most important thing in pursuing such opportunities is simple.

“I wish I could say that there’s a science to it. There’s not,” he said. “It’s just sticking to them like glue.”

 Destination Angels Camp has also started performing exit interviews with businesses that recently closed.

Tasha Unninayar, owner of Inspired Media and one of the latest additions to the  Destination Angels Camp board, has conducted the interviews.

“I think a part of being successful ... is finding out what happened when a business has had to leave, what could have been done differently,” Unninayar said.

Among those Unninayar contacted, half simply went out of business, 16 percent were sold, 16 percent changed location because of “consistent vandalism,” and 16 percent fell victim to corporate downsizing, Unninayar said.

Of those that went out of business, half said there was not enough walk-in traffic and half said overhead was too high. Among the latter, she said half cited labor costs while the other half said rent and other fixed costs were too high.

Of the corporate downsizing cases, one cited “poor community buy-in” and one has shown interest in returning to Angels Camp, Unninayar said.

Eighty percent of the interviewees said they needed help with outreach, networking, marketing and social media but did not know where to turn.

“When I was speaking to these individuals, a lot of them were touched that an organization tied in with the city really cared,” Unninayar said. “So that means something.”