The Changing Face of Small Business in St. Mary's

Commentary by Bob Schaller, Dept. of Economic Development, St. Mary's County

Have you noticed the recent growth of "Handyman" businesses? Maybe it's just the additional marketing through signage, business cards and the like. Talking with folks in this field there is definitely a move underway to meet customer needs in new and different ways. This is just one example of the continued growth of small businesses adapting to the changing needs of customers throughout the County. I've met so many small business owners lately who are doing everything from shoveling snow, trimming trees, repairing or replacing roofs, selling cars, growing crops or livestock, running shops or restaurants, servicing equipment, supporting the Navy, and everything in between. The past year's combination of a weak economy and heightened competition has caused every business owner to sharpen his or her focus to concentrate on a niche, something they do better than others. Personal service is usually a key part of this niche. The other change in business practice is that businesses today must market in new ways. They must be more visible, proactive, involved. Thus the Handyman signs. The message all small businesses share: we are open for business and we want everyone to know.

Also open for business is the new Olive Garden. In a few weeks Kohl's is scheduled to open. We are all very familiar with both these establishments. Both are very successful. Olive Garden operates more than 700 restaurants and is part of Darden Restaurants, the largest casual dining restaurant company in the world with over $7 billion in annual sales. Kohl's operates over 1,000 stores nationwide with over $17 billion in annual sales. These two new openings are milestones in the expanding commercial retail offerings in the County. We are grateful to have more choices available to local consumers and workers.

The challenge is finding that delicate balance of small and large businesses. The success of St. Mary's County will continue to attract more national names in retail and other services. The local business community will continue to sharpen its skills, offerings, and approaches. The creation and increased involvement of business associations in Leonardtown, Lexington Park, St. Mary's Square, South County, and elsewhere are examples. So is the increasing membership in the Chamber of Commerce. The small independent business roundtables and the Independent Business Alliance that is being formed will fill a void in a sector that has not had a voice to date. The Buy Local and Savor St. Mary's Restaurant campaigns will bring attention to the benefits of keeping spending within the community. Keeping it local (and unique) is part of the niche talked about earlier.

St. Mary's is open for business. Strong winds brought March in with a roar. We hope this carries forward with a brisk business season starting with a prosperous planting and growing season.

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