Stephen Trinkaus had no idea whether making a public plea would work, but with his business on the verge of closing he didn't have anything to lose.
Trinkaus, who manages the Bellingham Public Market and has operated Terra Organica for almost 16 years, wrote on Facebook last August that he had made a series of bad business decisions that left his business strapped for cash. He asked his customers to consider shopping at the market on Cornwall Avenue more often, or he would have to shut down the market and the store.
"I didn't know what to expect; I'd never heard of a business owner asking for help from customers in this way," Trinkaus said.
The response by the community was phenomenal, Trinkaus said. Year-over-year sales at the store in September were up 39.1 percent, followed by significant annual increases in October (up 15.9 percent), November (up 12 percent) and December (up 10.5 percent). People also came in and made donations, a cash mob was organized where a crowd of people came in at a specific time with the idea of each spending at least $20, and other local businesses held events to help. The Blue Horse Gallery, for example, offered free admission to an event for people who presented a Terra Organica receipt of $20 or more.
While not completely out of financial trouble, Trinkaus said he's close and could announce by February that he's caught up again and that the market is out of danger of closing.
"I've been very humbled by this," Trinkaus said. "What I was most touched by this experience is the fact I made business decisions that didn't pan out and people were so understanding. I couldn't blame it on increased competition or something else; it was my fault. Yet they still supported the business and the employees."
The bad business decisions included overextending himself by making a series of improvements to the store and the market during a time when sales were slow, as well as taking ownership of Seven Loaves Pizzeria and starting the café Trapeze, which both reside in the market.
Back in August Trinkaus had pondered the idea of keeping quiet about his financial troubles until it was time to close the market. However he remembered a comment a person made to him after one of their favorite restaurants, Prospect Street Café, abruptly closed in May 2012.
"The customer said that they wished the community was told that Prospect Street was in danger of closing because they were sure that this community would have shown up in droves to save them," Trinkaus said in a Jan. 1 Facebook post giving customers an update. "Little did this one customer know ... that it would be this one comment that would inspire me to reach out to our community and ask for help."
The public market's crisis also brought the cash mob idea into focus. Suzy Tonini had read about the concept and decided to found the Bellingham Cash Mob, which has a Facebook page and is on other social media sites. The organization already had created events for a few local businesses before the Bellingham Public Market situation became known.
"When the Bellingham Public Market made its plea, one person (in the cash mob group) was really passionate about providing help and did a great job organizing things," Tonini said. "That's ideally how a cash mob should work, and the Bellingham Public Market event is a good benchmark for us."
Looking back at this experience, Trinkaus said it's a tricky thing on whether a business should ask for help. If a business owner believes the customer loyalty is there, it's worth a shot.
"People always ask, 'How's business?' and before I always just said, 'Things are good,'" Trinkaus said. "It was liberating to not have to hide."
Wee Ones Reruns, a children's consignment store in the Sunnyland Square shopping center near Trader Joe's, is expanding into the space next door, which was formerly home to Butterfly Life fitness center. Wee Ones owner Kathy McCrady expects to have the store open during the construction project and have the new, expanded area ready by March 1. She plans on adding several new children's product lines after the expansion is complete.
Blair Hewitt, who has operated the computer repair store Blair's Repair for the past six years, is making plans to move his business to 2004 James St., near Hardware Sales. Currently on 840 N. State St., he hopes to be in the new space by Feb. 1. Once there, he plans to offer a recycling program for cellphones and computers. He plans to refurbish many of those recycled products and have them donated to low-income families.
Last week Savvy Sprouts shut down. The children's consignment store on 2701 Northwest Ave. opened in April 2011.
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