BLOG ARTICLE

Paying HOMAGE to Small Business Saturday

Like a lot of people, I’ve spent hours daydreaming about all the lucrative businesses I could start. These dreams were filled with big ideas, bags of cash, jet skis and champagne. That’s the American dream, right? Follow your entrepreneurial spirit with unwavering dedication until it finally leads you to the promised land? To use the words of the late Jim Valvano, “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” Dedication is the key to success, right?

But what if that's not enough?

I moved to Columbus, Ohio from Wisconsin about two and a half years ago. It was around this time in 2012 when I first visited HOMAGE, a local clothing boutique that was tucked away in a sleepy little alley in the heart Columbus’ Short North district.

I was shopping for gifts for family and friends. I wanted to give them something that said, “Hey guys, Ohio is a lot cooler than you probably think.” HOMAGE delivered for me. HOMAGE’s atmosphere is so easily felt, but it's difficult to fully appreciate unless you've been there. It’s like you’re walking on the set of Rudy or Hoosiers. After checking out, you almost expect to be carried out on someone's shoulders while others chant your name.

HOMAGE has grown rapidly since it started as on online t-shirt company in 2007. It’s acquired new apparel licenses, expanded into new markets and opened new locations. And just last month, HOMAGE moved from its small store to a much larger location just a few blocks away.

Rudy
This is what it feels like to shop at HOMAGE.

Why has HOMAGE’s game plan been so successful? What makes HOMAGE so special? Why does one business close its doors while others open new locations? Can HOMAGE's story be a blueprint for other small businesses? I wanted to answer these questions. I reached out to HOMAGE and was put in touch with Mark Jaworski, a member of the company's marketing team. Mark was full of great insight, but there were three really important pieces of advice that stood out to me. Below are three things that every small business owner needs to know.

Tell the best story that you possibly can.

Q: HOMAGE has come a long way since it was founded in 2007 as an Internet based t-shirt company – new stores, new locations and new markets. What do you think has made this small business so successful thus far?

HOMAGE: "We’ve been able to build a brand that people are excited to be a part of. I feel as though we’ve worked hard to stick to the formula that got us going: telling inspiring stories, making quality shirts and creating awesome customer experiences. The new stores, the new markets, the new projects, sure those things are definitely a reflection of our vision, but our customers are the ones that truly bring that vision to life. We wouldn’t be anywhere without people getting excited about our brand."

Businesses need to tell good stories. Branding is important, but a brand is born from a business’s story. Ira Glass, a popular radio personality, said, “Great stories happen to those who can tell them.” Stories can do a lot for your business. Stories help ideas spread. Stories create customer loyalty. Stories can persuade. Stories can even sell.

Your story is not simply your products or services. That’s not unique. Your story must be deeper. What’s the reason you’re in business? What’s your history? Who are the people behind your business? How have you failed? How have you persevered?

Embrace your story and tell it over and over again. But like anything else, it takes a lot practice and hard work to be a good storyteller. A good story isn’t written overnight, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start writing it tonight.

Never sacrifice your authenticity.

Q:
 How do you maintain the authenticity of HOMAGE’s brand while still trying to acquire new customers and sell more shirts?

HOMAGE:"That’s the trick. We’ve always been conscious of balancing our growth with our “boutique” feel and brand authenticity. And from a design and quality standpoint, we haven’t really changed our approach towards making apparel. I mean, we have more licenses now, newer opportunities, and more exposure, but the mission behind our apparel hasn’t changed any. We started out caring about stories, quality and customer experience."

"Despite our growth, we haven’t lost sight of those things. We still embrace that approach and continue to seek out projects that enable us to simultaneously grow and remain authentic. In the end, I think we have a lot of creative people working for HOMAGE that buy into our brand goals and understand the importance of maintaining the balance between growth and authenticity."

Consumers chose your business for one reason or another. In most cases, asking why a consumer chose you isn’t nearly as important as asking, “Will they choose me again?” As a small business owner, it costs you five times more to get a new customer than it does to keep an existing one. In fact, 80 percent of your future revenue will come from 20 percent of your current customers (Forbes). Are you doing enough to keep your current customers satisfied?

HOMAGE wants every consumer, no matter which location they visit, to have the same authentic experience as the next. You don’t need some beautiful storefront to be authentic. Authenticity is in the details. It’s in the way you interact with your customers. It’s the consistency of your marketing materials. It’s in the quality of the products you sell and the services you offer. If you don’t know what consumers like most about your business, just ask. Their feedback is the key to maintaining your authenticity.

Embrace your consumers and your community.

Q: As a small business, what do your customers mean to you? How do your customers influence the decisions you make for HOMAGE?

HOMAGE: "Our customers are awesome. A large part of the HOMAGE brand is devoted to creating memorable shopping experiences. And we’re always looking for ways to enhance that experience, to make it better. Not only do we understand that HOMAGE doesn’t exist without our customers’ commitment to our brand, but we also enjoy creating those memorable shopping experiences. It’s fun to see people genuinely get excited when they see one of our shirts for the first time or when they beat their pals at NBA Jam or when they get a free bottle of Coke when they stop in to shop."

Q:How about the community? What does HOMAGE do to stay involved?

HOMAGE: "Columbus has been great to us—there is no doubt about that. There are so many folks in this community that not only have awesome ideas, but who actually follow up on them as well. We’re proud to be a part of that environment and to be able to contribute to its success.

We engage Columbus in a lot of different ways. We’re always around town at different community events. We work with several local charities, including Pelotonia, a Kid Again and Big Brothers Big Sisters. And we try to contribute where we can to other small businesses and endeavors in Columbus. We’ve backed Potato Salad and Hot Chicken Takeover. We’ve partnered with other brands like Jeni’s Roast Coffee, and Surf Ohio. And we’ve built great relationships with the Crew, the Clippers and the Blue Jackets."

When it comes down to it, nobody is more important than those closest to you. We say it about our family and friends. These are the people we would do anything for. As a small business, your loyalty is to your consumers and your community. What can you do to create stronger, more fulfilling relationships with these two groups?

Challenge yourself to become a stronger influence in your community. Make sure your business is represented at local events. Sponsor a local sports team or hold customer appreciation nights. Find ways to give back. Not only will you feel good, but the community will feel good about you.

“Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

I want to pay homage to all the small business owners who continue to chase their dreams. You have more grit, guts and gusto than most of us will probably ever know. And while the journey isn’t always pretty, and the promised land may never come, you can be proud that you stand for something bigger than yourself. Dedication isn’t the key to success, but it’s a big part of it. Celebrate your story. Show appreciation for those who’ve supported you along the way. Continue to find ways to improve yourself and improve your business. Seek help when it’s needed and never be afraid to try something new.
 
Content Writer: Cory Miller Cory Miller Creative Director