Group Discussion with Local Business Owners Insights

For my thesis project, I’m investigating how local community engagement can help local businesses to thrive. Here are the insights of my first tentative.

From my initial user research, I learned that what has helped small businesses to survive the high rentals and gentrification is when they have a strong tie with their local community by getting to know their customers, and exchanging resources, doing collaborations and events with other local businesses. It seems like an obvious solution, but what I also learned is that local business owners are busy finding ways to save money and that might mean they are filling too many hats to run their business not allowing them time to really engage with their local community.

My hypothesis

I believe that if we create opportunities for local small business owners to engage with each other in their neighborhood, they will be able to form collaborations that will help them thrive.

To test this hypothesis, I did a group discussion with local business owners in the West Village. Here are my process and insights:

Map area of places I reached out near my home

Outreach

  • I spoke with local owners near my home about my idea.
  • The local coffee shop owner liked the idea and let me host the event there.
  • I designed a flyer invitation and distributed in my building and local businesses.
  • I invited businesses in person and also sent email invitations.
  • I invited 2 friends who work in the service industry to join in case I didn’t have enough people attending.
Invitation

What worked:

  • Email invitations, I got 5 RSVPs and 3 people showed up.

What didn’t work:

  • With the exception of the coffee shop owner, people that I invited in person, who told me they were coming didn’t show up.
  • No local residents attended the event.

Lesson learned:

  • Outreach is very difficult. It takes time to build a community and having people believing in your idea.
  • For the planning of my next event, I talked with my first participants and sent them a Doodle pool for them to let me know what dates and times work best for them to make sure I have at least 3 people that are coming.
  • I’m planning to meet and interview more local owners to build a relationship prior to inviting them to the next group discussion.

Participants (clockwise): Manny Del Castillo (North 3rd Street Market), Kyung il Lee (Jeju Noodle bar), Jamie Hinojos (North 3rd Street Market), Leslie Polizotto (The Doughnut Project), and Peter Godhard (Merriweather Coffee + Kitchen)

The event

  • I created an agenda and explained to participants what to expect.
  • The activities were timed.
  • We started the conversation by doing introductions.
  • I created cards with questions and insights from user research to guide the conversation.
Agenda and questions of Activities 1 and 2
Cards with user research insights
  • I asked them to write on post-its their challenges and then share with the group.
  • I grouped these post-its into themes and patterns.
  • Then, I asked them to brainstorm ideas that could solve these challenges and share.

Participants

Leslie Polizotto, owner of The Doughnut Project
Kyung il Lee, manager of Jeju Noodle Bar
Peter Godhard, owner of Merriweather Coffee + Kitchen
Manuel Del Castillo, Creative Director of North 3rd Street Market
Jamie Hinojos, Operations of North 3rd Street Market


Insights

  • Participants were engaged, the conversation went on very smoothly
  • No one knew each before the event, even though their businesses are just a few blocks away from each other.
  • In the end, it was actually good that only local business owners and employees went. I learned from participants that they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing all their challenges with their customers.
The synthesis of participants’ challenges and ideas

They validated my hypothesis, they also think that they can solve their challenges by increasing local community engagement by:

  • Exchanging resources with local business owners.
  • Attending more group discussions with local owners.
  • Doing events for the local community.
  • Doing collaborations with local businesses.

Feedback

Participants really enjoyed this meeting and we are planning a next one soon. Here are their testimonials:

“Other people in the industry confirming the common problems we face.”
“Learned some good stuff in regards to marketing/social media.”
“It felt like therapy.”
“This was fun, the best meeting I’ve been all week.”
“I think the cards were useful.”
“Having a structured meeting allows us to stay on track and not go off topic.”

Outcome

  • Leslie and Kyung are doing a collaboration together in January.
  • Jeju Noodle Bar has a landmark sign at their restaurant that cannot be removed, so they get people all the time asking for coffee, so Kyung will now recommend Peter’s coffee shop.
  • Leslie doesn’t offer matcha and her customers ask for it all the time, and now she will recommend Peter’s coffee shop too.
  • Peter lives in Williamsburg and after meeting Jamie and Manny, he went to the N3rd Street market.
  • They gave each other advice based on their knowledge and experience.
  • They exchanged their contacts and left with a promise of recommending each other’s businesses.
  • They are all interested in meeting again.