By Zachary Barnes
Old Town Lansing Times Staff Reporter
Networking and collaboration is vital to the growth of Old Town. To accomplish this, the Old Town Commercial Association has been putting on an event called Wake Up Old Town.
“Wake Up Old Town first and foremost is a networking event for people to come together, both Old Town and people that can serve Old Town businesses,” said Old Town Commercial Association Executive Director, Austin Ashley. “It’s a great time for us to collaborate and come together as a community.”
During the event that takes place the first Friday of every month, it looks like a family reunion. Many shop owners are catching up on everything from how their family is doing to new business practices they may have been implementing the past month.
Wake Up Old Town allows small business owners within the Old Town neighborhood to collaborate and network with their neighbors as well as other business professionals in the Lansing area. No matter how different some of the companies may seem from each other, the networking possibilities are endless because you may never know who you are going to need.
“The more you know people the more you can help them out. It’s a lot less about selling than it as about helping everyone else out,” said Josh Pederson with Bridge Stone Agency. “If I have something they can use and sell for them, that’s great, but for me if it’s even a connection to someone else, I’m more than happy to provide that. That’s another great thing to be able to do by networking with people.”
It’s like a “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” kind of situation. When members of the Old Town and Greater Lansing community come together in an intimate atmosphere, it allows for these kinds of bonds to be formed where people are helping one another.
Josh Holliday, the Program Manager for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing, also says it’s important for other business owners in the Old Town area to reach out to each other and be connected in order to help one another’s businesses grow, in turn helping Old Town grow.
“Networking is important for all of us to do. To know who you are surrounded by in the community is really important,” said Holliday. “A lot of the people in Old Town are reliant on each other for resources, communication, and what can I do to make a better business? Everyone is here to make Old Town a better place.”
Collaboration is the other key component to Wake Up Old Town. Sharing ideas with a diverse group of business owners allows one to learn things from fields that aren’t remotely related to his or her line of work.
“It provides you a way to think outside of the box. You’re able to create relationships you may have never even considered before,” said Kirbay Preuss, a member of the family owned business, Preuss Pets. “You may never approach a business or approach an individual, but here (at the Wake Up Old Town event) it’s more low key and comfortable.”
Melissa Kaplan with Lansing Community College, who has been coming to “Wake Up Lansing” on and off over the years, can’t say enough of how invaluable events like these are because of how it takes different minds and brings them together.
“There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on (in Old Town),” said Kaplan. “Secondly, you never know when you’re going to find a kindred spirit personally, or professionally, or where you might be able to connect someone to someone else who might be able to help each other.”
According to Michigan State University’s first director of undergraduate entrepreneurship, Neil Kane, it is vastly important to have networking and collaboration groups like “Wake Up Old Town.”
“Any time small businesses are able to share ideas and help one another that’s beneficial,” said Kane. “It’s really common that small business owners regardless of what kind they are, frequently will have peer groups or support groups (like “Wake Up Old Town”) with other executives with small businesses, especially noncompetitive ones, because every small business no matter how well they’re doing always struggles with uncertainties and risks.”
Kane continues to say that in a smaller area like Old Town, every businesses success is key to the revitalization of the neighborhood, so they must support each other in any way. Coming and learning new ideas from an array of different shops and stores can open up new possibilities for your business.
“If you have a restaurant next door to a stationery store, they’re not in competition with one another but they both benefit from each other’s success,” said the Forbes contributor. “So working together can be mutually beneficial.”
One way Old Town is combining collaboration and networking to promote business through Wake Up Old Town is Arts Night Out, which was discussed at the March meeting of Wake Up Old Town.
“Arts Night Out is certainly an event that is going to take the collaboration of everyone in this Old Town district. Wake Up Old Town is important so we can have these conversations with businesses to be apart of the event, and that starts with building relations,” said Holliday, who is a key factor in the art walk.
“The program (Arts Night Out) is kind of like online dating,” Holliday said. “The businesses are going to get a list of artists, the artists are going to get a list of businesses and then they will collaborate to see what art can be placed in different businesses.
“The businesses are anything from retail to something less foot traffic based. It could be an insurance agency, a book store, a barber shop, a baby boutique, a restaurant. The point is that people who come to the art walk are wandering from business to business, and then they’ll come back after the event.”
Kane was able to comment on how events like Arts Night Out are very beneficial to an area that wants to increase visitors.
“Another way they can help each other is by driving foot traffic to the area. Maybe they have a side walk sale, maybe shared advertising, maybe everyone contributes to the chamber of commerce who in turn does a street festival (like Arts Night Out),” said Kane. “That’s where businesses have something to benefit directly from each other’s success.”
Kane mentioned that the Old Town Commercial Association (OTCA) must be proactive in allowing collaboration events, like Art’s Night Out, to happen and that it’s good that the OTCA has created a space for these things to be promoted. Ashley knows goal number one is to get new consumers.
“The hope is to boost business and just get people in the door who may have not been in the door before,” said Ashley commenting on Arts Night Out. “And thats one of the things the commercial association works on, making sure we are getting people into the businesses doors.”
Starting the first Friday of May, visitors will be able to participate in Arts Night Out and see some of Michigan’s best artists and stumble across a new business.
The hope is for Wake Up Old Town to continue to help collaboration events like this grow. Wake Up Old Town in itself is a growing affair as well.
“It’s (Wake Up Old Town) also grown too,” said Lynn Ross, co-owner of Mother and Earth baby boutique. “We have a lot of people that come here that aren’t from Old Town and they come and learn how awesome Old Town is. They come in from outside just to be apart of it.”
Vacant buildings are hard to come by and the overall faith in Old Town is big among business owners in the neighborhood. The growth in the number of people attending “Wake Up Old Town” is representative of that.
“It’s (Wake Up Old Town) gotten so big in the last few months. There’s a lot of belief in Old Town right now,” said Preuss, who sits in the promo committee for the OTCA. “We’ve seen a boost of people wanting to come in and be apart of this vibrant community and people just want to see positive things strive right now.”