June 2015 Small Business: WatertownFirst

New nonprofit touts small biz

Cody J. Horbacz is the executive director of WatertownFirst, a newly launched nonprofit aiming to start a movement in the greater Watertown area that encourages people to shift their spending from big-box stores to locally owned businesses. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

Cody J. Horbacz is the executive director of WatertownFirst, a newly launched nonprofit aiming to start a movement in the greater Watertown area that encourages people to shift their spending from big-box stores to locally owned businesses. Photo by Amanda Morrison, NNY Business.

WatertownFirst aims to build ‘shop local’ network

By Ted Booker, NNY Business

WatertownFirst, a newly launched nonprofit, wants to ignite a movement in the greater Watertown area that encourages people to shift their spending from big-box stores to locally owned businesses.

The organization — a member of the American Independent Business Alliance — will host a series of three group discussions at Savory Downtown, 300 Washington St., this month for business owners to explore the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing independent businesses in the community.

The mission of WatertownFirst is to create a network of independent businesses and organizations that are dedicated to creating a “shop local” culture in the greater Watertown area, said Kraig J. Everard, marketing director for the organization, who also is the director of corporate support for WPBS-TV.

Mr. Everard said he helped start the organization with Cody J. Horbacz, who is the executive director. Mr. Horbacz, 29, was a former Watertown City Council candidate who ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the November 2013 election.

To join the organization, member businesses must be privately owned and cannot be franchises, Mr. Everard said. Owners of businesses must be their primary decision makers.

“So many mom-and-pop shops don’t have a huge marketing budget for the year, and big businesses can come in with millions in advertising to buy spots up,” Mr. Everard said, adding that franchises have an edge over small businesses. “Their owners are not making autonomous decisions within the company and pay franchise fees that go back to a large company, and our goal is to keep our money local.”

Mr. Everard said the organization wants to start building its membership base by drumming up interest during its June presentations. A yearly membership fee structure for businesses has been established from $100 to $1,000, along with a five-year package for $3,500. Among other things, member businesses will be promoted on the WatertownFirst website and be eligible for discounted advertising through its media partners, which now include WPBS-TV and Tunes 92.5.

COMPETITION WITH CHAMBER?

WatertownFirst’s mission will be similar to the Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce, which has 825 member businesses, most based in Jefferson County. The chamber — which also has members in Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oswego and Onondaga counties — has annual membership dues from about $150 to $1,000, according to Lynn M. Pietroski, CEO and president of the organization. Mrs. Pietroski, who announced her resignation earlier this month, will leave the chamber in July to become the chief operating officer at the Jefferson Rehabilitation Center.

After meeting recently with leaders of WatertownFirst, Mrs. Pietroski said she believes the group’s narrow focus on independent businesses will be a boon for the shop-local movement in Watertown.

“I think they can do more with some local, smaller mom-and-pops” than the chamber, Mrs. Pietroski said, adding that the chamber’s mission is broader. “They’re going to promote businesses like we do, but we also offer opportunities for business-to-business networking.”

Mrs. Pietroski estimated that about 75 to 80 percent of the chamber’s members are small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. The chamber also serves corporate members, and it provides several services that are outside of WatertownFirst’s scope, such as educational programs and assistance with government contracting.

Mrs. Pietroski said that WatertownFirst, like the Watertown Downtown Business Association, will offer small businesses in Watertown with more promotional options to choose from. Some businesses may decide to be members of multiple organizations, she said, while others may stick with one.

“There is a chance that we may lose some members,” she said. “But we’ll do our best to work in collaboration with WatertownFirst.”

David A. Winters, president of the Watertown DBA, said he is concerned that WatertownFirst could “spread things too thin” by recruiting member businesses from the same pool as the DBA and chamber. Annual business memberships for the DBA are $50.

“You don’t want to draw from another group just to get the same result,” Mr. Winters said.

Mr. Horbacz, a service manager for Fuccillo Mitsubishi in Watertown, said he believes WatertownFirst can do more for small businesses than what the chamber offers.

“Their job is to represent and promote all of their members — not just the mom-and-pop shops,” he said. “They have small, independent business members, but they also have corporate members. And I personally believe they can’t put on a sustained buy-local campaign because they risk alienating some of their members.”

WILL BUSINESSES OPT IN?

Matthew M. Northrup, manager at Watertown Appliance and TV Center on Factory Street, said the business will consider becoming a member of WatertownFirst. He said the business, which has 12 employees, isn’t a member of the chamber or the Watertown DBA.

“Anything is good that helps create a consensus to shopping local, as opposed to running up to a big-box store because you’re under the impression you’re going to get the best buy. That’s not necessarily the case,” said Mr. Northrup, who is a friend of Mr. Horbacz. “People need to look at the overall value they’re getting.”

David P. Bartlett, owner of Johnny D’s Restaurant in the Paddock Arcade, said the business did not renew its chamber membership this year but is not interested in joining WatertownFirst. The business, which has six employees, has been a member of the Watertown DBA for eight years.

“I think there’s enough stuff in town already with the chamber and DBA, but I wish them luck,” he said of WatertownFirst. “I’m a realist, and I think they’re going to have a hard time finding people to help out.”

April’s Cake Shop on Public Square, which has four employees, did not to renew its chamber membership this year “because it was too expensive,” and it joined the Watertown DBA, owner April L. Johnson said. She said the business, which has four employees, won’t join WatertownFirst.

“From a small-business standpoint, there isn’t a whole lot of extra money to take a gamble on something like this,” she said after reviewing the group’s membership fees. “I support the DBA because they hold events downtown … I would rather have my name associated with something well known versus something new.”

WatertownFirst, meanwhile, hopes to convince small businesses that its mission is worth supporting, Mr. Everard said. According to a national study by the business alliance, he said, only $14 of every $100 spent by consumers at big-box stores remains in local economies.

“But if you take that same $100 and spend it at a small business, $45 stays in the local economy,” he said. “That’s about three times as much.”

Visit watertownfirst.net, or Facebook, facebook.com/watertownfirst, to learn more about the nonprofit.

Ted Booker is a Johnson Newspapers staff writer. Contact him at tbooker@wdt.net or 661-2371.