Planting the seed of economic growth

Posted 7/21/09

After a two-hour consultation with Littleton’s Economic Gardening team, Mary Van Becelaere had a new approach to old business. Starting out with …

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Planting the seed of economic growth


After a two-hour consultation with Littleton’s Economic Gardening team, Mary Van Becelaere had a new approach to old business.

Starting out with only the desire to expand her business to a wider market, the 25-year professional interior designer finished her meeting with an understanding of the psychology behind her business approach.

Also in hand was an extremely detailed picture of her target market, and an entirely new way of thinking about marketing.

And that’s only part of what the team can do.

Economic Gardening isn’t a new concept — especially not in Littleton, where it began.

For more than 20 years, the city has fostered the growth of its entrepreneurs through tools and resources usually only available to large-scale companies. The result has been an overall stronger and more competitive business community, according to the program’s founder and director Chris Gibbons.

The success of Littleton’s groundbreaking gardening program created a ripple effect in nearby Highlands Ranch, and eventually Douglas County.

In 2007, the county established its program and hired part-time consultants, according to Douglas County officials.

The gardening programs are virtually free of charge to any business within city or county limits, and there are tools and resources to assist businesses in any stage.

Van Becelaere has been in business for over 25 years, yet she’s always had trouble identifying her target audience.

“I have a lot to offer but I don’t know how to push it,” she said.

And with a shop that offers both products and services, advertising efforts have almost always come up short.

What’s more, most of her clients are considered “high end” but she sees her business being affordable for anyone — an equation that results in closed doors, according to Gibbons.

“You can’t have Neiman Marcus and Walmart in one shop,” said Gibbons, exaggerating the point.

And even though Main Street in Littleton, where Van Becelaere plans to set down roots, appears to have a lot of foot traffic it would be wise to not assume that those are the customers bringing in revenue, Gibbons said.

Within only hours after handing over her client mailing list, the gardening team had compiled an extremely sophisticated, targeted marketing list so Van Becelaere can avoid wasting endless dollars on ineffective advertising.

The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software is only one of hundreds of tools and programs compiled over the years by the City’s Business Industry and Affairs department, yet is an extensive one which can plot customer addresses as well as provide demographic, lifestyle and consumer expenditure information.

In other words, the software can narrow down a target market to determine the number of truck drivers making $70,000 within a 10-mile-radius of your store.

“It’s extremely sophisticated and extremely targeted,” Gibbons said.

“The more you define your audience the easier it gets.”

After defining her market, Van Becelaere returned to the team for a crash course on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and YouTube) as a means of advertising.

Gibbons says it’s the advertising of the future.

The self-proclaimed computer illiterate had no idea that radio and print advertising were a thing of the past.

Now she knows how YouTube might host her design workshops, how a Face book Fan Page can keep her connected with customers, and how LinkedIn could help her network with other business owners.

“What I love about economic gardening is the intellectual stage on which we get to explore,” says Gibbons in his synopsis of the program.

“It’s very essence requires that we not only understand the complex mechanism of economies but the never ending kaleidoscope of human activity as it relates to the building, maintaining and survival of companies and communities. I doubt if we will ever completely understand it but if we come to an appreciation of how complex of a task we have undertaken, that will be a major step forward.”



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