MONTE VISTA— Ron Douglas, the business coach the City of Monte Vista has contracted with to improve local small businesses and bring more business to the city, hosted a forum at the Visitors Center last Tuesday evening, March 20.
Douglas explained the benefits of his website, localbusinessassist.com and clarified the methods he plans to use to boost the local economy. Local business owners across several sectors including retail, restaurants, housing, online sales, photography and service industries were present, as well as Mayor Dale Becker, City Manager Forrest Neuerburg and Upper Rio Grande Economic Development Co-Directors Marty and Bonnie Asplin.
Douglas began by explaining his background, noting many people recognize him from the Discovery Channel Show “Blue Collar Backers” where he starred in 2016. He said he had recently finished filming a pilot for a potential new reality show based on his work in Monte Vista but the show has not been approved by a channel yet. Douglas also explained he has run over 40 companies in the past, from service based to exclusively online.
Douglas thanked the Monte Vista City Council and especially Neuerburg for coming up with the idea of “coaching a whole town…at no time in history has this been done before.” The goal of localbusinessassist.com and Douglas’ coaching services “is to help answer any business owners’ questions… whether you’ve been in business 50 years or just starting out.”
He said he will get the business owner connected with an expert in the field they need help with and will record that conversation and put it on the website as a tutorial.
“I know some of the best business people in the world.” Douglas admitted the website is currently offering broad advice but stated a team “is working around the clock” to keep adding information to it and it will focus on trends soon. “My goal is to eliminate the fluff and get to the meat of the question” and problem solve, in three to five minute conversations... “I’m going to show it can work.”
Two of the things Douglas focused on was helping individuals grow their marketing reach and to grow through increased competition and cooperation. He said 65 people he had contacted did not have email addresses for their business and many didn’t have a website.
“If you’re not on the web, you don’t exist,” he added. He also wants to change local business owners’ perceptions of growth and noted he was disappointed when some people told him they didn’t want to grow their business or were unwilling to change their business model.
Douglas criticized some local businesses’ selection and noted he would be attempting to bring in national chains in direct competition with some of the businesses he criticized, emphasizing the importance of competition as a means of growth.
“Any empty buildings you know of won’t be empty for long,” he said, adding at least a dozen connections of his from previous work are excited to look at Monte Vista as a potential location “about 70 percent of them are coming in the next week.”
Douglas noted he is encouraging two local hardware stores, national franchise burger chains, a sushi restaurant whose owner hails from Wyoming and understands how the business operates in small towns and a pizza company/ brewery are among the businesses he is encouraging to open here.
Marketing is a key component of Douglas’ goals to improve existing businesses. “The marketing here is horrible,” he stated, adding poor marketing is the downfall of many businesses. Douglas noted tourists are unlikely to stop at a restaurant with no online presence or with low ratings on apps like Yelp and later stated they would be unlikely to stop at any local restaurant they didn’t recognize or stop in town at all if there wasn’t a big enough variety of recognizable businesses to instill their confidence.
Ron Martinez, owner of Mountain View Restaurant, asked Douglas what he believed Monte Vista’s biggest problems were. Douglas answered the lack of marketing and online presence for businesses and said “I think the taxes are a little high,” indicating he was working with council to see what could be changed about that.
“Another thing that lacks is confidence in your city,” Douglas added, stating he had heard too many negative remarks from citizens about the potential of the town. The third biggest detriment “is excuses from business owners,” Douglas said, again calling out specific businesses for their lack of selection or what he believed to be inadequate selection and also noted some owners’ lack of work ethic. “The town hired me to help you guys, not kick you in the butt and plead for your business…If you want help, reach out… I’ll get the best restaurant owner to talk to you on the phone,” Douglas said, using Martinez as a hypothetical example, before name dropping Tony Robbins and Robert Kiyosaki as a couple of his more famous connections.
Kalli Widger, owner of Kaligan’s and White Glove Janitorial, asked Douglas how he planned to keep the town excited about his plan and how he thinks he can get tourists and people driving through to stop, when many of the businesses aren’t on the 160 strip.
“You have to give them a reason to stop,” he said. Not Dairy Queen. When people tell me the number one business in town is Dairy Queen, we have a problem. They’re are not going to gamble on some burger joint they’ve never heard of, no offense to Mountain View… and if only pizza place in town is Pizza Hut, they’re not going to stop.” Douglas also took the opportunity to criticize local businesses’ selections, noting he has o problem “calling out” those he felt needed it.
Neuerburg also encouraged marketing through several strategies, including online, radio and print, which Douglas agreed with. “The number one thing you have to think about is to put yourself in customers’ shoes-what makes them come there?” Douglas worked with Widger in the meeting to expand her grand opening event on April 7, giving her a gift certificate for a free spot on the radio to talk about her business and encouraging coalition building with other local businesses.
Barbara Sears, who manages the Nazarene Thrift Store, asked Douglas what he thought about finding reliable employees as that has been a challenge for her store, especially with the increased minimum wage.
Douglas explained he encouraged his employees at previous businesses to grow, and remember what their purpose is. Business owners need to know their employees well and know what their ambitions are and reward them accordingly.
He said he told employees that for every $12 an hour they earn, they should be finding ways to make him $24, because it encouraged them to be more responsible with their time and take more initiative.
Martinez countered he couldn’t pay staff more because customers won’t pay more for the products in a place like Monte Vista, unlike Denver, noting customers complained when one of his burgers went higher than $6.99.
“You need to train your customers to pay more,” Douglas said, dismissing Martinez’s statement that he has 37 years of experience. “Customers will pay more for Cadillac Service than Kia Service.”
The City of Monte Vista is paying Douglas $4,125 a month for six months for his business coaching and recruitment services. He is required to report back to council every two months on the progress made so far and the contract can be terminated at council’s will. Douglas will be hosting another meeting on Tuesday, March 27 at 6 p.m. at the Visitors Center.