Experiencing Entrepreneurship

This post continues the broad survey of new small business opportunities. Today we explore opportunities from a growing demand for local, specialized or otherwise unique goods and services. These are delivered with a degree of customer service not found with national chains. The common characteristic of these business opportunities is that they create a user experience that is difficult to replicate elsewhere. This adds to their appeal to the customer. It is also a powerful economic development advantage to neighborhoods and cities that want to stand out in the crowd of places that seem to look more and more alike. 

Revitalizing Neighborhoods

There is a noticeable change in many older Dallas neighborhoods. Existing buildings have been renovated; new small-scale infill projects have added commercial space. Like many central cities after WWII, Dallas had neighborhoods that lost population and thus lacked the market to support a large, healthy retail sector. What has changed, in many in-town neighborhoods, is the addition of thousands of housing units and an increase in the average income and education levels of many of these neighborhoods. Also, in some of the late 20th Century suburban neighborhoods home ownership has turned over with young families buying homes.

While many retail and personal service niches are now filled by big box or online retailing, other clear trend in Dallas is that many entrepreneurs are identifying markets for the unique, the custom, the individualized goods and services. These businesses lend character to neighborhoods and create destinations. Historically they were the mom and pop shops.

Experiencing Dallas Retail: Henderson Ave.

Buying Happiness

In their 1998 book The Experience Economy, Joseph Pine and James Gilmore laid out shifting trends in demographics and economics that underlie this trend. Many middle class consumers are looking to novelty and something more than just acquiring more stuff. Researchers are documenting that people are happier with purchase of experiences than with purchases of just things.

There are many opportunities to deliver a good or service in a custom, novel and pleasing way. The old adage about customer service is a key elevating most consumer transactions into a pleasant and memorable experience. Economic necessity is also opening more business opportunities locally as fewer consumers can justify big ticket purchases or elaborate vacations. Many are now opting for staycations and exploring their own city.

Home Grown Businesses

 We know how important “location, location, location” is to many businesses, but the experience economy sometimes depends on “local, local, local” instead. The growing interest in locally-sourced products, especially food is another key opportunity for Dallas entrepreneurs. Historically, many communities found economic opportunity by adding value to regional agricultural products. Baking bread, preserving produce, brewing, cheese making and other locally processed foods met basic market needs. The goal probably wasn’t to deliberately brand a community, but variations in climate, culture and technology naturally resulted in unique regional products. These products helped distinguish communities.

Today, economic development professionals are trying to encourage the creation of unique local products and services as a deliberate development strategy. Having one-of-a-kind restaurants, shops and small scale manufacturers help neighborhoods and entire cities carve out a niche in an
economy that otherwise gets more and more homogeneous and most towns look like the next.

Experiencing Dallas Retail: Bishop Arts

Nurturing Local Culture

Food may be the most distinguishing cultural feature of a place, but there are others also represent business opportunities. Examples include locally inspired and produced music, cinema, design and architecture. Artists that draw on local sources of inspiration can meet the entertainment and intellectual needs of their communities. Success in the smaller, local markets can help them refine their craft to be more competitive nationally or internationally.

Relatively young cities like Dallas tend to look elsewhere to satisfy the demand for arts and entertainment. But as a city matures, nurturing its own creative resources is a sign to outsiders of confidence and a strong contribution to its global brand. Locally grown talent in the arts, design and other creative areas can also become important export businesses.

Variety of Scales

A team approach is required for some experience economy businesses such as running a restaurant or a craft manufacturing business. Many others, however, are open to self employed business people in areas such as design and writing. As Dallas asserts itself as a vital and creative city, there will be more opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to carve out a livelihood. Some will do this by supporting basic neighborhood needs in ways that are enduring to local customers. This builds individual businesses and improves the identity and awareness of neighborhoods throughout Dallas.