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WNC Business

Building business relationships uplifts entire communities

May 13, 2024 09:17AM ● By Randee Brown

Viewing other businesses as potential collaborators rather than competition is a healthy way to help your business and the entire community thrive, according to Southern Porch Co-owner Michaela Lowe.

As a small business owner, Lowe is primarily a member of the Canton community. Along with other area small business owners, she helped create a group called the Canton Merchant Partners. This casual group of business owners work together to attract people to the area, helping all area businesses to grow. Coordination has helped businesses level up, chipping in on things from marketing and advertising opportunities to sharing dumpster services. 

“It’s important to support each other,” Lowe said. “Whether they need a cup of sugar or we support another local restaurant by going to eat or we talk to exchange business ideas, we know we can grow business by working together.”

The group is growing, and Lowe said the growth consists of both long-time residents and people who are new to town. Growing up in Canton, Lowe knows a lot of people, and she said these long-standing connections are helpful in the business community. She can pick up the phone and reach out to someone associated with the needs at hand, and the close-knit group welcomes newcomers who are interested in meeting other small business owners so they can also have that ease of connection.

“There is never any pressure, and the invite is extended for everyone so we can all work together,” Lowe said.

Lowe anticipated coordinating events and projects with other business owners, but more than business contacts, she found area small business owners creating true partnerships and building their community. Whether other small business owners are members of the group or not, Lowe finds small business owners in the Canton area are active participants in supporting each other, which helps the entire town thrive.

In small towns, small business owners and leaders don’t just work there. They also live nearby, are often friends with other business owners, and are regular customers of each other’s businesses. Supporting other small businesses in town supports the hometown as a whole, and it is often easy to be their cheerleaders. From florists to dry cleaners to housekeepers, being a customer of a local business is being a partner of their business.

“You don’t have to be a member of a group and attend meetings to be a part of something,” Lowe said. “There are many ways you can work with other businesses in ways that are mutually beneficial, and there’s no better way to be their cheerleader than to invest in what they believe in and what makes them happy.”

Small business owners are usually interested in getting in front of potential clients or customers, and many local businesses are interested in doing that by way of supporting community groups and events. Activities like sponsoring the local football team, volunteering, and finding other ways to help in the community not only spread the word about their businesses, but also help bring the community together as a whole.

In Canton, the Canton Merchant Partners worked with the NC Community Foundation and received a Crusoe Endowment allowing an ice skating rink to be installed downtown. Lowe said this brought awareness to the town as a whole, brought visitors to the town during traditionally slow months, and gave locals a fun activity in which to participate.

“It was a reminder that Canton is still here and our businesses are still open,” Lowe said. “The businesses chipped in to make this happen, making the holiday time feel extra warm and giving that ‘Hallmark feeling’ Canton is known for.”

Positive relationships among business owners help support the community during difficult times. The town of Canton has experienced several challenges over recent years including COVID, flooding, and the closing of the Pactiv Evergreen mill. Lowe said she saw that community members were happy to show up for area businesses, rally around them, and support them because they want to see the local businesses remain after the challenging times pass. Shifting business models, sharing ideas, and becoming literal “boots on the ground” after a disaster demonstrates how the community spirit among business owners uplifts the town as a whole.

“The average person may not see all the things going on behind the scenes, but the community feels it,” Lowe said. “We hope visitors can feel it too, and hope they keep wanting to come back for more.”