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Patrick Keiser was in his barber’s chair when he had a powerful conversation that may just change the retail world. Patrick is the founder and executive director of Heart on Main Street.
The presence of small retailers is down 20% in the last 20 years, Heart on Main Street is a business designed to change that by helping and supporting these local fixtures.
Whether it’s money and investments, information and education, resources, or a network; Patrick’s passion is to revive Main Street and help more than the current 1 in 3 retailers make it past the 2-year mark.
With Friends on Main Street, Patrick is creating a community of like-minded retailers and businesses relative to the retailer community to give business owners the help and support they actually need.
You have to hear Patrick’s passion to push the narrative back to shopping locally. He has such great advice to retailers including something I am a huge advocate for; Find a mentor.
During our conversation one thing is abundantly clear, we are rooting for your success!
- How one conversation led to a vision that could change the world.
- A resource for new retailers or existing retailers ready for growth.
- A business founded on helping independent retailers evolve and thrive in their community.
- A network of experienced retailers and businesses.
- The value of learning from other experiences.
Mentioned in the Episode
-In today’s episode, I am talking to Patrick Kaiser, the founder and executive director of Heart on Main Street. This is a new nonprofit that’s helping independent retailers through grants, mentorship, resources, and education, and I am honored to be on the board. In this episode, you’re going to hear how one conversation has led to this incredible vision that I think has the power to change the world.
Patrick also shares some great advice. For a retailer, for somebody who’s wanting to start a retail store, or a retailer who is already established but looking to grow, uh, and, and many more golden nuggets throughout this episode. I really love this conversation, and it’s very inspiring. Before we dive in, let me tell you a little bit more about Patrick.
Patrick Kaiser is the founder and executive director of Heart on Main Street. He holds a bachelor’s in science and secondary education from Texas Christian University and has completed a philanthropy and nonprofit organization’s program at Northwestern University. While at TCU, Patrick discovered a passion for building supportive communities and developing culture, and he has carried this into his professional life. Patrick served as an educator and coach in Fort Worth, Texas, for six years before making a transition into the corporate world, starting a role with the wholesale sales and marketing company “One Coast” in 2016. At One Coast, Patrick found his home working with an organization that serves independent retailers around the country.
He was able to combine his passions of learning and educating to help others better serve their communities, but Patrick believed he could be doing more for independent retailers and Main Street communities. In 2021, he conceptualized the idea of bringing together the efforts of companies and organizations that relied on Main Street businesses to provide more tools, resources, and education to retailers across the country with the belief that combining the efforts of many, they would be able to accomplish more than they would individually.
Heart on Main Street was born in 2022. Before we listen to my conversation with Patrick, let’s hear from our sponsor. Me. Hey, real quick, I wanna invite you to my in-person marketing conference called Evolve, happening April 26th and 27th in Denver, Colorado, at this stunning Gaylord Rockies. We are going to talk about all things retail and marketing and more.
You’re going to walk away feeling confident in yourself, in your marketing plan that feels comfortable and authentic to you. You’re gonna have a very good understanding of the future of social media and marketing because it’s gonna look very different than it does today and how you can adapt and evolve to stay relevant and thrive.
Many businesses won’t do that, and you can, if you come to evolve, we’re gonna have other topics as it relates to social media and marketing, as well as inventory management, money mindset, leadership. This is a packed agenda plus time for networking, meeting new retailer friends, and getting your questions answered from me and my team and our peakers, I’d love to see you in the room, so go to crystalmediaco.com/evolve to get your ticket. Seating is limited, so hurry and grab your ticket before we sell out. I hope to see you there.
Welcome to Rooted In Retail, the show that’s dedicated to helping independent retailers thrive in today’s ever evolving retail landscape.
I’m your host, Crystal Vilkaitis, and I’m thrilled to have you join me weekly as we explore topics that are vital to the success of your store from marketing to mindset, money to merchandising, sales to leadership, we’ll cover it all. Each episode features interviews with industry experts and accomplished retailers who share their real life insights and actionable advice.
Get ready for a great conversation on how to build your dream business with “Rooted in Retail”.
-Patrick, welcome to the show. I’m so excited you’re here. Thank you so much for having me on. Yeah. Okay, let’s dive right in. Tell us how Heart on Main Street was born, and I mentioned a little bit about it in the intro, but also tell us what Heart on Main Street is.
-Yeah, absolutely. So, I guess first starting Heart on Main Street is a nonprofit organisation dedicated to helping independent retailers evolve and thrive within their local communities. It really started off within the COVID pandemic with a lot of store closures and shutdowns, and I like so many other people were very, am very involved and had been very involved in the shop local.
And really I saw the huge importance of that during the time when stores were closing down, restaurants were closing down, couldn’t have people in there and these kinds of fixtures to the local neighbourhood that were struggling, and so I very much wanted to support them, would always be in their stores. I really bonded with a couple of the small business owners and through just talking with them and trying to support them, started to ask some questions. The pandemic was an interesting time from a small business perspective. It kind of cleared the stage.
People were really allowed to sit back, reflect on their business. There were a lot of changes, especially at retail, that needed to be made in order to be able to get products to customers and be able to reach customers in different ways. So I was talking with a couple and really started off with my barber and was talking with him about what are some of the things that have changed that he’s liked, and what are some of the business practices and things about his business that he would maybe want to do differently going forward and looking at allowing to really sit back and reflect.
So we were talking about that for a little bit, and we’d become friends. So we were talking with him, and his conversation was very profound. He has a little bit of a unique situation. He owns a business that does not have his name on it. It has the old owner’s name on it. The old owner hasn’t been part of the business for a long time, and he really wanted to take more ownership.
And it had been a fixture in the neighbourhood. It had been something that people always saw in the neighborhood, and so he was, for a while, okay continuing on with that, but after really a couple years of putting his own sweat and his own efforts and really wanting to grow the business, he wanted to do things differently.
And so we were talking about: right, well, what would you want to do? Where would you want to start? What would you want to tackle as you’re trying to evolve your business? And it started off, first off, the name, have it be more reflective of me and reflective of my business.
But then it was: I want to gut this place, I want to redo the whole interior, and I want to have a different feel to my shop, and I want to have a better reach of more customers in a different way than I’ve been able to before. And so we were talking about those things, and everything from a logo to a name to color changes and I asked him: Well, do you know people that do these things?
Because I come from a wholesale background, wholesale and marketing company, and as he was talking about these, I know people that do design and branding, that do interior design, that do showroom preparations, that do social media, different kinds of tangential to what he’s talking about.
But as a business owner, does he really know people that are experts in those things of how to really take his business to another level? And the short answer was kind of “No”. He knew some graphic designers that were really more kind of on the tattoo side, than the actual working with retailers or small businesses.
He knew some interior space designers, but it really wasn’t someone that has worked in a retail space or a barbershop in his case and knew how to do social media, but not really all that involved in it and knows how to make a post, but not to an expert marketing level to help them gain new customers.
And so I was sitting there thinking, I do know people that do all of these things, just kind of from my background. Why don’t we, and why haven’t we been able to really get those resources to the end user to the small business owners that really need those things? We were talking about why he hadn’t made the changes before.
And some of it was just resources, didn’t have the money to do what was needed to do, didn’t know of different business practices that he could do in order to reinvest back in the business, and didn’t know who to connect, didn’t know who to contact, and didn’t know who to really reach out to in order to make those great holistic changes to his business.
And so that kind of set me off. I was talking with other retailers and other small business owners in my neighborhood and kind of similar ideas, wanting to have big dreams and wanting to get things done in their store. But I don’t necessarily know how to get those things done, or well, profit margins are really tight.
And actually, the idea of creating this grand vision that I have in my head, but I don’t necessarily have the financial capabilities to get that done. So that’s really kind of where Heart on Main Street started was conversations with small business owners, with retailers, with your Main Street stores, your main street fixtures.
I started looking into data and statistics of just, I think, kind of we know in our mind that Main Street has been maybe struggling or there have been challenges over the past couple decades, but when you look at the amount of independently owned retail stores in the United States, there’s been a pretty drastic drop off in the last couple decades.
It’s over 20%, and we’re approaching almost 25% less independently owned retail stores than there were 20 years ago, which is just crazy. That’s a lot of independent retailers struggling that there are challenges facing big box from online distributors. There are lots of challenges out there, but they are such fixtures to small towns.
It’s that local pharmacy. It’s the local barbershop, it’s the local gift store. And to see those, go out of business or to be taken over or to be not locally owned anymore. That hurts the town. That hurts the economy of the area. And so I was thinking, well, what more could we do?
How could we help those independent owners, those independent business owners become more sustainable within their towns, be more of a fixture? How can we help them evolve as consumer habits have changed? That’s where really we started to kind of put together the ideas of Heart on Main Street and what we want to accomplish, and kinda looking at a couple of different facets that we’re trying to help out small businesses.
But from a financial part of being able to raise money to be able to give out money, help retailers invest back into their stores. So if there’s a project, if there’s something that they are working on.
But yeah, profit margin is tight, and I can’t get that done. I don’t have the financial resources to make that leap and make that investment into my store. Heart on Main Street’s gonna help try and bridge the gap, raise money.
There is an application process that retailers can go through and we’ll try and help out however we can to be able to infuse money and help the retailers invest back into their store.
Also, notice that there’s a pretty steep drop-off in new retail. It’s a great thing; people wanting to invest, wanting to be a part of their town. But statistics show that independent retailers, about one in three of them, don’t make it past two years in business. So within two years, a third of new independent retail stores are out of business, half of them within five years.
So one and two, it’s a coin flip, making it five years. There are a lot of challenges that go into starting a retail store and getting it up and going, and having it run well so that you can continue to be that fixture within your town. And so, creating a mentorship program that will help out newer retailers and guide them through a lot of those missteps that other retailers make, or allow them to anticipate the challenges that are going to come and help them, pave a road for them so they can be more successful and they can get through those first couple years and allow themselves a lot better chance to be more successful within their towns. That’s a great program. Again, an application process going to be able to work with some great retailers and some experts within the field and be able to really help them build their retail store.
-As you know, I’m so incredibly excited that you had this conversation, and it sparked something within you. I mean, talk about the power of a conversation, right? Seriously, with your barber, I could just see you sitting there getting your haircut, being curious, just having this curious mind and asking these questions, and one thing leads to a next, and then boom, you have this amazing organization that is really supporting the retailer, and this is something where I was very excited to be involved because there are a lot of different companies that support the retailer.
Just like you’re saying. I know companies that can help you like, but where it’s all kind of siloed and the retailer has to go and try to find those resources themselves, and you don’t always know. For us having a social media company, there are a lot of skeptical retailers because they’ve been burned in the past, so knowing this is a place I can trust, which I’ll have you talk about Friends on Main Street in a second too, cause that’s obviously a component of this, but having the resources, the education, the mentorship, which I think is gold, I talk a lot about mentorship on my show because that’s why I’m here today.
Like I cannot stress that enough. You have to have a mentor. I feel like, especially when you’re starting off in business, to really guide you, to help you go past those five years. We just don’t know what we don’t know. Then also the funding aspect of this, you don’t see a lot of those programs outside of some of the locally based programs, but something that’s a little bit on a bigger level, and I’m just so incredibly excited to be on the board and be involved and love that you had that conversation and just ran with it.
So tell everybody about the Friend on Main Street aspect of this as well.
-Yeah, absolutely. Really from what you were saying, if you did want to reinvest back into your store with marketing or social media or even financial planning or inventory management or developing a new website, there are resources out there, there are people, there are companies that do these things.
But sometimes it’s a little bit difficult. You know, Google marketing company, and do they work with someone my size? Do they know some of my customers? Am I going to be one of 50 people within their 500 people in their portfolio, or are they actually really going to be dedicated to me?
So there are challenges with that, too, of just knowing where to go and knowing who to find. And so, we’ve been working on developing what we’re calling our Friends of Main Street Network, and there are companies and organizations that are involved, invested in wanting to help out Main street retailers, and not necessarily wanting to focus on the large corporations, but really focused on that independent retailer, local small business.
And just creating a network where people can come to Heartonmainstreet.org, they can find our partnerships, and if they’re looking for a company that does social media, they can find Crystal Media there. They can find, other companies that are specializing in exactly what they need so that they can not take out the Google part of it, take out the 40,000 results that come up, and focus and say: Hey, these are companies that do what I’m looking for and that work with people that are like me, that know my consumers, that know my customers, and know that I can trust them, that they’re going to do a good job for me.
-So beautiful. And anybody who’s listening who maybe is not a retailer, but you do serve independent retailers, then go apply to be a Friend on Main Street because as this nonprofit is growing and gaining traction, of course, we want people who know about it, who are applying, who are able to support.
I definitely have my friends. I think I’ve mentioned this to you before. I have all my speaker friends, and we get to see each other when we’re traveling to all the different retail shows. And for years, we’ve said how do we all work together to support the retailer? Because we all do different things, but we all serve the same person.
But none of us really spent the time. It was like: okay, there’s something here! And then we go back to our businesses, and we don’t explore it. I know a lot of my speaker friends are gonna be excited to be a part of this.
Sending the retailers to one trusted place is so great.
I want to take a second for any of those retailers who are listening to this. If you take that moment, what would you do to grow your business? Like Patrick’s barber, how he’s like, oh, I do this, and I do that, and I do that.
I think it would be a great exercise to make that list, dream a little, give yourself that space. We’re so busy running our store.
Give yourself that space to take a step back. And I would do this outside, like some different new environment, and write down those things. You’re gonna have the things you’ve been thinking about for years…
-But can you, every day, when you come into the store?
-Yeah, exactly. Right, exactly. But I would even challenge you to think even a little bit bigger and write down those dreams, and I am just all about taking that time to look at where we want to go, where we want our business to go, versus always being day-to-day. So I just feel like this is a great exercise to do.
And then possibly applying for a grant through Heart on Main Street. Or if you, the other thing I want to say too that’s so great about this organization is retailers. Let’s say you are a very successful retailer. You can be a mentor.
-Yeah, talk a little bit about that, Patrick.
-Yeah. We’re really working and developing the mentorship program, what that’s gonna look like.
Applications will be this year, and we’ll really start next year. I’ve always been of the belief that you can learn from your community. You learn from people around you, that no one person is going to be the smartest person, and they have all the answers.
And so, we’re wanting to connect with more experienced retailers. Retailers that have gone through it, that have run their store, have been successful, have seen those ups and downs of the first couple years, and to be able to connect with them so that they can help out other new retailers and be able to provide their expertise, be able to talk them through the situations that they went through, what they experienced, the pitfalls that they saw, the successes, what went well, what didn’t for them. If you are an experienced retailer, if you have owned retail in the past, we’re wanting to build out this mentorship network and partnerships together. We’re looking for experts. We’re looking for people that have been through the experiences to help out and want to help out others.
-Yeah, and I love that too because I feel like the people who make it through the other side, past those five years, like you’ve figured some stuff out, you know what you’re doing there. There comes that moment of like, you do want tgive back, you wanna help other people, and you might know somebody in your town and you’re volunteering that way. This is just kind of that great matchmaking service in a way of finding the retailer who needs that support and the retailer who has the knowledge that really wants to connect and give back. So be on the lookout for that being available in the next year.
But if you are somebody who could give back in that way, I think that would be really incredible. And then I’m gonna throw this out here too, and I don’t know if I should, so we could always cut this if I shouldn’t, but, I know because I’m on the board that we’re doing educational webinars every month and the calendar’s pretty ironed out and pretty epic for 2023.
So if you’re a retailer, you’re gonna want to go to Heartonmainstreet.org and join the newsletter so you can know when these webinars are happening and go live to these. They’ll be recorded as well. But also that could be an area where if you need help in something, a topic to submit that you’d like to learn or maybe even teach.
I mean, is that okay? I’m saying this Patrick.
-Sure, yeah. I mean, again, learning from others is such a valuable thing. And if you’re listening up there or watching and you’re: Hey, I’m an expert in this field and I would love to connect with more retailers, be part of our webinar series.
We will have kind of a rough calendar right now, but can either find a place for you in one of the topics that we have created or be able to create another topic for that. Because yeah, again, wanting to just be able to have education and that people can go out to find.
So again, hearing from people that are experienced and that kinda been through the experiences of others and not just for new retailers, experienced retailers as well.
-Speaking of education, you used to be a teacher!
-I was a high school social studies teacher.
-So mostly world history, some geography as well.
– Do you miss teaching?
-I do miss teaching, yeah.
-I taught for six years in Fort Worth, Texas. Hello Paschal High School. But I do miss teaching. It was a wonderful experience. I learned more about myself during that period and you always think of working with kids and I loved that, but it was also really kind of my first grownup job.
And so learning about myself and learning about how I operate and challenges and struggles and how I can help, I focus a lot on how I can help the community and help people around me. And so that’s always where I wanted to build a strong community and do that through education and do that with the people, the kids that I was working with. And seeing them now, I’ve been out of teaching for six years, but seeing them grown up and going out into the world, it’s a pretty amazing thing to see, see their accomplishments now too.
-Totally. I’m totally putting you on the spot, so if you don’t have a story, we can edit this part, but do you have a moment or a story that sticks out to you over those six years that was just one of your most like, heartwarming, amazing students or situations?
First one that pops to my head. I tried to be relaxed. If you know my personality, I’m fairly relaxed. At one point in time, there was a cheating scandal. Some kids stole a quiz off my desk, and I didn’t notice it. And they took it, they copied it. Two, three years later, one of the kids that was involved in that came back into my classroom. He was a senior at that time, and I kind of deviated from my easiness and kind of laid back, and it was hard on them. They broke my trust.
It was disrespectful. So I was difficult on them and for the rest of that year at that time. But he came back as a senior and thanked me for it, which was completely unexpected, but he was like: I was hanging out with these kids, and they were involved in things I wasn’t comfortable with at the time. But they said it was gonna be okay, and we did get busted, and you’ve kind of changed and saw how that impacted you. And I didn’t want to do that anymore.
And so it was this, not necessarily teaching, but one of those things that kind of circles back, and that’s still one of the first things that pops to my head.
Ultimately a good experience.
-Totally. Well, and I love that he thanked you because I think that we can have those experiences with teachers or just people in our life that we never tell them: Thank you.
-We never like full circle back with them, and so you don’t always know what’s going on. Was that helpful? Whatever.
And I feel like that’s very mature of him to say that to you. So yeah. Awesome. I love it.
I bet you have like a million stories. I can’t even imagine being a high school teacher, but it’s so fun to hear some of that.
And just the little weird things that they say.
-It was a great time. I loved it, loved my kids, loved what I was doing.
– I love it.
-Patrick, if you were to give one piece of advice to a retailer who’s about to start their business, what would you, and I know you could probably give them a ton of advice, but what is one piece of advice you’d give them?
-Let’s see. One piece of advice, I would try and find a mentor, try and find someone that has been through the ups and downs of retail ownership, that has been to the market before, that has marketed themselves well. Try as much as possible, you have your own business to run, but, stick to them and ask them questions and be curious and just really dive into and try and pick their brain as much as possible.
Cause there are so many things to learn. Say, from retail, there’s the product mind that knows what people are going to want and know, and can kind of picture that there’s the visual mind of how everything should be set up. And there’s also the business mind of this is, how the business needs to be run.
And there are probably four other minds that are needed in there as well, but no one’s got all of them. And you might have two or two and a half of the skills, but you know no one’s really all well rounded right off the bat, at least in order to run a successful retail store.
So finding people, finding mentors.
And I’d probably add to that, find someone who’s good at the things that you are not. If you are super creative and you can picture it and visualize it or find someone that runs the business really, really well and that does operations well and find out just what you can do to do better there.
-Such great advice, and I think that with the mentorship aspect, you’re almost like fast-tracking your success and helping you really get past those first couple of years and then finding someone who can be the operator. My next question was gonna be, what advice would you give to somebody who’s looking to grow?
They’re a little bit more established, which I do want to hear what you’re going say. But even that last piece of what you just said is almost that next level too of like going, finding the person that can operate that business. I often say: who not how!
I know when you’re first starting out, you kind of got to wear a lot of hats.
-And that’s just the name of the game. But then when you get a little bit more established and you can hire help, I recommend doing that. Almost before you’re ready to do it, but what advice would you have for somebody who’s looking to grow? They’re a little bit more established.
-I was thinking, what you had mentioned earlier of just sitting back, stepping, you know, taking a step back and looking at your business from an outsider’s perspective and try to think about the dream.
What do you want it to be and how do we get there?
And how do we take even the simplest steps towards that.
Kind of get the ball rolling and get walking down that path to be able to take your business to where you want it to be. Step outside of it, really look at it from a third person’s perspective.
How easy is it to shop at my store? How do I need to do more with e-commerce business? How easy is it to find me if I Google my company’s name? Do I pop up? And really kind of take a step back and understand where you want to go.
And then just taking those steps to get to that dream.
-I love it so much and a good way to get outside of the business too, can be by going to conferences. If you’re listening to this before the end of April, Patrick and the Heart of Main Street team are going to be at Evolve our in-person conference so you can see them in person and get to meet them. We’re very excited to have them involved.
-I’m very excited to be there. Yeah. Thank you!
-Yeah, it’s going to be great. It’s going to be great.
-This is a great way to wrap up this awesome conversation.
Going back to dream and that was such good advice Patrick.
What is your dream for Heart on Main Street?
If we wave this magical wand and five years from now, what does some of that vision look like for you?
-Yeah. I do want to help out retailers, and I would love 5 years, 15 years, really see a pushback towards shopping local and supporting your local businesses.
I would love for the first thing, shopping starts, the first thing people do, they’ll search on the Internet. I would love for the first inclination to not be buying from a large online, but if you search on the internet, then a local store pops up that has that product for you, that people are marketing themselves that well, that they are using e-commerce that well, that the products that you know of the stores within your local area that you can go to find those things. And that there are successful, sustainable retail stores that are locally owned, that you can go to and support your community.
It’s kind of as much of a movement that becomes the dominant way that people shop. I would love to see that.
-Yeah, me too. That’s a beautiful dream. And this is the way to make it happen, really supporting the retailer from education, resources, grants, mentorship, like so excited to be involved in this and that you had this vision and that conversation.
-So Patrick, we’ll link to everywhere, and I’ll mention it in the intro as well, but how would you like people to connect with you?
-Yeah, absolutely. So you can always email contact Heart on Main Street. You can find us on Heartonmainstreet.org.
Contact heartonmainstreet.org. Website is Heartonmainstreet.org.
On socials, Heart on Main Street. So you can find us in any of those places.
-Beautiful. Thank you so much for everything that you’re doing for our independence and for your time today. I love this conversation.
-Thank you so much, Crystal.
-Awesome. All right. Thanks, everybody. We’ll see you in the next episode.
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