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Feb. 1, 2023

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Workshop offers advice on facades, websites to downtown businesses

By , Columbian Port & Economy Reporter
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3 Photos
Devon Bray, co-owner of Loowit Brewing, stands in front of his business in downtown Vancouver.
Devon Bray, co-owner of Loowit Brewing, stands in front of his business in downtown Vancouver. Bray, who participated in a workshop hosted by Vancouver’s Downtown Association about ways to improve building façades, described the craft brewery’s facade as “kind of nondescript.” (Natalie Behring/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Memo to downtown Vancouver business owners: If you want to attract customers, you’ve got to give off your best look — both digitally and physically.

On the digital side, avoid a cluttered design for your company’s website and instead embrace a simple, bold presentation that potential customers can quickly and easily grasp.

In the physical world, snap your storefront to attention with color, lighting and a snazzy sign. Open the door to elegance and friendliness. Tell dullness and confusion to take a hike.

Those were just some of the tips offered by two Vancouver experts who spoke during a well-attended free workshop held Wednesday by Vancouver’s Downtown Association. Inside a community room of the Esther Short Building in downtown Vancouver, Noland Hoshino of the marketing firm High Five Media and Seanette Corkill of store design company Frontdoor Back extolled the virtues of sprucing up a small business’ online and offline spaces.

And those spaces are connected. As Corkill put it, once customers find your business online and decide to drop by, “are they glad they made the trip?”

The remarks and slide presentations delivered by Corkill and Hoshino, taken in by at least 20 attendees, were part of a larger effort to help four businesses achieve their goals and, by doing so, allow other companies to observe and learn along the way.

The four businesses are Loowit Brewing Company, Aevum Images, Lucky Loan Pawn Shop and Beigeblond Cutting & Coloring Salon. The plan is to spend a year tracking them as they make progress in improving their use of social media and making upgrades to the exteriors of their buildings, according to Lee Rafferty, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association.

Devon Bray, who co-owns Loowit Brewery with Tom Poffenroth, attended the “Word on the Street” workshop. In a phone interview before the workshop, he said he and Poffenroth are interested in both the social media and exterior-improvement offerings.

However, the company has “a pretty good handle on the digital side,” Bray said, so it’s more interested in what may be done to give the craft brewery’s facade a face-lift. “It’s kind of nondescript,” Bray said of the exterior look of the company on Columbia Street. “We’re interested in having a little bit more professional appearance.”

He added: “We’d like to have something that reflects what’s inside.”

A little pizazz

If Loowit Brewery or the other three participating companies make facade improvements as part of the downtown association’s “Word on the Street” project, the city will waive the $394 design review fee, according to Rebecca Kennedy, business assistance coordinator for the city, who spoke during Wednesday’s event.

Such facade improvements include signs, exterior paint, and replacement of doors, windows and awnings.

Until those decisions are made, the four companies — and other businesses looking to learn from their experiences — will immerse themselves in the advice given by Hoshino and Corkill.

Hoshino said part of what makes a company’s website appealing is what customers see in the top part of their screens. If they don’t get what you’re about in that space in a clear, bold, simple way, he said, you’ll lose customers in a matter of seconds.

Customers also need to be able to quickly and clearly see what you’re about on their mobile devices, Hoshino said. What you want are bold colors, elegance, user-friendliness. What you don’t want: customers squinting at the screens in their hands because your company’s website is cluttered, too wordy, not mobile-friendly.

Then there’s SMO. That’s social media optimization. It entails using social media such as Facebook and Instagram to create and share content, and to connect with customers. It’s about driving traffic to your company’s website and building up your brand, Hoshino said.

As to breathing new life into building exteriors, Corkill said it’s all about retail visibility and retail clarity: do people see your business and do they get what it’s about?

And small changes can have big impacts, she said. Take signs, for instance. Well-designed, well-lit signs catch pedestrians’ eyes and quickly tell them what they’ll find inside your shop, Corkill said. By contrast, put a bunch of big decals in your windows, and you’re sending passers-by the wrong message: don’t stop or linger or look at what’s inside.

Colors, too, can change everything. They tell stories about what your business is about, Corkill said. And if you’re going to touch up your building with some paint, you might as well give it a little pizazz. “Turn your maintenance dollar into a marketing dollar,” Corkill said.

The next free “Word on the Street” workshop is slated for 9 to 10:30 a.m. Oct. 21 at the Vancouver City Council chambers at City Hall, 415 W. Sixth St. Those interested in attending should sign up at admin@vdausa.org.

The VDA is funding the “Word on the Street” project with presenting sponsor support from iQ Credit Union. Additional sponsorships came by way of VDA members The Source Climbing Gym, Divine Consign, Frontdoor Back, The Phillips Group, Bader Beer and Wine, High Five Media, and The Kiggins Theatre.

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