A real eye-opener

    John Hastings works on a desk at his shop in Central Point. He and other business owners and city planners are hoping to turn downtown into a retail and tourism destination after attending a business “boot camp” in Colorado. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

    CENTRAL POINT — After two decades building custom cabinets and furniture at his little shop along Front Street, carpenter John Hastings is gearing up to bring his namesake shop into a new era.

    Hastings used to rely on word-of-mouth advertising and the occasional newspaper ad to find customers for his work. But he's changing his game after he and a handful of other business owners went to "Destination Boot Camp" with city planners.

    Owners and planners hope to transform their sleepy downtown into a retail and tourism destination after attending the two-and-a-half-day course in Colorado led by marketing consultant Jon Schallert.

    "The boot camp was basically to get us going and to show us how to bring people from outside the area to inside the downtown and kind of make this whole corridor here a destination spot that people will actually want to come to," said Hastings. "We've got quite a few businesses on this stretch of highway, so there's a nice opportunity here if we can get more businesses involved and all work together."

    The city already has developed an artisan corridor downtown and a Front Street destination area that includes the world-renowned Rogue Creamery, Lillie Belle Farms chocolate shop and nearby Red Oak Glass.

    It also is considering urban renewal and is working on a plan for a revamped Pine Street.

    But successful businesses are key for a thriving downtown, said Community Development Director Tom Humphrey.

    "The city can do urban renewal and we can do facelifts and improve our infrastructure, but if the businesses we have aren't successful and attracting customers, then what do we have? We have empty buildings," he said.

    Red Oak Glass owner Louis Colosimo said he already utilized a business website, but the boot camp opened his eyes to the potential of social networking, and he picked up ideas for sharing customers with compatible businesses in the downtown.

    For example, hotels often provide marketing materials for recreational opportunities in the area. His shop, he said, could provide customers with ideas for places to eat or visit.

    He also learned how to better define why his business is unique.

    "In my case, when someone says, 'What do you do?' The answer is, 'Well, I blow glass,' but it better defines what I do to say, 'I make these passionately colored art pieces that are also lights,' " said Colosimo.

    "We're looking at doing a Web camp in the shop, so people can order their glass online and dial in and watch it being blown. There are a lot of things we want to try."

    Chiropractor Bob Kelty, in the city for 32 years, said he was able to utilize much of the information in the boot camp as well.

    "I was the only medical service kind of business, so some of the principles that were discussed didn't apply directly to me, but a lot of them could be applied in making any kind of service-related business unique," he said.

    "I came home from the boot camp and already thought of different ideas and tools to help me emphasize what I do in terms of reaching patients and better educating the community," Kelty said.

    Hastings said better utilization of tools and working together should help downtown business owners bring tourists and customers into town.

    "It's hard to put the word out and try to draw people from outside the area so they know we're here," he said. "If we can make the city an appealing place to come to, and there are several businesses that are destinations, we all benefit."

    Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

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