Setting Rural Retailers Up for Success

July 1, 2019

The current retail landscape is characterized by constant innovation, with new technologies connecting retailers and consumers in ways that were previously unimaginable. In this rapidly changing environment, small business owners are left vulnerable and under pressure to compete for consumer attention and patronage.

To help small business owners thrive, faculty from the College of Design’s Retail Merchandising Program collaborated with University Extension and community partners to design a series of workshops in Willmar and Kandiyohi County that specifically address the challenges small retailers face.

“These workshops were developed to provide rural retailers with strategic tools to compete in the changing retail landscape,” explained Jacqueline Parr (Apparel Studies). Parr worked closely with Associate Professor Hye-Young Kim and Associate Professor Hyunjoo Im (both Retail Merchandising) to plan and facilitate the workshops.

During the workshops, participants were provided with examples of industry best practices and discussed different aspects of the retail industry including budgeting, building, purchasing, and ways to give back to the community. Following the design workshops, Parr worked one-on-one with four of the retailers to develop action plans specific to their businesses. “I analyzed each retailer’s current retail market and identified opportunities to better position their companies in the marketplace,” said Parr. “In addition, I provided summary reports and execution strategies for the opportunities identified.”

The retailers said that these coaching sessions provided accountability to implement the strategies they’d worked on. “I learned so much from this experience, from store layout, addressing target markets, social media ideas, and it reinforced that I am on the right track,” said one of the participating business owners.

“It is critical to address the issues that rural retailers face and to find strategic business solutions to these issues. With the dramatic change in the retail industry over the past 10 years, rural retailers are struggling to compete and stay in business. These workshops provide support to retailers and give them tools to grow and stay in business for the years to come,” concluded Parr.

Results from the workshops will be developed into case studies and a best practice guide for local economic development staff to use in the future.

In partnership with University Extension’s Neil Linscheid, Associate Professors Hye-Young KimHyunjoo Im, and Ph.D. students Claire Whang and Sanga Song have developed the Joint Retail Assistance Program, a project designed to forge connections between retail merchandising students and retailers in rural Minnesota.

Supported by funding from the Minnesota Legislature, the Minnesota Futures Pilot Project is working with the communities of Grand Meadow, Wabasha, and Spring Grove to help position each one for a 21st-century future.

After almost a decade of practice in urban design, Anna Claussen (MLA ’07) broke out of traditional practice to explore how sociopolitical issues relate to surrounding landscapes.