WESTMORELAND — A handful of antique stores and boutique shops dot the few blocks that make up this rural Pottawatomie County town’s quiet Main Street, and Vicki Taylor would like them to become a destination for those seeking unique gifts and other items.
For a little more than a year she has operated The Tin Station, an antique store in an old gas station on the corner of Main and Third Street. Her business has been steady, mostly on the weekends, but she said she would like to see it grow along with the other stores in town. Westmoreland’s small-town charm, historic buildings and little shops could appeal to folks from Manhattan, Topeka or further way, she said.
“It’s a neat little town,” she said. “As Manhattan grows and pushes this way, maybe our little town can grow too.”
Earlier this summer, Taylor and five other business owners from Pottawatomie County attended Destination BootCamp, a seminar hosted by Longmont, Colo.-based consultant Jon Schallert. The program was designed to give small businesses tools to grow their customer base from beyond the local market, Schallert said. That involves improved online and social media marketing but also rethinking what makes a store or restaurant unique.
When a business draws customers from out of town, it also becomes more valuable to locals, he said.
“Basically it’s a thinking about what makes you so different people will say ‘hey, I’ve got to go to this place,’ ” Schallert said.
Westmoreland is close enough to Manhattan to benefit from economic development the city has spurred in southwest Pottawatomie County, said Jack Allston, executive director of the Pottawatomie County Economic Development Corporation. EcoDevo covered the cost of Destination BootCamp, he said, with the goal of helping Westmoreland capitalize on the growth seen further south.
Boutique shops and other niche stores like The Tin Station, help evolve the economy, which is dominated by the agriculture industry.
“It all works together,” Allston said.
Blue Barn Farm northwest of Westmoreland off K-16 highway is another destination business that are attracting customers from outside the area.
Owner Mary Jo Hanner has operated a farm-like pumpkin patch for three years and hopes to expand as an outdoor and barn wedding venue. Through the bootcamp training, Hanner said she learned her small business needed to be a venue costumers sought out rather than stumbled onto.
The admission free pumpkin patch offers a corn maze, hay bails and fall treats on weekends from the end of September through October. Hanner wants to leverage those features to attract families and Kansas Sate University students looking for low-cost, low-key day trip.
“You really have to be honest with yourself about what makes your business unique,” said. “For me I think it’s that we’re not the kind of place that charges just to get in. We want to be more of a farm than a carnival.”
Contact reporter Luke Ranker
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