PUBLISHED: 4:04 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Tale of two cities

  Lee Leschper
In a land far far to the south, in a life long ago, I worked with newspapers in two different communities.

We'd call them towns-similar to Juneau in size and many other ways.

Each was a small regional hub, far enough removed from the "big city" to be shopping centers, but yet hardly self-sufficient.

Each had limited manufacturing. Each hosted a small local college.

Each for many years supported a host of small businesses of every size and kind.

Then within a year, a major national discount retailer (box store, if you will) opened a super center in each town.

These two began from very similar situations, but finished with totally different outcomes.

In the first, the downtown merchants decided to take action. They updated their business association, created a marketing plan and began monthly sales events as a group, to draw customers to their "downtown mall."

Businesses outside downtown refined their product mix, refocused on more service and specialty sales, and expanded promotions.

When the big box store opened, it was very successful. And the small businesses also saw not a decline, but a boost in business, getting more than their previous share of the new customers the big store was drawing to town.

In the second community, the small businesses did no take action, except to complain about the changes that were coming and to predict their own downfall.

And their predictions came true.

Today there are several other big national retailers in that community. And the small retailers are pretty much gone. The downtown business district is now office space.

The difference was not in what the new big retailers did, but in how the rest of the community responded.

My dear colleague Tony Marsella loves this quotation:

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again, and expecting a different result."

Morale of this story?

Nothing stays the same, especially in business. Change is a given. Some change is good, some is bad.

Some organizations learn, adapt and grow. Others try to ignore or resist change, and usually suffer from their own version of insanity.

The newspaper in your hand is no different.

We launched the first online newspapers, in the most primitive form possible, just a decade a go.

Today many, including the two Juneau newspapers, reach a substantial part of our audience and deliver a substantial of our advertising messages online.

The combination of print and online is now stronger than the "old way."

Doing business in Juneau is and will continue to be more competitive.

Because of online shopping, this would be the case even if national discount retailers had not opened mega-stores in Juneau this year.

These big new retailers have and will continue to change the business climate in Juneau.

That change can be good or not so good for the businesses already here, in large part as a result of how those smaller retailers respond and move ahead.

There is no one quick fix, by the way.

Nor am I advocating more advertising alone, although it is an essential element in a competitive market.

Advertising, marketing, public relations, training, staffing, product mix and pricing-all are components in the successful business tool kit.

While it's too early to predict what will happen in Juneau, here is one interesting side note.

At least some retailers are reporting a surge in new business since Home Depot opened in June.

Call it pent up demand, new consumers coming to town and spreading their money around, or just happenstance.

Not by coincidence, those are the same businesses that have maintained or increased their marketing and promotion efforts.

Time will tell which of the two cities Juneau follows.

Leschper is the general manager of the Capital City Weekly and advertising director of the Juneau Empire. Send e-mail to him at