Small Business Trends (SBT) did a Q & A Interview with Bill Brunell. He is the co-founder of Meridian Group and manages the Independent We Stand Account. STIHL Inc. is a Meridian Group marketing client, and founding sponsor and creator of Independent We Stand.
Independent We Stand Background
When Independent We Stand was launched, STIHL had 8,000 authorized dealers, who sell and service their handheld outdoor power equipment. (The dealer base has since grown to more than 10,000 authorized dealers.) STIHL founded Independent We Stand to draw attention to its authorized dealers.
In addition to the STIHL dealers, the Independent We Stand network now includes more than 145,000 independent business members. The members represent many business categories, including tire service centers, furniture stores, and coffee, flower, and candy shops.
SBT: It’s the sixth year of America’s Main Streets Contest. How did it get started?
Bill Brunell, Meridian Group: The American’s Main Streets contest was created to help recognize the importance of America’s Main Streets and the small locally owned businesses that help them thrive. As part of its ongoing mission to promote small businesses, Independent We Stand created the “America’s Main Streets” contest to promote the critical role main streets play in building economic success for their communities.
Over the last decade, Independent We Stand conducted several Main Street road trips where we saw firsthand that small, independent businesses are the lifeblood of Main Streets across America. Throughout our travels across the U.S., we’ve met with independent businesses owners on Main Streets from coast to coast to hear (and help tell) their stories.
We saw with our own eyes the strong economic benefits of America’s Main Streets on their communities and how locally owned businesses help drive that prosperity. Our annual road trips, which typically covered five Main Streets in five states, in five days came to an abrupt halt with the onset of COVID 19, but fortunately, the contest—due to its online nature—continued, with Sykesville, Md. winning the title amidst the pandemic. Now, two years into the battle with the virus, Downtown Hudson in Hudson, Mass., has proven once again, that America’s Main Streets know how to survive and thrive.
SBT: We love the Independent We Stand movement, powered by Stihl, for a couple of reasons. One reason is the creation of a directory of locally owned, independent businesses. And the second reason is the creation of an easy app, to help people locate and support those businesses. In these times, how important is community engagement?
Bill Brunell, Meridian Group: Community engagement is key, particularly during these trying times in the face of COVID-19. Main Streets bring people together, even when the pandemic kept us apart. From community members rallying to keep their favorite small businesses open to the many outdoor markets we saw popping up on Main Streets around the country, small businesses show up for their communities every day, and the community pays it back in kind.
Take, for example, America’s Main Streets 2021 winner, Downtown Hudson. They entered America’s Main Streets contest several weeks late compared to other entries but rallied their community together to vote, and in the end, these efforts paid off.
Over the years, we’ve found that smaller towns turn out in a major way to support their Main Streets because they understand the important role these business hubs play in their communities. The winning Main Streets from this contest use every tool in their toolkit, from social media, flyers, and old-fashioned word-of-mouth, and in doing so, draw major attention and support to the businesses lining these streets.
Hudson, Massachusetts Wins 2021 America’s Main Streets “Road to Recovery” Contest
Independent We Stand is pleased to recognize Hudson, Mass. as the $25,000 winner of the 2021 America’s Main Streets “Road to Recovery” contest. More than 1 million total votes were cast by the public nationwide in the sixth annual contest.
The Hudson Downtown Business Improvement District rallied its vast network of 85 property owners, partners at the Hudson Business Association and the Assabet Valley Chamber of Commerce, and their community to vote in support of its entry. The organization plans to utilize the prize money to enhance culture and the arts.
“We have worked for several years to revitalize Downtown Hudson, so winning this contest is a wonderful opportunity to continue these efforts,” said Richard A. Braga, Jr., Hudson Downtown Business Improvement District administrator. “Our intent from the beginning was to expand our cultural and art footprint downtown and we plan to use our cash prize to attract more general retail, with a creative focus.”
Planned initiatives earmarked for the cash prize include:
- Continuing to provide accounting and financial advice for the district’s businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Assisting in funding the purchase and renovation of a vacant Armory on a riverfront to regional arts and performance center.
- Expanding a culture and arts program that offers incentives to new businesses that meet specific criteria.
Bill Brunell, Meridian Group: The overwhelming support garnered by Downtown Hudson demonstrates the major impact small businesses can have on their communities. After several years of economic turmoil, we are excited to see how Downtown Hudson will utilize these funds to enhance their community.