Charles City Press 04-27-07 Local businesses hear some fresh, new ideas

Charles City Press
Local businesses hear some fresh, new ideas
By Matt Barnes, Staff Writer
Four area businesses received consultation from an unlikely source on
Wednesday night - students from Iowa State University enrolled in
entrepreneurship and merchandising classes.
Under the direction of Linda Niehm, an assistant professor in the College of
Human Sciences at Iowa State, teams of students have been analyzing the
businesses and the Charles City marketplace during their second semester of
On Wednesday night, the students addressed each business owner and offered
suggestions to increase the businesses' sales.
"There were a lot of good suggestions, and I'm excited about what I saw," said
Brian Elsbury, owner and operator of Aromas.
Other businesses that took part were Lidd and Cordray, Yeg's Sports and
Mike Lidd, owner of Lidd and Cordray, echoed Elsbury's sentiments.
"It was a good opportunity to hear new and younger ideas and to have the store
looked at from the outside," he said. "Some of their ideas were very valid."
The students arrived in Charles City via a Main Street Iowa program and a U.S.
Department of Agriculture grant. Iowa State has been sending students to Main
Street communities for the past three years.
"We wrote the grant looking for communities that were in need of business
assistance - not that businesses in Charles City are doing poorly - but places
that are looking to diversify their offerings. Places that want to be more
sustainable because that's the whole picture," Niehm explained.
At the beginning of each semester, Niehm and other Iowa State personnel meet
in Des Moines with Main Street Iowa officials to determine which city to target
"We look at the nature of the community, the Main Street director, is it possible
for the students to bring fresh insight into the community and are they really
wanting to do something positive for the community," Niehm explained.
Once the students arrive, it is as much a learning experience for them, as it is a
growing experience for the businesses.
"It's a win-win situation - good learning situation for the students as well as being
beneficial for the businesses," Niehm explained.
Angela Davis, who worked in a group of three at Aromas with Elsbury, agreed
that the students had learned a lot during their semester working with Charles
City businesses.
"We've learned on both a professional and social level because (Elsbury) is an
entrepreneur who's opened his business to do something to make himself happy
and he's done it in a very community-oriented way," she remarked.
Cat Eckstaedt, another partner on the Aromas team, said that her experience will
translate well into the professional world.
"This will be our third presentation and when you're going out into the real world,
you need to have this type of skill - it's a good experience for us students for
The students wanted to provide business strategy assistance using experience
economy strategies, a strategy that hinges on the idea that consumers desire
more of an experience when shopping.
"The experience economy looks at adding value through creating a theme within
the business, which hopefully will be consistent with the community theme,"
Niehm explained.
Themes center around the "4 E's," according to Niehm. The E's include
education, entertainment, escapism and esthetic, which is in the visual realm.
Niehm said that focusing on the experience portion of business would ideally
bring more visitors to Charles City, making the town more of a destination. She
added that the business assistance that the students provided can cost
thousands of dollars if done through a professional.
"I think it's beneficial, not only financially, but also in terms of the innovativeness
the students bring to the situation," Niehm remarked. "I hope the businesses
Both Elsbury and Lidd said that they were considering implementing some of the
changes that the students had mentioned.
Contact Matt Barnes at or (641) 228-3211 ext. 21