“I could not have done this without the help of the Community Navigator Pilot Program. This program has been such a relief…I no longer have to worry about having the tools that I need to improve my business, and it has already made a huge difference for me and for my customers.”
A warm welcome…
On a magnificent, blue-sky autumn afternoon in Woodstock, vivid colors brighten the day, inside and out, at Sudie’s, an inviting fashion boutique located on Central Street. As longtime customer Jane Evans browses, she explains that she visits often, especially on gray winter days when she most enjoys the colorful ambience while chatting with owner Sudie Watson who greets every customer with a warm smile.
Jane is but one of a following of loyal customers who has frequented Sudie’s over the past 22 years. Many travel from afar to shop unique fashions and high-quality brands that cannot be found elsewhere in New England. Cashmere sweaters, luxury outerwear, cozy boots, trendy handbags, and sparkling accessories create a multi-hued visual display throughout the shop. All are carefully curated by Sudie every season to surprise and delight her customers.
“Sudie’s is a bright, happy place,” said Jane. “Shoppers come for the fashion, but they also visit for friendly conversation. Sudie establishes relationships with her customers that go above and beyond the sales transaction.”
Not every day has been full of sunshine, and Sudie has seen her share of challenges. Over the past two decades, she has braved the devastation from Hurricane Irene, struggled with putting two kids through college as a single mom, and navigated her business through the worst days of the pandemic. When customers couldn’t make it to the store, they would ask, “Do you have a website we can buy from?” But for Sudie, a fiscally conscious, solo entrepreneur, she never had a way to make that happen. That is until Jane mentioned the Community Navigator Pilot Program (CNPP), and introduced Sudie to Melissa Bounty, Assistant Director of the Central Vermont Economic Development Corporation (CVEDC). As the director of Studio J Creative, Jane had previously worked with Melissa on other projects.
The CNPP program is designed to “reduce barriers that all small businesses — including those owned by disadvantaged groups such as veterans, women and those from rural communities —often face in accessing critical support.” The Community Navigator Pilot Program uses a “hub and spoke” model, with the Vermont Small Business Development Center (VtSBDC) as the hub, and nine partner organizations, including CVEDC, as spokes.
Opening the door to new possibilities…
VtSBDC Business Advisor and digital marketing specialist Nancy Shuttleworth stresses the importance of ecommerce in today’s economy:
“Ecommerce has become a necessary component for Vermont’s retail business owners because consumers in 2022 expect to be able to find product or service information online and have the capability to order online. The availability of affordable e-commerce platforms has the potential to provide nearly every retailer with an e-commerce component to supplement their business.
U.S. e-commerce is currently estimated to be 22% of sales, and could rise to 30% of total sales by 2026.”
The Community Navigator Program presented an opportunity for Sudie to take this important step. Melissa and Jane assisted Sudie with the application for a technical assistance award as part of CNPP. Once Sudie received the go ahead for the funded project, the door was open to working with a graphic designer to refresh the logo and create digital files, hire a professional photographer for a first-class photo shoot, proceed with a new ecommerce website, and begin to incorporate updated point of sale software. There is still work to be done on integrating the new system, but Sudie is well on her way to generating an increase in online sales, and to growing her business.
“This project represents one of my favorite partnerships between vendor and business that I witnessed while working on the Community Navigator Pilot Program,” said Melissa Bounty, Assistant Director of CVEDC and Navigator for the project. “I love that Jane came to Sudie’s first as a customer, but then became a service provider. Their collaboration shows the best work of the CNPP program, where a small amount of funding triggers a partnership that lifts all boats.”
Making a difference…
“I could not have done this without the help of Melissa and the Community Navigator Pilot Program,” said Sudie. “This program has been such a relief for me. I no longer have to worry about having the tools that I need to improve my business, and it has already made a huge difference for me and for my customers.”
This story is part of the Community Navigator Pilot Program. Learn more at vtsbdc.org/find-cnpp.
Funding (in part) through a grant with the U.S. Small Business Administration.