When the Dothan Downtown Redevelopment Authority launched its retail incubator in 2012, the goal was to provide a place where a startup company could focus on its business.
The Nest on Foster has space for four retailers in a 3,000-square-foot building. The monthly rent includes utilities and other services.
“So literally for $575 you have a fully-functional space for your business,” DDRA Executive Director Jansen Tidmore said.
The low overhead eliminates 75 percent of the headache for a startup, Tidmore said, and having four businesses operating in the same building fosters camaraderie.
“They’re all going through the same problems and they can talk about it,” Tidmore said. “There’s a collaboration mechanism that I think furthers their cause and makes them all stronger business leaders.”
Adapting a business plan to the local market takes work. Tidmore said he spends a lot of time up front with applicants, walking through scenarios and talking about their initial investments, before the DDRA board reviews the applications and makes a selection.
“We want to make sure that they are committed before they ever hand us over a check,” Tidmore said.
The preparation and coaching apparently works. “I think we’ve only had maybe two businesses that came in there that really didn’t succeed too well,” Tidmore said.
About a dozen businesses have gone through the incubator so far. Mike Riddle and Dennis Lee were involved with The Nest from the beginning.
“I think we got a lot of help,” Riddle, the creative director at advertising and design agency Push Crank Press, said of Tidmore and the DDRA.
Riddle had always done freelance design work, and each week he and others would get together in his backyard with old silkscreen equipment to make posters, T-shirts and other items.
With The Nest they had the opportunity to turn their skills and creativity into a business. They won the initial contest for six months free rent when The Nest launched.
Lee managed Ventress Furniture in Dothan for 26 years. After the store closed he started Dennis Lee Furniture at The Nest, meeting clients by appointment then going out and finding the kind of furniture they want.
He said the Internet and other innovations have made the concept of the brick-and-mortar store we used to know passé.
“As I began I was doing strictly special order,” Lee said. “Now I’m continuing that format but I’m also about to open a 3,000-square-foot showroom.”
Both Push Crank Press and Dennis Lee Furniture credit The Nest for helping them adapt to the marketplace.
“In the beginning, nothing is as imagined or as it appears,” Lee said. “If you listen to your client base and you react to where your feedback is, you can grow your business better.”
Riddle is glad The Nest required the retail element. Even though Push Crank Press had retail success , the core of the business kept coming back to design.
“We ended up slowly transitioning out of retail and are now 100 percent service provider,” Riddle said.
Push Crank Press has moved into a building near The Nest on Foster Street. Lee has a space at The Nest but will soon expand to a showroom on Troy Street.
Neither company follows the plan it had when it started.
Lee said the incubator allows a business to test its business model, analyze successes and failures, and evolve.
“It really gives you the opportunity to transition,” Lee said.
Riddle said if he hadn’t started at the retail incubator “I probably would still be working out of a home office and just working with a loose collaboration of designers and partners, but because of The Nest we have our own brick-and-mortar location where everybody can work as an actual team.”
Tidmore said by keeping overhead low, a company can spend more money in the market to adapt and adjust. It may start selling one product, then try something else until it finds what works.
“The products evolve as you understand your market,” Tidmore said.
One owner at The Nest thought the retail concept was going to work but found that creating a product was more in demand, Tidmore said.
She opened her own workshop and went from being a retailer to a wholesaler.
Riddle said if Push Crank Press were starting today, it would be more suited for The Hub on Troy, the DDRA’s new technology and design incubator.
“But we found a way to make that work and I think that makes us better and more well-rounded,” Riddle said.
Some startups at The Nest have set up locations outside downtown, but that’s fine with Tidmore.
Leaving The Nest is what businesses do when they can make it on their own.