Wheeler: S.D. home of winning businesses

Wheeler: S.D. home of winning businesses by David Lias Jerry Wheeler says it isn't difficult to determine if a South Dakota city is progressive.

All you have to do, he told the banquet crowd at Friday's Vermillion Area Chamber of Commerce & Development Company dinner, is take a good look at how a city's businesses are performing.

"There is either a survival attitude in the community, or there is not," he said. "I don't know how many times I've gone to a community, and one business is making money and another across the street is not doing as well."

Many people fear those small-town businesses are suffering because of the growing popularity of "box stores," such as Wal-Mart, that claims the dollars of shoppers from smaller nearby communities.

"I think we have enough winning businesses out there," said Wheeler, who serves as executive director of the South Dakota Retailers Association, "that small businesses are going to survive."

He told the Vermillion businesswomen and men attending Friday's banquet that they are in a unique position, with competition from Yankton, Sioux City, IA and Sioux Falls.

Wheeler said despite a business community's best efforts to try to convince people to shop at home, business people should expect their hometown people to travel to other communities occasionally to visit other stores.

"People are going to move around like that," he said. "They are going to look for variety."

Wheeler advised Vermillion business owners to not only look at trying to attract shoppers. Just as important, he said, is the recruitment of good employees.

"It is hard to find good employees," he said, "and it is hard to keep them. Remember, they are an extension of you."

One way to keep employees, he said, is to train them.

"You hear the word empower used a lot, but more than anything else, you just have to trust them and compliment them after they do the job," Wheeler said. "They'll probably do the job better than you."

Growing trends in South Dakota retail's future likely will include hiring more retired people, he said, and the use of independent contractors.

"You just really need to take really good care of your employees to keep them," Wheeler said. "They are really what matters in your business."

To successfully attract younger employees, he added, South Dakota businesses must be willing to use modern technology.

"Young people entering the work force thrive on technology," he said. "You have to provide it and let them use it."

There's another way small South Dakota businesses can compete with the Wal-Marts and other large businesses � find a niche.

"Do something different," Wheeler said. "The South Dakota Retailers Association was begun by a group of state businessmen to compete against Sears and Montgomery Ward.

"Neither of those two businesses are present in the South Dakota retail scene any longer," he said.

Wheeler told the banquet crowd to expect one thing to remain constant throughout their careers as in business.

"One trend that will never change is change," he said. "We must be able to adapt and to adopt change."

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