Local First receives $200,000 grant to fund “Good for Grand Rapids” campaign

Wege Foundation supports Grand Rapids-based B-Corp program

GRAND RAPIDS – Local First announced today it has received a major grant from the Wege Foundation to support its “Good for Grand Rapids” campaign that brings together companies as a force for good. This $200,000 grant will help build awareness of the “Good for Grand Rapids” effort and help to engage companies interested in exploring or becoming certified as a Benefit Corporation (B-Corp).

“We are grateful for the Wege Foundation’s generous support of our goal to help companies make a positive impact in our community,” said Elissa Hillary, executive director of Local First.

Slated to launch in early 2017, the “Good for Grand Rapids” campaign will inspire, support and celebrate Grand Rapids companies that dedicate their businesses to creating high-quality jobs, fostering stronger communities and protecting our air, land and water. The “Good for Grand Rapids” campaign is designed to engage all companies in the discussion about how they can make a positive environmental and social impact while earning a profit, regardless of their size or industry.

“Local First is working tirelessly to grow the B-Corp community in West Michigan,” said Mark Van Putten, president of the Wege Foundation. “Through the leadership of Local First, West Michigan is now leading the way in terms of launching new B-Corps and we are proud to see even more companies move in this direction in the coming years.”

The Wege Foundation grant will provide a key boost for the “Good for Grand Rapids” campaign which offers technical assistance for businesses going through Local First’s B-Corps Quick Impact Assessment and helps educate small businesses about the B-Corp movement. 

There are 15 Michigan-based businesses certified as B-Corps, including 13 from Grand Rapids. West Michigan companies designated as certified B-Corps include Cascade Engineering, Gazelle Sports, The Gluten Free Bar, Bazzani Associates, Betterway Imports and Highland Group

For more information about B-Corps, visit localfirst.com/sustainability/b-corp

How to keep the momentum after Small Business Saturday

Now that Small Business Saturday has come and gone, it's important to remember that these small businesses need the support of their community throughout the holidays. Every year, Local First and our members encourage the West Michigan community to shop local before, during, and after the holiday season. From now until the end of the year, some our friends are helping to spread the message through point-of-sale materials that they can give their patrons. This includes a slip with purchase as well as pieces to show off being a “localist” all year round. In the coming weeks, our blog will help introduce you to these businesses. Stop in to these places and ask how you can take home these Localist goodies!

If you happen to be on the north or southwest side of Grand Rapids, make sure to check out these local businesses!

Show your Michigan pride and shop Happy Michigan for some new gear. The specialty shop offers Michigan-themed apparel, grilling accessories and kitchen items.

Give your kitchen an upgrade with the help of Gerrit’s Appliance located in Southwest Grand Rapids. This specialty store has been family owned and operated since 1948.

Coordinate your efforts and stop by Standale Interiors for award-winning showrooms full of interior design must-haves. This employee-owned company has an online Virtual Room Designer that makes visualizing your ideas that much easier!

Boost your well being with a visit to Grand Rapids Natural Health on the West Side. This all-inclusive health and wellness center offers Naturopathic care, diet and lifestyle management, cleanse programs, and a variety of other lifestyle services. Join GR Natural Health for the InspiredLifeGR 2017 Conference February 25-26, 2017 for a 2-day health and wellness conference featuring holistic health experts who can help you deepen your awareness.

Add the finishing touch to any room or event with floral arrangements from Posh Petals. Posh Petals now offers convenient online ordering and delivery services.

Enhance your wardrobe with a visit to The Conscious Collective-Consignment store owned and operated by sisters carrying vintage and modern items. The shop focuses on re-purposing, revitalizing and supporting local artisans.

These businesses all support West Michigan’s local economy. Make sure you feel financially supported with Consumer’s Credit Union. Members are the top priority at this locally owned, full-service financial institution with 19 locations.

If you stop by these places, we want to hear about it! Tag Local First on Facebook, Twiter or Instagram in a photo of yourself at the business and let us know why you chose local.

Experience the difference when you bank locally

Have you ever considered banking local?  United Bank’s roots were planted in West Michigan back in 1887.  Today, they’re still a true community bank, deeply invested in the area, with a reputation for providing great service and innovative financial products to meet the needs of their neighbors, West Michigan families and businesses.   

Many local businesses have made United Bank a trusted partner and found value in banking local.  With an experienced commercial lending team averaging more than 27 years of experience per person, they can help to find solutions for just about any situation or need that may arise.  Heather, Jackson, and Barry from Harmony Brewing Company shared, “United Bank financed the first Harmony Brewing Company location and their partnership made our second location possible.  Being in tune with the community and with the trends going on across the city they were able to see what we were doing and understood the value of what was happening on Wealthy Street.  We couldn’t have done Harmony Brewing Company without help from United Bank.”

United Bank is committed to investing in our community with a recent expansion into Ottawa County and a major remodel of their corporate facility on East Paris Avenue.  Such development has allowed United Bank to bring on more passionate, locally minded team members.  To these bank employees, United is not just a part of the bank’s name, but the way they relate to their customers and one another.   

Art Johnson, Chairman and CEO for 32 years, says “At United Bank, you bank with people who live and work in your community, people who have the same stake in the success of your community, and people who understand local business needs.”

West Michigan’s future is brightest when we unite to strengthen our community.  So, if you eat local, shop local, and support local, consider banking local.  Come experience the difference of a true community bank. 

Local First Members! Check out United Bank's newly renovated space during our Member Mixer on December 8

Put your money where your Michigan is!

This weekend is Small Business Saturday and Local First members want to say THANK YOU for supporting local this holiday season. Some of our members are giving away small tokens of their appreciation to help get the word out about shopping small. Keep your eyes peeled for these materials and ask your neighborhood business how you can take them home!

6.25 Paper Studio
nArt of the Table
nBorr’s Shoes & Accessories
nConscious Collective
nConsumer’s Credit Union
nCrooked Goose
nDolphin Vacations
nFor the Love of Shoes
nField & Fire
nGerrit’s Appliance
nGlobe Design & Vision
nGrand Rapids Natural Health

nHappy Michigan
nHarvest Health
nMichigan Pantry
nNature’s Market
nOld World Olive Co
nPosh Petals
nReader's World
nRestaurant Partners (Sundance Bar & Grill, Recovery Room Cafe, Beltline Bar, Grand Coney, The Omelette Shoppe, Rockwell Republic, and The Red Geranium Cafe)
nSmitty’s Specialty Beverage
nSpirit Dreams
nStandale Interiors
nTwisted Rooster
nUccello’s Ristorante
nWealthy St Animal Hospital

Make the Holidays Merry & Bright with Local First Members!

Make your holiday season extra merry this year by taking advantage of these events, specials and discounts at Local First retailers and businesses.

Apothecary Gift ShopCountdown to Christmas – Every day from Black Friday through Christmas Eve, Apothecary will have a special deal on at least one item in their store as they count down to Christmas. 

Art of the TableDavid Abbott Shops with You! – Stop by Art of the Table on December 3 for the annual tradition where guest sales-guy David Abbott helps you select the perfect holiday gifts!

Clothes JunkieHoliday Open House – On Thursday, December 8, Clothes Junkie will host a holiday open house with several other downtown Zeeland businesses. Light refreshments will be served. 

The Conscious CollectiveHoliday Kick Off Weekend – All weekend long, November 25-27, all clothing items will be 25{6be771524f35e681d5eb1711abbe9ad08f29540a742404ae9fff00be7e8f65de} off plus there will be a Holiday Artisan Reveal. 

Distel Wolfe –  Holiday Scavenger Hunts – Is scheduling the office holiday event on your to-do list? Make it a hilarious holiday scavenger hunt for you and your colleagues.  

Downtown MarketWinter Wonderland – Experience the magic of the season December 7 Downtown Market style. Enjoy specials offers, food demos, an artisan market and more. 

Downtown MarketHolly Jolly Cookies –  Join Santa's elves for a cooking-making class where you can learn to make shortbread cookies, lime zest, dark chocolate and more.  Dates: Dec. 4, 10, 17, 18

FireRock GrilleSanta Brunch – The restaurant at StoneWater Country Club in Caledonia will host a brunch with Santa December 18 from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. 

Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture ParkChristmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World – Ring in the holiday season with Meijer Garden's annual tradition featuring decorated trees and displays representing more than 40 countries, along with 400,000 lights and special activities like Rooftop Reindeer and Santa Visits. 

Grand Rapids Public MuseumBreakfast with Santa – On December 3, enjoy an exclusive holiday breakfast in the Museum, meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, go on an elf hunt and see a special planetarium show. 

Grand Rapids Public MuseumMerry Christmas, Charlie Brown! – Now through January 29, relive the Peanuts classic through high-quality digital comic strip reproductions, write a letter to Santa and pose for a family photo next to Snoopy's iconic dog house. 

Grand Rapids Santa Parade – Join Local First and more than 100 other local businesses and organizations in downtown Grand Rapids November 19 to help welcome Santa to West Michigan and kick off the holiday season. 

Holiday Open House – The merchants of Downtown Holland will host their annual open house event November 19 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Browse through shops while carolers stroll the sidewalks and the smell of chestnuts fills the air. 

Holland Area Arts CouncilHoliday Artisans Market – On November 18-20, the Arts Council will host its second annual artisans market, complete with unique ornaments, ceramics, glassware, jewelry, original art and clothing created by local artists. 

John Ball ZooChristmas for the Animals – Bring a present for the animals December 3, meet Santa and his reindeer and enjoy ice sculpting, music, crafts and more. 

LaFontsee GalleriesBlack Friday Indoor Tent Sale – Avoid the craziness of the malls, shop small businesses and support local artists, all while finding that unique gift at LaFontsee Galleries' special holiday sale Nov. 25 & 26. 

StridersSleigh Bell Shuffle – The free group run in Grandville takes pace December 3, plus Striders will be taking donations for Kids Food Basket and Toys for Tots from all of the participants. 

Uptown Shop Hop –  Shop local this holiday season by visting the retailers of the Uptown neighborhood on foot or by shuttle. Many businesses will offer in-store specials, live entertainment, delicious food and one-of-a-kind gifts from 4-10 p.m. December 1. 

Van Wieren HardwareHoliday Open House – Gather ideas for Christmas decorations as you stroll Van Wieren's forest of beautifully decorated trees this season. On November 18-19, they will have hourly prizes and refreshments. 

Washington Square Art GalleryJingles, Jangles & Pretty Festive Spangles – November 26, bring a friend and enjoy the holiday delights at the Holland art gallery, including custom jewelry by Gini and Jackie. 

Washington SquareHoliday Celebration on the Square – Visit the shops and restaurants around Holland's Washington Square neighborhood December 3 and enjoy snacks, cider, a scavenger hunt, giveaways and more. 

Photo courtesy Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park 

The Importance of Branding Your Small Business

If you’re wondering how your business can stand out in today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, then you need to start branding your company.

With today’s technology and innovation, society is becoming dominated by information and speed. Thus, products and services are no longer protected against imitation, and being “unique” is no longer a sustainable competitive advantage; as soon as a new product is launched, a competitor will put a similar product on the market at a lower price.

A corporate brand – made up of components that define who the company is, what it does, how, and why it matters – is not so easy to copy. It is one of the most valuable assets of a business and needs to be carefully crafted to ensure it properly and authentically represents the business.

No matter what stage of growth your business is at, it’s important to perfect your branding from top to bottom, but knowing how, and where to start can be tricky.

So, you want your business to stand out from the competition? Here’s what you need to know to start building your brand today:

nWhat is corporate branding?

Corporate brand-building is the art and science of building awareness, loyalty, preference and value for companies directly, as opposed to the product brands they manage and market.

A corporate brand exists to express the company’s mission, vision and business strategy, simply put, your brand is your promise to your customer. It tells them what they can expect from your products and services, and it differentiates your offering from your competitors.

Why does this matter?

You must give people a reason to choose your business over the competition. Branding is the strategic process of establishing both the tangible and intangible attributes, which give it its own identity and differentiate your offer from competitors.

First, it is important to define your brand.

Defining your brand is like a journey of business self-discovery. It can be difficult, time-consuming and uncomfortable. It requires, at the very least, that you answer the questions below:

What is your company's mission?

What are the benefits and features of your products or services?

What do your customers and prospects already think of your company?

What qualities do you want them to associate with your company?

Do your research. Learn the needs, habits and desires of your current and prospective customers. Understanding those things helps determine what kind of media your potential customers are consuming, what motivates them, and where they “live” online.

Having that information helps develop a compelling, effective brand because it helps you reach the right people.

nOnce you've defined your brand, how do you get the word out? Here are a few tips:

Get a great logo. Place it everywhere.

Write down your brand messaging. What are the key messages you want to communicate about your brand? Every employee should be aware of your brand attributes.

Integrate your brand. Branding extends to every aspect of your business – how you answer your phones, what you or your salespeople wear on sales calls, your e-mail signature, everything.

Create a “voice” for your company that reflects your brand. This voice should be applied to all written communication and incorporated in the visual imagery of all materials, online and off.

Develop your elevator pitch. Write a memorable, meaningful and concise statement that captures the essence of your brand in 2-3 sentences.

Design templates and create brand standards for your marketing materials. Use the same color scheme, logo placement, look and feel throughout. You don't need to be fancy, just consistent.

Be true to your brand. Customers won't return to you – or refer you to someone else – if you don't deliver on your brand promise.

Be consistent. This involves all the above and is the most important thing to remember. If you can't do this, your attempts at establishing a brand will fail.

Because defining your brand and developing a brand strategy can be complex, consider seeking expert help to ensure the long-term success of your company.

About Stingray Advisory Group LLC: Stingray Advisory Group LLC is based in Grand Rapids, Michigan and a proud Local First member. By creating dynamic customized solutions for business growth, we empower businesses and entrepreneurs with the tools to further their development. To learn more or schedule a consultation, visit www.stingrayadvisorygroup.com. Follow us today on Facebook, LinkedIN, Google+ and Twitter for more helpful tips!

Contact us through email at info@stingrayadvisorygroup.com today!

Grand Valley Artists keeps the art discussion going

When one thinks about “Grand Rapids” and “art”, it’s impossible not to think about Artprize. The event helped put Grand Rapids on the map and into the national art discussion. However, before and after the crowds leave, the art community of Grand Rapids is still here, and has been here for a while. Organizations like the Grand Valley Artists are providing valuable opportunities for area artists of all skill levels to connect, learn, provide critique and improve.

Founded in 1955, Grand Valley Artists is one of the oldest art organizations in Michigan. According to Bob Kraai, it was founded in response to a greater emphasis being placed on modern art in the city. Grand Valley Artists sought to bring more awareness to Realism and traditional art. Members would meet to draw, discuss and share their art with each other.

This volunteer-run organization currently meets in a space north of Leonard on Monroe in the Coopers Landing building. A quick look at their monthly calendar shows a plethora of opportunities for artists of all Medias. A photography group meets twice a month and there are recurrent meetings for figure sketching, plein air/still life, still life studio and portrait sketching. Plein air painting, for those curious, is the act of painting outside, in the open air. Be on the lookout for this group out and about town! The organization also offers monthly critique sessions that take place the first Thursday of each month. Artists are encouraged to share their work and thoughts. These are great opportunities to see one’s work through a different lens.  In addition to the meetings, the organization produces a monthly newsletter highlighting artists, showings, and art events around town.

Perhaps the Grand Valley Artist’s most well-known event is the annual Reed’s Lake Art Festival. 2017 marks the 52nd year of the popular festival that takes place along Wealthy Street in East Grand Rapids. Each summer hundreds of people visit the festival to experience and purchase art from fine artists from all over the country. One quick note, if you’re interested in participating this year, you can fill out an application – the deadline is March 1, 2017. 

The organization isn’t just for artists. Those with an interest are welcome to attend events and most of the programming is available to non-members for a minor fee. With that in mind, the Grand Valley Artists are hosting a Photography Group Artists Reception this Saturday November 5th from 4:00 – 8:00 PM. Examples of “photographic composites, hand colored black and white silver gelatins, tin types, collodions and metallic prints” will be on display as well as refreshments. The reception will be taking place at the Grand Valley Artists’ space at 1345 Monroe Avenue Suite 140, in the Coopers Landing building.

For more information about the Photography Group Artists Reception and Grand Valley Artists in general, please visit www.grandvalleyartists.com