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Achieving Product/Market Fit For Your Small Business

AFor any startup to succeed, achieving product/market fit is among the most vital of goals. But verifying that your product meets a strong market need and can stand up to competitors is not an exact science, nor does it typically happen in one grand a-ha moment. Likewise, building momentum in a market requires patience and comes with no guarantees as customers’ needs, regulatory landscapes, and competitive pressures change over time.

Consider that your business will only succeed if it adds real value for the user. In this case ‘value’ means that businesses or individuals will understand they need or want it enough to pay you a price that will give you profit and success. Start by understanding your target market’s need and then whether you will be a better solution than your competition.

Despite the uncertainty and risk you face when starting a business, there are some actions you can take to increase your success in accomplishing product/market fit:

Do your homework to understand your customers’ current needs and anticipate what they’ll need in the future. Research your target demographic by spending time with prospective customers, read industry blogs and print publications, attend industry tradeshows and webinars, and seek out a professional in your industry who might serve as a mentor to you as you develop your products and services. 

Focus on one primary and critical value proposition. It’s impossible to be all things to all customers. By homing in on what’s most important to your target customers, analyzing significant trends in your industry, and identifying where competitors are falling short in solving customers’ problems, you can deliver value out of the gate. If you’re solving a pain point for your customers from the start, they will be more patient in waiting for you to add other features and options.

Listen. Learn. Adapt.

Have a business plan, but be open to change as you listen to feedback and ideas from your early customers. Learn from what they’re telling you can improve your products or services. And be prepared to adapt your systems and processes to make your business more viable and sustainable.  

Good planning and research will pay off in money/costs avoided and a far better marketing strategy and tactics that will resound in your customers’ minds. It is not ‘how’ you bring your product or service but rather what the benefits are in the language the customer understands. 

Further advice on doing business with your new small business is available from SCORE, a nonprofit association offering a wealth of information resources, training, and free counseling designed to help entrepreneurs nationwide build productive, profitable businesses. 

A SCORE Counselor can serve as a sounding board and will provide valuable unbiased feedback on how to improve things. The SCORE Counselor can also look at the business from the perspective of a bank or other investor, and raise questions you may have overlooked.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 30 counselors in the Grand Rapids office of SCORE. Call 616-771-0305 for an appointment with a knowledgeable counselor or e-mail us at score@grandrapids.org.  

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Nonno’s Homestyle Italian & Pizzeria


If you are yearning to try a new Italian restaurant, check out Nonno’s Homestyle Italian & Pizzeria, located at 4025 17 Mile Rd, in the strip mall next to Tractor Supply. Owners Roberto and Courtney LaFranca opened the restaurant earlier this summer, in the spaces formerly occupied by Riccardi’s and a hair salon.

Nonno’s is family-owned and operated, and all of their recipes have been passed down through the generations. They serve homestyle Sicilian/Italian food and pizza. All of their sauces, dough, meatballs, and a variety of entrees are house-made from scratch using old family recipes.

Roberto’s family came here from Sicily, and many of their recipes came from his parents and grandparents. Roberto and Courtney said they have been in the restaurant business over 20 years. 

“We and our children live in the community and all work to make our restaurant a family-friendly place to enjoy delicious meals from our family to yours,” they said. 

In the future, they may apply to purchase a tavern license to serve beer and wine with their delicious pizza and pasta.

Nonno’s is open Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. for inside dining, and until 10 p.m. for take out. They are open Friday/Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. for inside dining, and until 11 p.m. for take out. On Sunday they are open from 11 a.m. to 8 .m. for inside dining, and until 9 p.m. for take out. They are closed on Monday. 

You can find their menu on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/NonnosHomestyleItalian/. Call them at 696-0999 for more information.

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Six tips for maximizing the benefits of a business mentor

Ask SCORE


Embracing the help of a SCORE business mentor offers many advantages to entrepreneurs. Whether you’re in the early stages of exploring a business idea or already running an established business, a mentor can provide valuable guidance, serve as an objective sounding board for listening to and evaluating new ideas, and motivate you to be more accountable. With a SCORE mentor, you benefit from expertise and experience that can help you launch and/or grow your business.

Before you begin working with a mentor, consider what you can do to get the most fulfillment from your mentor/mentee relationship. 

• Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Come prepared with a list of questions and issues you’re facing to every meeting with your SCORE mentor. Mentors are there to answer even what seem to be the silliest questions. They don’t judge you by what you know or don’t know. They are there to develop your understanding and awareness. And if they personally don’t know the answer to a particular question, they can tap into the expertise of other SCORE mentors within their chapter or nationally. 

• Focus. 

When you talk with your mentor, be entirely present and ready to focus on your business issues. Unless you need them for research during your meeting, put your digital devices away so they won’t distract you from your conversation.

• Have realistic expectations. 

Your mentor is there to advise you, not to do the work for you. You will gain insight and direction from a mentor, but you will still have to work hard. Starting and running a small business requires effort—no exceptions.

• Follow through. 

Do your homework! You should walk away from every meeting with your mentor with next steps (a.k.a. action items). Make sure you tackle what you agreed to do between meetings. If you slack off and don’t take the initiative to complete the tasks necessary to move forward, you won’t be able to take full advantage of your time together. 

• Keep an open mind.

You and your mentor may not always see eye to eye on certain ideas or approaches. Rather than instantly discarding suggestions that don’t align with your initial thoughts, consider your mentor’s frame of reference and experience in working with other SCORE mentees who faced similar challenges. The right answer may not always be what you want to hear, so it’s important to listen with an objective ear. 

• Keep the lines of communication open.

When first starting your business, you will probably find you need to meet with your mentor on a relatively frequent basis (possibly every week). As time goes by, your need to consult your mentor may ebb and flow depending on the nature of the competition you’re facing, industry changes, or opportunities you want to pursue. Even when you don’t feel you need to meet very often, keep your mentor up to date on what’s happening in your business via email or a periodic phone call. That way, your mentor will be informed and better equipped to provide guidance when you do face a new challenge.

Getting Started

To find a SCORE mentor in your area who has expertise in the specific aspects of small business you need help with, visit the SCORE website  www.grandrapids.score.org  

A SCORE Counselor can serve as a sounding board and will provide valuable unbiased feedback on how to improve things. The SCORE Counselor can also look at the business from the perspective of a bank or other investor, and raise questions you may have overlooked.

All SCORE counseling is offered as a free and confidential community service. There are 30 counselors in the Grand Rapids office of SCORE. Call 616-771-0305 for an appointment with a knowledgeable counselor or e-mail us at score@grandrapids.org.  

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CS Brewing Company beer gets gold


The accolades keep rolling in. 

The Cedar Springs Brewing Company took home another medal earlier this month when its Küsterer Original Weissbier earned gold in the German Wheat Ale category at the U.S. Open Beer Championships.

Breweries from Russia to Rhode Island sent in more than 7,000 beers representing over 130 different styles for the 2019 U.S. Open Beer Championship in Oxford, Ohio. The competition is the only one to include beers from professional breweries and award-winning home-brewers, with judges from England, Canada and the United States.

Earlier this summer, the Küsterer Original Weissbier earned a silver medal, and the Küsterer Dunklweizen earned a gold medal at the International Beer Awards in Idaho.

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Gallery by Ives


If you are looking to buy an item made by a local crafter, or looking for a special home décor or gift item, you might want to check out a new store located at 60 N. Main called Gallery by Ives.

Owner Sheila Ives opened the store on June 15, after working over 20 years in real estate. “I wanted to see downtown Cedar Springs have a unique store for people to purchase from,” she said.

Ives said the store offers unique, trendy home décor and furnishings, gifts, and a ladies clothing boutique. They have locally sourced artists, crafters, and vendors offering a wide variety of items. “We attend shows to stay current and offer the very latest and trendy products, especially the unique and hard to find,” she said.

In the future, Ives plans to add more inventory and fill the store with items not found at the big box stores. She said the store would have an aesthetic inside facelift this month. “I’m welcoming new employees and new vendors,” she added.

Hours are 11-6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday; Saturday 11-7 p.m.; and Sunday and Monday by appointment. Call 616-263-9545 for more information.

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CS Brewing Company brings home more awards



Pictured above is (L to R) David Ringler, Director of Happiness at Cedar Springs Brewing Company, and Chris VanHorn, of the Board of Directors of the North American Brewers Association. VanHorn flew in the Gold and Silver medals CS Brewing won at the International Beer Awards in Idaho.

Since Cedar Springs Brewing Company opened for business just under four years ago at 95 N. Main, it has earned a myriad of awards for its German-style beers—in both American and International competitions. It earned two more recently at the International Beer Awards in Idaho Falls, Idaho. But a shipping glitch this year almost robbed them of that honor.

David Ringler, the Director of Happiness at Cedar Springs Brewing Company, said he mailed samples of his beers weeks in advance to the competition. But the shipment was lost, and they never received them. When Ringler discovered what happened, he decided to drive the 25 hours out there to hand deliver the samples, just days before the competition was set to begin.

They entered eight beers in the competition. Küsterer Bier was named among the best weissbiers/hefeweizens in the land, taking GOLD with the Küsterer Dunkelweizen and SILVER with the Küsterer Original. Last year the Kusterer Modern took the Gold.

Ringler then got a surprise. 

“Since we drove to Idaho to deliver our entries, Chris VanHorn, of the Board of Directors of the North American Brewers Association, returned the favor and flew in to deliver our Gold and Silver medals from the International Beer Awards,” he said.

Congratulations to David Ringler and Cedar Springs Brewing Company!

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Epic Neon Sign Company


Are you looking for a customized neon sign or piece of artwork to showcase your business or highlight a special room? You might want to check out Epic Neon Sign Company, 17325 White Creek Avenue, in Sand Lake.

Owner George Hanson established the business in April 2018. He said they create neon signs/art from concept to the finished product. “We create heirlooms,” he said. They also repair and restore neon signs and clocks.

“Neon shops are slowly closing and not many new ones open,” noted Hanson. “We focus on creating one-of-a-kind neon signs/art with a connection to the customer. It’s great for man-caves, she-sheds, garages and barns. We also create signs for businesses. Each sign is a handmade unique work.”
He said that neon will outlast other ways of illumination since it lasts for decades. 

They do business mainly by appointment. Call 616-292-5637 to make an appointment. He is generally in the shop Monday through Friday. 

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Alpha Family Center appoints development director

For over twenty-six years, northern Kent County has been home to Alpha Family Center of Cedar Springs, an organization that has supported over 6,000 families making life decisions. Chrystal Newman, longtime resident of Rockford, has taken on the role of Development Director. She will work to increase Alpha’s presence within the community by building relationships with individuals, churches and businesses.

From left to right: Teresa Hathaway, Executive Director, Chrystal Newman, Development Director, and Pastor Chuck Smith, Board President. Courtesy photo.

“I have been a supporter of Alpha Family Center for years and know the tremendous reputation it has within the community,” said Chrystal. “I am humbled to be part of such a dedicated organization.” When asked how the community could help, Chrystal stated that the Board of Directors is seeking two items in the immediate future. First, a gently used passenger van is needed for transporting clients. “We have seen too many women over the years unable to take advantage of community services because of lack of transportation,” she explained. The second way the community can help is by making a monetary donation to assist in paying off the existing mortgage balance of approximately $23,000. 

Alpha Family Center is known for providing an array of services to the community, including parenting education, material support with clothing, formula and diapers, etc., self-administered pregnancy tests, options education, as well as an onsite GED and H.S. diploma program. The Center’s board members are: Chuck Smith, Michael Kornoely, Tom Kaastra, Janice MacFarlane and Laurie Russo. Anyone wishing to volunteer or make donations can contact Alpha Family Center at 616-696-2616.

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Local brewery receives Restaurant Neighbor Award

The Cedar Springs Brewing Company, located at the corner of Main and W. Maple Street in Cedar Springs, was one of five state winners for the National Restaurant Association Restaurant Neighbor Award.

The award was presented on April 22 during the Dinner with the Champions event, as part of the Michigan Restaurant Industry Champion Awards.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association (MRLA) awarded dedicated industry professionals from Bay City, Grand Rapids and Byron Center with the annual Michigan Restaurant Industry Champion Awards in Grand Rapids at the event.

The Michigan Restaurant Industry Champion Awards recognize outstanding employees of the hospitality industry who have demonstrated professionalism in performing their jobs and have contributed to the positive image of Michigan’s restaurant industry. Awards are presented in categories of Front of the House, Heart of the House and Restaurant Manager of the Year.

David Ringler, of Cedar Springs Brewing Company, and Justin Winslow, President & CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. Courtesy photo. 

“It is our distinct honor every year to recognize the individuals and businesses that dedicate their careers to the betterment of the hospitality industry in Michigan,” said Justin Winslow, President & CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association. 

The following Michigan restaurants were also recognized as state winners for the National Restaurant Association Restaurant Neighbor Award for their dedication to their communities:

• Buddy’s Pizza – Farmington Hills

• Cedar Springs Brewing Company – Cedar Springs

• Mainstreet Ventures Inc. – Ann Arbor

• Max & Emily’s – Mount Pleasant

• Zukey Lake Tavern – Pinckney

“We were thrilled to be recognized for our hard work in making a positive impact on our community. This award is a reflection of the outstanding region we’re proud to call home,” said David Ringler, Cedar Springs Brewing Company’s Director of Happiness.

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Business Bits

If you are in the market for a musical instrument, lessons, repairs, or musical merchandise, you might want to check out Scott’s Music Co., located at 55 #2 N. Main Street in Cedar Springs. 

The store, owned by Scott Berridge, just recently opened and is here to serve the northern end of Kent County. They offer sales and service for electric, acoustic and bass guitars; ukeleles; amplifiers; drum kits; and all related accessories. They also offer music lessons for guitar, bass, and ukeleles.

“We carry top brands and offer a nice variety of merchandise and service to our customers, as well as personalized service and custom leather straps. We will also special order instruments and orchestra and band accessories as needed,” explained Berridge.

Hours are Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday noon-4 p.m.; and closed Sunday. Call 616-439-5111 or visit them online at www.scottsmusicco.com.

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