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EPISODE 071 : 07/21/2022

Tanya Maney

Tanya Maney is the Executive Director at Explore Waterford, an organization in the beautiful community of Waterford, WI. Tanya is a long-time activist and volunteer in her community as well as a former small business owner. She gives us her perspective on how local business helps to create thriving neighborhood districts and how independent retailers are thriving today through creativity and ingenuity.

Host: Ned Hayes and Ashley Coates
Guest: Tanya Maney

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Topics discussed in this episode

  • Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
  • Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
  • Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
  • Opportunities for small business loyalty programs

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Audio Transcript

Ned Hayes [00:00:01] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology brought to you by Snowshoe, your smarter loyalty leader.

Ashley Coates [00:00:12] Sparkplug is thrilled to welcome Tonya Maney today. Tonya is the executive director at Explorer Waterford, an organization in the beautiful community of Waterford located along the Fox River in Wisconsin. Tonya is a longtime activist and volunteer in her community, as well as a former small business owner. She ran Maine’s golf range for 25 years, serving area golfers a few years ago. She created the Facebook group We Are Positively Waterford, which now has nearly 2000 members. So welcome, Tonya. 

Tanya Maney [00:00:44] Thank you. Thank you for having me. 

Ashley Coates [00:00:46] So glad to have you. Looking forward to chatting with you today. To start off with, I know that you have a deep love of your community of Waterford. Did you grow up there? 

Tanya Maney [00:00:56] Yes, I did when I was a little girl. We moved down into Waterford from actually a neighboring community that was like four miles away. So I’ve lived in the area and in Waterford all or most of my life. 

Ashley Coates [00:01:09] Well, I also know that you’ve been a long time community activist and volunteer, as I had mentioned earlier. Can you tell us a little bit more about your background as a volunteer and your career history? 

Tanya Maney [00:01:21] After my husband and I got married, we stayed in Waterford and then we decided to open up our own business, which was, like you said earlier, a golf driving range mini golf course. So that became our family business for 25 years. So we really were privy to that small business entrepreneurship world that really drove a lot of what we did. And then alongside of that, we got involved in volunteering. A lot of it started with our children, mainly when they went to school. I was at school volunteering there, then ended up heading up some missions trips with youth groups. We went all across the country and we did hurricane relief and cleanup from tornadoes and that kind of thing. And that got us involved in working in homeless shelters and places like that. So it really just became about making community and helping out in your community and making your community better. So after about 25 years, my older children decided that they had enough with the family business, and my husband and I talked about it and we thought worked on. We don’t think we can really do this by ourselves anymore. And we closed that down and went on a new avenue with them that allowed me to pursue the volunteering even a little bit more. And then that’s when I started getting more involved very locally. I didn’t join necessarily an organization. When there was a need. I was like, Oh, there’s a need. Okay, I’ll help. And then that led to me seeing needs. I’d go to a small business and I’d see something that maybe they were struggling with and I’d say, Hey, you need help. And they were shocked at first, like, Oh, you know what? I think you might need some help and I’d be willing to help you, and they’d be hesitant and they’d let me. And then they were like, Why are you doing this? It really was because I got owning a small business and everything that comes with the good, the bad and the ugly. And so I understood what they were going through and I wanted to help. And now I had that, that free time and the liberty. So. 

Ned Hayes [00:03:25] Well, it sounds like you were able to take that interest in your community and actually make it more official. Right. So you became the executive director at Explore Waterford just last December. And I know you don’t want to be in the spotlight yourself. You want to put the spotlight on the community. What drew you into jumping into a bigger position? 

Tanya Maney [00:03:46] It actually was because of all the volunteering I was doing, which is funny because it really was about doing behind the scenes. People knew my name, but they didn’t know my face. So I would be out in the community just doing my thing, doing what I was doing. And then later on people would make comments on social media not realizing I was right there. That lent itself actually to me getting this job. I was not looking for this job or a job in particular. The position opened up and the board was receiving a lot of phone calls, apparently saying, hey, you need to hire this woman to come for the position. I’m executive director. So they actually called me. I actually was hesitant because I liked volunteering, doing my thing, going where I felt I was led and I didn’t want to be in the spotlight. And when I actually did take the job, I was actually one of the hardest things for me was to be blessed. And I didn’t realize how much I would be thrust in the spotlight. And that took me a while to get used to. It was very uncomfortable. 

Ned Hayes [00:04:55] Right. Could you give us a little bit of background on Explore Waterford and more about the organ? What’s the mission? 

Tanya Maney [00:05:01] Explorer Waterford is actually more than the chamber. So Waterford had a chamber, but then they also had an organization called Absolutely Waterford. It was more of the community based organization. Three years ago, they decided to come together and then form one organization known as Explore Waterford. So the wonderful thing about us is that, yes, we are the chamber. So one of the focus is definitely small businesses supporting them and helping where we can to get to survive and thrive in our community. But then there’s also that community part, which to me is such a wonderful partnership, and that’s what I actually tell businesses that want to join for Waterford. I tell them I don’t look at it as a membership, I look at as a partnership. So on the one hand, you have the businesses that are here in our community and I want our community to shop here. I want our community to get services here. I want our community the entertainment here. I don’t want our community looking elsewhere. So I want to help build was at loyalty to our community businesses. But then the businesses. Now I also want you then as those businesses to support your community. It really has been working very well. Definitely room for improvement and to expand it. And when we came board, there was a great foundation that was laid. But now with me coming on board, I have some liberty to go forward and to start instituting some of those things that just weren’t ready yet before I came on board. 

Ashley Coates [00:06:42] So what are some of the specific ways, Tanya, that you encourage the community to shop in water for and stay downtown? I know, for example, you have some annual events that you plan. 

Tanya Maney [00:06:52] Yes. Coming up next week, even, we have our big celebrate Waterford event, and that is a free event for the community. And we have competitions. We have this trike race that we do in the middle of the street. We have cornhole tournaments, there’s a petting zoo, there’s kids area, bouncy houses, vendors, food, music. We’re having a lumberjack show this year. Except if you want to buy food or buy something from a vendor, you can spend the whole day downtown Waterford on Main Street and not spend the dime and just come down and have fun and fellowship and enjoy all that Waterford has to offer. But we also do smaller things like Small Business. Saturday, we came together with businesses and came up with a promotion to encourage people to, Hey, let’s do your Christmas shopping here, don’t shop online or don’t go Amazon or whatever they got announced. Let’s Shop Local just created different ways. And then we did a lot of the Irish the whole month of March that was promoting people. You did shop the specific store, you got the scanner code or anything, and every time you made a purchase you got to win. And all we asked the businesses was, Hey, just donate something. I’m not putting a price on it. Donate something for baskets. We ended up having a basket, a pot of gold. We called it over 20 $500 worth of goods and services that somebody won just because they shop local. So the more you shopped, the greater your chances were of winning. It’s doing little things like that to remind people to come to shop local, but then also having big events like celebrate Waterford too, giving them a reason to come downtown and then maybe, Oh, I haven’t stopped in that place before. Well, we’re here. Let’s stop in and see what they have to offer. 

Ned Hayes [00:08:37] Right. Well, it sounds like a really vibrant community, but unfortunately, I haven’t had the privilege of being a dad, too. So if you could paint a picture for us, could you tell us what it feels like to be in Waterford and what the local business owners are like? What types of retail shops and restaurants can we find there? 

Tanya Maney [00:08:55] We have your typical restaurants, your cafes, your coffee shops, flower shops, everything you would expect to see in a downtown area. I may be biased here, but I do feel we have the best of the best even in those things that are commonplace in other areas. We have magnificent business owners and they come from all different backgrounds, all different ages. One of our newest business owners is our youngest one. She is 18 years old and just opened up her own business and is doing very well. The thing with our business owners is they impressed me so much because they understand that it’s not just about that they collaborate with one another so incredibly well. You will always see little things that shops are doing together. For example, the yoga shop is doing a small event with the bookstore, so it’s just these really unique collaborations that they do together. Building one another up. So. Everybody survives and thrive. We have certain aspects about our downtown that a lot of places don’t have. Like we recently just had a family open a small distillery with a tasting room. So it’s a bourbon distillery with something that has a dappled and a little bit manmade. Got to the point and said, Hey, let’s support our community by opening up a business right here in the community. We have a bookstore that recently opened. It is the most adorable, cozy bookstore you will ever find. I will put any other bookstore stars in the country and say We are the best. Our business owners get customer service. They understand hospitality. They’re so good at it and they thrive because of it. Recently, we had an ice cream shop open. We do have a little ice cream shop and another one open, but this one’s a little unique where it’s called cravings. So it’s not just your typical ice cream, it’s above and beyond. And they make these crazy shakes, they call them. So it’s a shake. And then they put candy and donuts and brownies and all sorts of crazy stuff on there. And it becomes this above and beyond, which just draws people to the downtown because there’s a unique there’s a little extra get in there. 

Ned Hayes [00:11:16] Right. So is downtown Waterford. Just to paint that picture as you walk downtown or these older brick buildings. Are they skyscrapers? Are they what is it. 

Tanya Maney [00:11:26] To. 

Ned Hayes [00:11:27] Be downtown? 

Tanya Maney [00:11:27] No, it’s a very small community, an older community. Our community is very invested in the history of our community. So as much as we can, we want to maintain and keep the integrity of those very old buildings. Some of the business owners have just done a wonderful job of renovating where it was necessary, but then keeping that old time deal at them. There is a mixture of the new because things happen and some of those old buildings can’t keep existing because they haven’t been taken care of. I mean, you’re talking over 100 years old. Some of these buildings are the cream city brick and the ornate rooftops and all that stuff. And so it’s a very nice mixture of businesses and very low key where you can park and just walk, take a nice stroll down and look at the different shops and say, Oh, what’s got here? I think I’ll stop in here. And the next phase, they’re starting construction this year on building a very nice park that will add to it and make it even more beautiful. We also have the benefit of blogging the library, having a beautiful river that flows through the heart of downtown too. So water has a lot going for it as fatality that you feel when you’re walking. It’s been referred to by a lot of people that we are the real Mayberry. 

Ned Hayes [00:12:48] Well, now I have a great picture in my mind. Thank you for sharing those. 

Tanya Maney [00:12:52] You’re welcome. 

Ashley Coates [00:12:53] Beautiful little, tiny. Clearly, local business is very important to you, very important to the community of Waterford. I’m wondering if I can ask your larger perspective on the role of local. 

Tanya Maney [00:13:04] Business. 

Ashley Coates [00:13:05] In our overall national economy. Why is local business important? Why is it special. 

Tanya Maney [00:13:10] In every community? I feel like it’s the local businesses that really set the tone and the standard for the community. I will be honest with you. So growing up here, we were very much a bedroom community. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in Waterford, especially in the downtown. So people came to their homes to sleep, eat, sleep and whatever, and then they’d get up and they’d go to other communities to work the shop, to play, to do all those things. And that was starting to have an affect and a negative impact on our community, because you would go out and you would see boarded up buildings and somebody would try to open a business and it just wouldn’t last long. So we were in a pretty precarious situation from my perspective and others. And then we’ve got a village board that came in and saw the same thing and started turning that around. Now, what was a dying community is now just thriving and it’s flourishing and it’s so wonderful, really. If you have those small businesses, those local businesses, that’s what’s going to draw people together. There’s no reason to go downtown if there’s nothing to go downtown for. Right. So if we don’t have those in place, you’re going to have these buying little communities that have to go into the bigger cities in order to survive. And I don’t feel that’s a very good thing overall. I don’t think it’s a good thing for the economy. These small businesses are what really keeps our economy going. And right now we’re seeing inflation, we’re seeing prices rise, we’re seeing gas prices and all that stuff. I think the more that we can stay local and support each other and support the communities, of course, our businesses and the businesses. Our community that’s beneficial for everyone involved. So we need our businesses. We need them to stay and we need them to keep coming and we need them to flourish. 

Ashley Coates [00:15:09] So can you actually expand on the current landscape? Right now, you’re saying it’s really become this thriving, flourishing area. So what does that look like? How many people are coming downtown? What’s the activity right now? 

Tanya Maney [00:15:22] Yes, especially this time of year. My goodness. Sometimes I think we have too many things going on, if that’s at all possible. There’s not a weekend that goes by that there isn’t something going on. We’re very fortunate. We have a downtown area with the restaurants and the shopping and all that. But then we also have an area with a lot of nature. We have a lot of walking trails and we have the water that goes right through. So there’s fishing and boating and all of that. So we really have the best of both worlds here. Before, when you would go through downtown Waterford, you’d be lucky if you saw anybody walking on the sidewalks or patronizing a place. And in the last couple of years, especially now, it warms my heart when you go down and you see people walking everywhere. We have movies in the park and then we have river rhythms where they bring in nationwide bands and it’s a free event. They can come down by the river and just sit and enjoying music and it’s just bustling now. So it benefits all of the other businesses because people have a reason to come downtown and then it builds a community with one another. Your family, your friends, you’re meeting new people and it keeps flowing from there and it’s a wonderful thing to see. A few years ago we did not have that, but now it’s running around and in some of the projects get done, it’s only going to be better. 

Ned Hayes [00:16:51] Well, but your retailers just went through COVID and that must have been really rough. So what did local retailers do to deal with COVID and to resurge after that swept the country? 

Tanya Maney [00:17:03] I was just saying this recently as somebody most people would not view COVID as a good thing. I think you have to look at what positive came out of that whole experience. Waterford would be a prime example to me as I watched this unfold. Post is really the catalyst that caused people to want to make sure our small businesses survived. The businesses did what they could, what every other business I’m sure did offered take and bakes and pick ups and dusted ours and adjusted whatever, had appointments instead of just open chopping. So they did what they could to maintain where they could do online shopping. We did that wasn’t conducive for everybody. But what I saw more than anything was a community that really rallied together and said, We’re not going to let our small businesses fail, we’re going to support them. And that’s what they did once they started supporting the small businesses, I think started realizing, Hey, they do this pretty good. I like their product or I love their food, or This is great. And then those relationships were established also. And I’ve always told the even before I was in this position, just talking to business owners and new business would come in and I would say, look, I’m going to tell you something. The more involved you are on the community, the better it will be because it’s about establishing relationships. Once you establish that relationship with people, they will be loyal to you. And we’ve seen that over and over again, and that actually really helps with that whole mindset. We’ve seen that surge during COVID of people really around small businesses, making sure that they did not go under. And actually we were the opposite of most small towns, especially in the nation. We thrived during COVID. We had quite a few businesses opening during and right after COVID, and I think we lost about two businesses, but that really was not COVID related, and we gained a lot more. I think the last count, about 15 new businesses. 

Ned Hayes [00:19:06] So businesses have kept opening. You’ve gained businesses. Had there been any secrets to success there? Have people been using online shopping? Have they been using other tools to be able to survive and thrive during COVID and post COVID? 

Tanya Maney [00:19:20] When I was thinking about how that works, really, when I go through a lot of the businesses, as I’m walking through Main Street, in my mind, there’s really not a lot of our businesses are conducive to online shopping. A couple of them are and are doing very, very well, but most of them that really wouldn’t work for them. I think it was mainly that some of them got creative. Our local jewelry store took a really hard hit with jewelry, obviously. So what she decided to do, she felt she had one of two choices. She was either going to shut down or she had to come up with an alternative that so because her storefront was very. Large. She consolidated her jewelry section a little bit more, and then she opened up a fashion boutiques. That’s what I love about our local businesses. They are so creative. They come up with some really wonderful ideas to expand or to adjust as they may do. And then it seems to work for most of them. And the collaboration, I will tell you that collaborating with other businesses is just so wonderful on so many fronts. One of the things I love most about our businesses is how they collaborate with each other. 

Ned Hayes [00:20:32] That’s really fantastic. Well, it also sounds like what they’ve really emphasized instead of online shopping, they’ve created an experience that you actually have to go and experience in-person. Is that fair? 

Tanya Maney [00:20:44] Yes, definitely. I would definitely say that. And the hospitality part of it, you walk into a store, they know you by name, they remember what you purchased or what your favorite drink is, or do you want this platter again? Or I have this special for you. I’ll give you an example. We have a family that moved here a couple of years ago, Canadian residents, and they moved here. So I guess Canada just had their national holiday. A husband went into the distillery that I had talked about earlier and asked if they could make a special drink. And he wanted to have a special Canadian day surprise party for her. And we totally obliged and went along with that. And the whole community was invited to celebrate Canada Day and stuff like that. That’s like as often as it does. 

Ashley Coates [00:21:36] I love that. Well, Tanya, you mentioned loyalty earlier. Can you talk about why retail customer loyalty is important to your small businesses in Waterford? And I’m not sure if you have any examples of how loyalty helps to support local business and keep your community thriving. 

Tanya Maney [00:21:55] I’m all about customer loyalty. I have spoken with small business owners and just talked about that many times about how to get a customer’s loyalty. A lot of it, again, is about the service, the hospitality, the camaraderie, building the relationships. If you do that, you’re going to get that loyalty. I will tell you, it’s not Waterford per se, but it’s another business and a relational community who is part of our chamber. And she was a little upset because she’s feeling siege. She saw those types of things for animals and stuff, and now a bigger conglomerate is coming in and building not far from her, a chain store is coming in, so she’s freaking out about that. And I was just like, You don’t have to worry about that because your customers are loyal, because she is so service oriented and she listens to what our customers want. And when they come in and she knows what she’s talking about and she’s helpful and at quality a lot of times over the quantity. So you may have a bigger square footage building and that type of thing, but at least for me and I think for a lot of people, they’re looking more for that quality service and they want trustworthy information and they want people who are willing to work with, you know, you you’re not just a number, you’re not just another whatever. You’re actually a person that they know. And so especially in these smaller communities, I really think that’s a key to those things. 

Ned Hayes [00:23:26] Great. Well, just to build on that, I know that our parent company created Spark Loyalty and then actually partnered with Explorer Waterford this year. So I’m curious, what led you to spark loyalty and why did you choose the Spark Loyalty solution? 

Tanya Maney [00:23:41] Actually, it was somewhat a small business who is part of the chamber that signed up with Spark Loyalty and I had walked into their shop and she could not get me over to the spark loyalty system quick enough. So I was like, Oh, okay, yeah, this. And just seeing how excited she was, I was like, I will definitely look into this. So when we connected was totally on board, saw the benefit of it being a small business owner myself for all this wonderful technology. We had the stamp cards, we had the loyalty where we have the puncture and punctured everybody and people were always losing their car or they were forgetting their cards and they would bring in a stack of them and say, Well, I think I have that maybe on here. And then we started a little filesystem for people and they were looking up these cards and it’s like, Who has time for this? So we saw this setup and I was like, Oh my gosh, this is fabulous. Especially for these small businesses who can afford thousands and thousands of dollars on a system, because some systems have that built in now. But most small businesses couldn’t afford to set that up. And so the ease of the spark loyalty system, the cost effectiveness of it, and total the shared benefit of it. So, for example, the business. I was just talking about. I actually gave her the information for loyalty and I told her, Based on what you’re already doing, I said, But here you really need to talk to them about putting spark loyalty in here. I think especially with the higher prices and things going the way that they’re going right now, any of that little extra you can add to somebody and say, here’s another benefit of coming here? I think it’s just going to solidify even more so that customer loyalty. I have been advocating for it for all of our small businesses because why not? I don’t see it doing anything but helping and boosting customer loyalty base. 

Ned Hayes [00:25:37] Well, given your expertize in local retail, I’ll actually ask you a question that I typically ask a retail futurist people who work for Intel at Microsoft. But I think you’re actually kind of the boots on the ground for the future of retail. So where do you think retail is going 5 to 10 years from now? What will the world of retail look like both in Waterford and beyond? 

Tanya Maney [00:26:00] I know the younger generation has been researching some of this and the experts pretty much say all going to be online, it’s all going to be that. I don’t see that in places like Waterford, to be honest with you. It’s not what I want right now. Personally, if I don’t have to order it on Amazon, I don’t want to. I only go outside of our community if I can’t find it, and I would rather have that face to face. I would rather be able to talk to somebody about the product they’re selling and say, okay, tell me about this and whatever like that. I want to make an informed decision. Sometimes I want to be able to smell it. I want to be able to feel it. It’s important to know what I’m getting before I purchase it. And honestly, again, going back to the COVID thing, I think is another thing that COVID maybe was a good thing for. I think a lot of people missed that interaction with other people. I think that’s such an important facet of community. People really want to build community. You can’t exclude the daily interactions with one another. I think people are going to start wanting that more than necessarily convenience. Or can I get that for the cheapest price? 

Ashley Coates [00:27:14] Well, we’re on our third season of Sparkplug now, and we’ve heard that same sentiment. 

Tanya Maney [00:27:19] From so many. 

Ashley Coates [00:27:20] Of the guests that we’ve had on. So I think. 

Tanya Maney [00:27:21] There’s a lot of people that could. 

Ashley Coates [00:27:23] Feel the same way. 

Tanya Maney [00:27:24] Absolutely. 

Ashley Coates [00:27:26] Well, thank you so much. Time for joining us. It’s been such a pleasure chatting with you. We do have one last question for you, which is what do you want your legacy to be? What would you like to be remembered for? 

Tanya Maney [00:27:37] I guess what this store and everything that it entails, if you would say the one thing that I’m looking at is I want our community to be unified, because when you’re all together with one mind and one accord, we all understand how important community as we all have different religious political views and so many things that divide. But if we can focus on what makes a community, focus on the things that we all can agree on, and just put that other stuff aside. So if I can help to bring that about and be known as she helped make this community what it is. I just see Waterford as much as we’re flourishing right now, it’s only going to get better and I’ll be glad to be known as I had a hand in that. I had a part in that and that it was looked upon in a positive way like we wouldn’t have the water we have now. When my name comes up, that’s what it’s affiliated with. 

Ned Hayes [00:28:33] Wow. What a fantastic legacy to leave to influence your community in such a positive direction. 

Tanya Maney [00:28:38] I hope so. I see a lot of that going forward now. And so the more positive you can be, hopefully others will pick up on that. Part of the reason for the We are positively Waterford. 

Ashley Coates [00:28:51] Well, it’s a great page. I visited it recently in advance of this interview. So thank you so much, Tanya. So great to chat with you. 

Tanya Maney [00:28:58] Yes. And thank you so much for having me. It was fun. 

Ned Hayes [00:29:01] Sparkplug is a wholly owned property of Snowshoe all content. Copyright 2021 Sparkplug Media.