Becoming a Destination

By Jeannie Naujeck on May 9, 2011 at 5:13 pm EST
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A vibrant economy supported by the community may sound like the stuff of days gone by. But at the Taste of Giles County festival, residents and visitors can experience it for themselves.

The summer event draws thousands of folks to the Pulaski town square, where businesses set up booths to raise awareness of the many goods and services produced locally – from homemade pies and quilts to high-tech manufactured products.

The annual celebration is just one way the Giles County Chamber of Commerce helps its 300 members market to potential customers in and around the area.

With Pulaski, the county seat, just an hour or less from both Nashville and Huntsville, Ala., the chamber is helping businesses tap into those larger markets by sponsoring events like the annual festival – new in 2008 – and encouraging participation in Destination University, a program that teaches retailers marketing principles to attract new visitors from outside the immediate market.

“You’re a true destination when people come from three hours away to go to your store,” says Donna Baker, the chamber’s executive director.

According to Destination University, retail stores have seven seconds to capture a customer, so it’s crucial to make a welcoming first impression. And if a business’s front door opens to the left, it’s important to make the right hand wall attractive and engaging, since it’s the first thing customers will see.

Such principles are fundamental and intuitive, but they may be so obvious that business owners overlook them, Baker says.

“Destination University is very good at telling you how to do things simply,” she says. “You learn how to make your business so unique, so special, that people from outside your radius of interest will save their money to come to your store.”

Baker says such principles can be applied to the whole community. With a charm reminiscent of Mayberry, Pulaski has a lot to attract tourists from outside Giles County.

That includes the national Trail of Tears memorial and interpretive center commemorating the Cherokee peoples’ march West. Two of their routes converged in Pulaski, and the center is now being completed to educate visitors about that chapter in America’s history.

It’s an asset the town can build around, says Dan Speer, mayor of Pulaski and executive director of the Giles County Economic Development Commission.

“Americans are taking shorter trips, and we have a lot to offer them,” he says. “Our central location is certainly attractive. If you work on your tourism development, those dollars will come.”

As more visitors discover Pulaski and Giles County, the chamber wants the entire community to roll out the welcome mat. That’s why the public – not just retailers – is invited to attend each monthly Destination University Web-based seminar.

After the program, small groups break out to discuss the principles and brainstorm ways to apply them locally.

“We bought Destination University for Giles County, for our community,” Baker says. “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.”

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