A former shopping center finds new life as space for startup businesses.
Half of all new businesses fail within the first two years and another 25% close their doors permanently within five years. Only 10% of startups survive past the 10-year mark.
Grow DeSoto Market Place is challenging those stats. The Market Place offers budding entrepreneurs in the Best Southwest Partnership (BSP) region affordable leases, regular events on-site to pull in customers, and access to top business mentors.
“It’s easier to grow your own businesses than it is to solicit businesses to come in,â€ says Joe Newman, CEO of the DeSoto Economic Development Corporation (DEDC). “Businesses go where they are invited and stay where they are appreciated.”
Like many communities, DeSoto faced a commercial vacuum when an Ace Hardware store, the last tenant of an older shopping center on East Belt Line Road, decided to leave. Options Real Estate founder and CEO Monte Anderson, who owned the shopping center, planned to sell the property once he was able to get a discount store to take the largest space.
However, DeSoto Mayor Curtistene Smith McCowan had other ideas. She reached out to Anderson and encouraged him to reconsider.
“She came to me and asked what I would do if I was king,â€ Anderson recalls. “I decided that what I would do is create a bunch of affordable entry-level spaces for small restaurants and retail businesses. She said, ‘We’d love that.'”
Anderson worked with McCowan, then-Mayor Pro Tem Rachel Proctor and DEDC Board President Belinda May to create the concept of a retail incubator supported by a public-private partnership. Once the basic agreements were in place, the partners identified a leasing structure that offers one-year leases to budding entrepreneurs. The cost of a lease ranges from $250 to $1,500 a month, which includes space, utilities and Wi-Fi access.
The partnership began soliciting potential merchants and created a pitch process, in which interested entrepreneurs made their case to a four-member panel that included city officials, DEDC staff and Anderson. Forty applicants initially applied; of those, approximately 20 were selected.
A Grand Opening
Grow DeSoto Market Place held its grand opening in October 2018. The Market Place’s tenants, which span a variety of industries, include vegan restaurant Peace.Love. & Eatz Smoothie Bar, Sheer Elegance Boutique, Trip-Z Art (sip & paint), The Pit Fitness Center, Tiger House Hat Shop and Roofing for H.O.P.E. (Helping Out People Everywhere).
The Market Place is reaching out to the region, including the school district and library, to hold community events. In addition, Anderson has worked with city officials to rezone the property so food trucks can do business and alcohol can be sold.
“The city said, ‘Yes, yes, yes! Let’s do it! Let’s grow our own!â€ Anderson says.
In addition, Anderson plans down the road to build residential loft apartments on the property’s east end, thus creating a mixed-use village.
Offering a Life Line
Many new businesses need critical support and advice at a time when many new entrepreneurs don’t know what questions to ask.
Fortunately, Grow DeSoto Market Place business owners have access to Terry Toomey, founder of The Industry Hub and a SCORE mentor, who is employed by DEDC. Toomey, who keeps her offices at Grow DeSoto Market Place, mentors both on-site and off-site small-business owners.
Part of her work involves helping new business owners develop a business plan that includes their marketing and financial strategies.
“What we run into is not only do they not know how to set up a business, most of the time, they don’t know what questions to ask,â€ she says. “By putting them through a structured process, we help them explore some of the issues they’re going to face.”
Ultimately, Grow DeSoto Market Place is offering new entrepreneurs a launching pad to a bright business future. “We don’t plan on these people staying with us for 10 years,â€ Newman says. “We hope that they achieve growth and are stable enough to move out within three years.”