Zoe and Spenser with the contest judges.
In September of 2016 the Tiffin Community Reinvestment Group held a contest to give a space to an aspiring entrepreneur rent free for one year. From the applicant pool, seven possible businesses were chosen to present their business in front of a panel, who decided the winner. This week, contest winners Zoe Dolch and Spenser Blackiston will open Washington Street Outfitters in the Laird Arcade.
Their store is located on the interior of the Laird Arcade (corner of Market and Washington Streets) and features men and women’s clothing and jewelry as well as new and used vinyl records and home decor. “It’s a mixed-merchandise approach, ” Zoe said. “We have hundreds of items and different styles as well as staple items.”
As winners of the contest, in addition to free rent, they received two business organization sessions with professional organizer Reannon Hayes, six sessions from KKR Consult, a business consulting and dream coaching service, and meetings with Retail is Detail (provided by Heritage Ohio), which provided marketing and demographic information for the area. The Seneca Regional Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Services provided one year of free membership, which includes participation in the Chamber Cash gift certificate program.
After winning the contest, they were also contacted by groups at both Heidelberg and Tiffin Universities looking to take an active role in marketing. The Enactus group from Heidelberg has been helping the pair since a couple weeks after the contest, assisting with tasks ranging from building clothing racks to planning the grand opening. Tiffin University marketing students also started working on a marketing campaign that will be presented to Zoe and Spenser upon completion.
“I love the students,” Zoe said. “Working with them has been a great experience and a lot of fun.”
Zoe and Spenser are recent college graduates who were originally looking to start careers elsewhere and defer their dream of opening their own store when they learned about the business contest. “We didn’t know if we could win, but we knew we could put our whole hearts in it,” Zoe said. “We didn’t anticipate this opportunity, it just came about and it felt right.”
Property Manager for the Tiffin Community Reinvestment Group and organizer of the contest Tyler Shuff said he is working with runners-up of the contest to help them launch their business ideas. “The contest was great and brought everyone out of the woodwork that had an idea. Even though there was only one winner, I want to help all seven finalists,” he said. “We are looking at doing another contest within the next year or two, with the goal of getting people downtown and giving their business a head-start.”
Two of the finalists now have office space in the Laird Arcade – Small Victories Financial Coaching and Lascala IT. Shuff is currently working with a wine and craft bar, dance studio and business incubator to find space downtown.