Business at home at the mall

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After arriving back in Colorado Springs during 2008, Jennifer Knight kept herself busy as sort of a freelance marketing consultant.

She met contractors around town and at home shows where she offered them traditional marketing services. She designed Web sites and built logo designs.

Around that time she remembers hearing a few of her clients talk about buying a kiosk and setting up an information display in the food court of a local mall.

That’s when an idea struck her to open a home improvement showcase.

“The idea evolved into what made the most sense financially and strategy wise,” she said. “I met with Dave Moss (general manager) at Chapel Hills Mall and he liked the idea of bringing companies together, especially if it involved a time frame outside of Christmas.”

The Home Improvement Showroom will open its new Chapel Hills store on March 1.

The Home Improvement Showroom will open its new Chapel Hills store on March 1.

That was 2008. Now the idea will come to fruition March 1, when Knight and Chapel Hills Mall open Home Improvement Showcase on the lower level, between Sears and J.C. Penny across from Borders book store.

“During negotiations it became obvious that if we could find clients and put them in a non-compete showroom, then we would be able to fill this huge space which traditionally would be used by one large company with a really big marketing budget,” Knight said.

So a home improvement contractor pays a flat monthly fee with a 12-month commitment and gets a space inside the showroom to display his/her products, workmanship and services to shoppers.

Knight has taken a group of local and independently operated small businesses in the home- improvement industry and brought them together under the same roof. The businesses remain independent, but they serve to enhance the consumer experience. The benefit to the small business is it can now market itself in a big way, to a large group of people, with a small budget.

Knight is careful to point out, though, that the Home Improvement Showcase is not a home show.

“Most people who walk through a home show have to pretend to be on their cell phone to avoid the high-pressure marketing blitz,” she said. “Whoever is in the home show has paid for the space and there is no rhyme or reason to it.”

Unlike home shows, the Home Improvement Showroom is a permanent retail location. No retail sales are allowed at the showroom, and that creates what Knight calls a no-pressure environment for the visitor to linger and learn more about the participating businesses.

The marketing entrepreneur and her showroom partners also wanted to promote a buy-local concept, in which consumers could assist in stimulating the local economy, so all of the businesses renting space at the showroom are local organizations, most with fewer than 20 employees.

All are looking for a way to promote themselves during one of the most difficult economys of the past 30 years.

Knight shares their perspective. She grew up in Kansas City, the daughter of a self-employed manufacturing supplier. She moved to Colorado Springs during 1999 and worked as a marketing agent for start-up Saligent Software. She moved back to Kansas City where she delved into investment and rental property management. That experience led her to the home-improvement industry, where she was in charge of hiring all of the contractors to perform work on her properties.

Her love for the Colorado Springs area brought her back during 2008, and of course her experience in the home-improvement arena guided her newest career choice.

“I drove around town and saw open commercial space everywhere,” she said. “And I know a lot of that open commercial space used to be filled by local people who had good products and services, but who couldn’t make it because they couldn’t market themselves.”

Scott Prater covers retail for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.