Small Businesses Thriving

Affluent Customers Add Up to Good Business 

By Dave Perry

Small business owners say business is good for them in Oro Valley.

“We are at various times of the day bursting at the seams, which is a good problem to have,” said Crispin Jeffrey-Franco, who opened Stacks Book Club with his wife, Lizzy, in Oro Valley Marketplace a year ago.

Marketplace entrepreneurs appreciate access to a relatively affluent community with disposable income.

“I love the demographic,” said Sangha Yoga’s Nicole Esposito. She enjoys helping “the young at heart” work on balance and strength. After Esposito closed a Tucson yoga studio during the pandemic, she thought Oro Valley “felt right. And the view is awesome.”

“Our concept has been well-received,” said The Hoppy Vine’s Hector Martinez, who opened a wine and beer business in the Marketplace with his wife, Marnel. “People tell us ‘This community needed something like that.’ ”

And, Martinez notes, The Hoppy Vine needs “that economic base to have the buying power.” In Oro Valley, he said, “People have spendable money.”

Good coffee and new books are “a luxury item for many people,” Jeffrey-Franco agreed. “We needed to be in a place where a more affluent customer base was available. Oro Valley fit that requirement.”

Broadly, small businesspeople perceive town government and the Oro Valley Chamber to be helpful.

“My experience has been very positive doing business in Oro Valley,” said Fork & Fire Smokehouse + Taproom’s Josh Bishop.

“We’ve had zero friction” with the town “in any capacity on this project,” Stacks’ Jeffrey-Franco said.

“You will hear a lot of naysayers,” said Wendy Wise of Wendy Wise State Farm. “The town was very helpful to me.” She urges businesspeople to “go forth,” and “not let those type of people drive you backwards.”

Participation with the Oro Valley Chamber “is really important,” Wise continued. It has been “great” in helping businesses feel “comfortable and welcomed in Oro Valley.” And it plays “a key role … as a liaison with the town.”

“The Chamber has always done a great job working for its members,” Bishop said.

“The support small businesses provide to each other is exceptional, and in the Marketplace especially,” Jeffrey-Franco said.

Employers ‘lucky’ with staff

Small businesses in Oro Valley have had success finding and keeping employees, despite housing costs. Employment – hiring and keeping employees − has been a difficult issue for employers since the COVID pandemic.

“We have a great team member who drives 45 minutes each way,” Wise said. Oro Valley home prices and rents are “really hard for some people.”

“Folks who are renting do not live in Oro Valley,” Jeffrey-Franco said. With tips, his book tenders earn from $19 to $23 an hour, “and still find it basically impossible to rent in Oro Valley.”

“You have to pay for people if you want to have quality people wherever you’re at,” Fork & Fire’s Bishop said. Commuting employees “certainly have options” before they reach the Marketplace. “They’re not going to take a minimum wage position. They can get that closer to home.”

How to reach the consumer

Sage Harmon manages a new business, 3 Degrees Infrared Sauna Studio.

“We’re doing pretty good for being open three months,” Harmon said. “I’ve noticed word-of-mouth here is very important.”

Visibility confronts Sangha Yoga, 3 Degrees and Wendy Wise State Farm. “After 13 years, I still have people who walk in and say, ‘Did you just move here?’ ” Wise said.

“We have to learn to market towards our demographic,” Sangha Yoga’s Esposito said. “More mailing. Not a lot of social media.”

The Hoppy Vine is also “trying to find that fine line of email, and social media,” Martinez said. 

Despite marketing and visibility concerns, Sangha Yoga is seeing “a lot of traffic, a lot of new people” enter the business, Esposito said. “Our job is to retain them.”

“You have to have a quality product” wrapped in “exceptional service,” to succeed, Stacks’ Jeffrey-Franco said. “If we’re not building a relationship,” people won’t return.

Stacks puts on a number of evening events. One of its biggest challenges is “teaching people there’s places to go in Oro Valley after 6 p.m.,” Jeffrey-Franco said. “Even though the sun’s down, there’s stuff to do.”

“You have to have caring hearts about the customer,” State Farm’s Wise said. Her staff sits 1-on-1 with customers to “look at what they need, what they’re protecting.” In Oro Valley, “there are lot of people who have a lot to protect.”

Bishop believes there is a growing opportunity to market to year-round residents, rather than rely upon winter visitors and snowbirds.

“Younger families don’t live in this town because they’re scraping by,” Bishop said. “If you don’t market to them, you don’t see them. It becomes self-perpetuating.”

The rising OV brand

Esposito believes Oro Valley is “up-and-coming and cool.” Others agree.

“Oro Valley as a brand has grown tremendously,” Martinez believes. “It’s not an afterthought. We’re not Tucson. We’re Oro Valley. We say ‘We’re where Oro Valley drinks.’ We tell our staff, every day, we get to make someone’s night.”

After years of give-and-take, the town of Oro Valley and Marketplace owner Town West Companies have agreed on a redevelopment plan that is bringing hotels, apartments and a central recreation district to the property at Oracle Road and Tangerine Road.

“We’re stoked,” Jeffrey-Franco said. “From a business perspective, you can draw a direct line from traffic to revenue.”

“It’s going to really grow the whole community,” Esposito said.

On a recent Saturday, she saw people walking their dogs, getting coffee, picking up groceries, cycling on the nearby Loop. Activity creates a “sense of community, and what the future of the Marketplace looks like,” Wise said.

“I think this can come to fruition,” Bishop said. He is “really optimistic” as he enters a third year at Fork & Fire.

“Everyone should live here,” he continued, noting he and wife, Aleina, raised their two children in a community with good schools and exceptional public safety.

“It’s amazing. If you can handle Arizona, I truly don’t think there could be a better place.”

Pictured above – The Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce staff from left – Leah Noreng, Operations Director; Leah Bahan, Business Development Director; Kristen Sharp, President and CEO; Joni Bates, Member Engagement Director; Makenna Markley, Events and Communications Director. Photo by Brent G. Mathis


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