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A great way to start 2013

I can't think of a better way to kick off the new business year than with my first blog about the retail sector, because it's an opportunity to connect with more people. And ultimately, that's what business is all about -- connecting with people who need or want what you have to offer.

In the retail sector, that means offering goods, services, and if we're doing it right, a unique customer experience. That's something I've strived to do throughout my career. Before purchasing Heart of Iowa, I had a variety of experiences both in marketing and operations in many different fields, including construction, architecture, development and even a sports park.

My most recent position was the as the vice president of retail operations at Hubbell Realty Company. That role gave me a wide variety of experiences from understanding franchise systems, to identifying retail solutions for real estate issues and managing the day-to-day operations for businesses that have very different customers and a variety of unique challenges. Some those businesses included Copper Creek Golf Club, Woodland Hills Golf Course, Brilliant Sky Toys and Books at the Kaleidoscope, Johnny's Hall of Fame Restaurant & Bar, and Maximum Fitness Centers.

It was challenging, rewarding work, but owning my own business was something I had always wanted to do and in late 2010, I realized that goal with the purchase of Heart of Iowa.

I liked that the Heart of Iowa had a strong brand, wonderful history, loyal customers and a real market niche. I also bought it with a clear plan to build on its success by increasing its business-to-business sales, growing online sales and putting a sharper focus on marketing.

The fact is, you can't talk about retail without talking about marketing. Of course, there are so many more aspects of retailing that are all too often overlooked or forgotten by business owners -- and reconnecting with them is where so much opportunity awaits.

In the weeks ahead, I look forward to sharing ideas on customer experience, value of sampling, business-to-business sales and relationships, evaluating inventory, the return on catalogs, trading products for services, successful retailer marketing, learning from mistakes, technology and social media in the retail sector, the work/personal life balance, building a brand, leveraging client relationships, customer feedback, the pros and cons of coupons and more. And I look forward to hearing from you, too, with your questions and perspectives.

Kelly Sharp 

Owner - Heart of Iowa Market Place

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