By Angie Landsverk
Supporting independent retailers and helping them be successful is at the heart of one nonprofit organization.
“Heart on Main Street was founded to support independent retailers by providing tools, education, and access to resources to help retail owners accomplish their goals, refine their businesses, and reinvent themselves so that they can continue to thrive within their local economies,” said Patrick Keiser, the nonprofit’s founder and executive director.
Founded in 2022, the organization was conceptualized when Keiser met with a small-business owner he knew. This business owner had just come out of several challenging years due to the COVID-19 pandemic and wanted to update the business to reflect changes in the neighborhood’s demographic and consumer habits.
“The only problem was the business owner didn’t know who to contact to help him make these necessary changes,” Keiser said. “He didn’t know of companies that specialized in working with small businesses like his or understood the customer base he was trying to reach.”
But Keiser, who came from the wholesale industry, was familiar with small businesses and independent retailers and specialized in exactly what this business owner was discussing. Keiser recognized he had knowledge and access to resources that could help retailers grow their businesses and wanted to do more to ensure these retailers could continue contributing to their community.
So, with a simple conversation about a small-business owner’s plan for the future, Heart on Main Street’s foundation began taking shape. “Over our first year, we have learned many lessons and dedicated more of our efforts and resources to programs we believe we can excel at during our early stages. Still, our purpose will always be to help independent retailers be successful,” Keiser said.
The nonprofit focuses on four main pillars — education, financial support, mentorship, and their network of resources for retailers. Retailer education has been a significant focus of the organization in its first year.
“We believe we can reach and help the most retailers by providing quality education. Heart on Main Street partners with subject matter experts to conduct a webinar once a month over various topics, such as social media usage, visual merchandising, window displays, financial planning, event planning, and many others,” Keiser said.
From a financial support standpoint, Heart on Main Street has focused on helping areas impacted by natural disasters, such as hurricanes, fires, or tornados. In addition to financial donations, Heart on Main Street has created the Jumpstart program. Keiser said it partners with wholesale companies to provide these retailers with a voucher to buy products and restock their shelves when they re-open their stores.
Through Heart on Main Street’s website, retailers can find a whole network of companies that provide services to independent retailers. The nonprofit calls it their Friends of Main Street network. “These companies specialize in graphic design, retail real estate, social media, visual merchandising, marketing, legal advice, website development, and more,” Keiser said.
In 2024, Heart on Main Street will launch its Mentorship program, which retailers will apply to participate in. Keiser said this program will connect Friends of Main Street companies to the chosen retailers and allow them to work one-on-one to help the retailers build better business practices and improve their business.
Funding to support the organization’s programs comes from a variety of sources. “We have launched several fundraising campaigns to help raise money for retailers that natural disasters have impacted. We have advertised these initiatives through Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms,” Keiser said.
He said donations through those campaigns were overwhelmingly from individuals who saw someone struggling and wanted to help. “We also were invited to participate in a fundraising tournament this summer that raised money for a local retailer in the Fort Myers Beach area,” Keiser said. “We will soon have merchandise that can be purchased through our website, heartonmainstreet.org.”
People can make donations on the website as well. Wholesale companies they have connected with have also donated funds, and the organization is working to add a donation-at-checkout feature to several websites.
“We are passionate about helping independent retailers and want to see them thrive in their communities. It gives us so much joy to interact with retailers who have been serving their communities for 40 or even 50 years,” Keiser said. “The number of lives they have touched and the difference they have made for their towns is unquantifiable.”
Keiser has been traveling to different communities every Monday for what Heart on Main Street calls Main Street Monday. He features the city and retailers there through their social media channels.
Follow along with his tours on Instagram every Monday @heartonmainstreet. Those who want their communities featured may send an email to email@example.com