EXTRAORDINARY ENGLEWOOD: Carol Rauscher
BY HILLARY VIDERS
SPECIAL TO NORTHERN VALLEY PRESS
Carol Rauscher has been the president of Englewood Chamber of Commerce (ECC) since 2013, and, as such, her hard work and expertise have brought many benefits to the city.
Rauscher is a graduate of Southeastern Louisiana University and holds a master's degree from Syracuse University.
Rauscher's first job after college was children's librarian at Englewood Public Library. Prior to coming to the Englewood Chamber of Commerce, she was a director of development at the bergenPAC and deputy executive director of the South Street Seaport Museum.
Rauscher has 25 years of executive-level experience working with nonprofits, and nine years of corporate management experience in public affairs and special events. Rauscher worked at United Way as president of two local organizations (Fresno and Passaic County) and as director of executive development and program design at United Way of America, as well as the United Negro College Fund.
Rauscher is known for her talents in fundraising, marketing, communications, public relations, branding and special events.
The position of ECC president is only funded as a part-time job, yet you seem to be everywhere around Englewood 24/7.
Technically it is a part-time job, but I work 40 hours or more a week, including some evenings. This is because there is so much to do, and you can't do it working only 20 hours a week. In addition to engaging and supporting all the ECC members, I've taken on projects that other towns do not have, like our Summer Business Apprenticeship Program. In fact, some towns do not even have a chamber of commerce.
Since you came on board as ECC president, the number of ECC members has grown substantially. To what do you credit that success?
When I became ECC president in 2013, the chamber had 40 members. Now, we have 150 to 200 members. To get businesses to sign on, we had to show them that the chamber was really doing something to support them. For example, the Sidewalk Sale brings customers to their stores and our retail seminars give them valuable selling and marketing strategies.
Why are so many Englewood retail stores and restaurants struggling financially at this particular time?
It's not just Englewood. It's every town, and everywhere, even in the shopping malls. If you look at the large chain stores, their numbers are down and so many places are going bankrupt.
Part of the reason for the financial downturn in brick and mortar stores is that the internet is growing. I recently heard a small business owner say, “I just bought $9,000 worth of gifts for my kids on Amazon.” So, even some local retailers are not supporting their own community.
Another reason that some Englewood retailers are struggling is that times have changed. Women used to have lunch in town and then stroll around and shop. But, now many women are back in the workforce. Also, we used to have two movie theaters that brought people to town, but they are no longer here. So, you cannot open a new business that relies solely on street traffic.
You recently mounted a “Shop Small” campaign in Englewood to boost sales during Black Friday and throughout the holiday shopping season. How successful was this?
This was our first year. It was good, but it will get much better.
How do you know that?
Because we are doing business differently. The ECC now has a website, a Facebook page and we're on Instagram. We reach thousands of people and give them real-time information about what is happening in Englewood and what the stores and restaurants are offering.
I hope to expand this further by creating seasonal news flashes, such as one for the Super Bowl. This will alert people as to where they can order food and supplies to host Super Bowl parties or where they can go to watch the game. It will also let people know which businesses are offering Super Bowl specials on their merchandise.
“Shop Small” is what I see as the beginning of cross marketing. For example, we recently had a jewelry store co-host an event with Matisse Chocolatier. That brought in customers that either business might not have had on its own.
The ECC is also looking to target millennials, and we are researching the kinds of events that will bring them to town, like our Food, Fashion and Fun night.
What advice would you give someone who wants to open a new store in Englewood without a following or a known brand name?
To be honest, the retail business is very, very tough, and you've got to do your homework. First of all, you need to ensure that you will have enough capital to keep going for at least a year or two.
You also need to look for a good location that has adequate parking, and you need to hire personable salespeople. Most of all, you need to understand who your customers will be and how you will reach them, such as through newspaper and/or online ads, special promotions and events.
You also have to consider how much competition you will have, particularly if what you are selling can easily be purchased on Amazon. There are businesses that can bypass the lure of Amazon because they offer services that have to be experienced in person, such as gyms, rehab centers, yoga and Pilates studios, spas, etc.
Other retail businesses are successful because they also have an online site from which people can order products but still have a local store where they are welcome to shop.
Overall, the most successful businesses in Englewood are those that provide great customer service and personalized care. You cannot log on to Amazon and speak with people who know you and know your neighborhood. That is this city's greatest retail asset, and we have hundreds of small businesses that offer it.
You spend a tremendous amount of time and effort organizing and conducting citywide themed events, such as the Latino Festival, the Christmas Tree Lighting and the Chanukah menorah lighting. If you had the budget, what other types of events would you like to have in Englewood?
I would like to have more extensive events for all the major holidays. For example, at Christmastime, I'd like to have a store decorating contest with prizes, carolers singing in the streets and restaurants handing out free hot chocolate.
I'd also like to have multicultural festivals that highlight the diversity of Englewood. Its diversity is one of the things that I love most about this city.
Your job is extremely demanding both mentally and physically. So how do you keep such an upbeat and positive approach?
I keep my life balanced between work and leisure by making time for reading and playing lots of tennis.
But, most of all, I really love the work that I do. I feel a great affinity for Englewood, and my roots go back a long way here. My grandparents lived here, and my grandfather was the city surveyor in 1915. My parents lived on Brook Avenue (off of Tenafly Road) until my father died in the 1950s. My brother and I grew up in Englewood and went through the Englewood school system. My mom taught at the Liberty School for 25 years.
Even though that was a long time ago, what I loved about Englewood then is still evident today – the amazing friendliness of the people!