Birmingham’s Disadvantages are Advantages

Birmingham’s Disadvantages are Advantages

We loved this blog post so much that we snagged it (with their permission!) from our friends- Two Ravens. Dave Cowart wrote this one- be sure to check out the original post here!




There are plenty of articles proclaiming how great a place Birmingham has become. The food scene is world class! Shipt is showing what we’re capable of! The new mayor is going to fix everything! But nobody’s saying much about our disadvantages. Truth is, we have a lot—other cities have measurable leads in economic, educational, cultural, and societal measures. Our public image is shaded by the state as a whole. And regional cooperation is best measured under a microscope.



But don’t despair! In a bit of metaphorical judo, many of these disadvantages can actually be leveraged into advantages. One of the principles of judo is jū yoku gō o seisu, or “softness controls hardness”:



Resisting a more powerful opponent will result in your defeat, whilst adjusting to and evading your opponent’s attack will cause him to lose his balance, his power will be reduced, and you will defeat him. This can apply whatever the relative values of power, thus making it possible for weaker opponents to beat significantly stronger ones.



Instead of comparing ourselves to other cities and trying to emulate the paths they’ve taken, we should instead focus on what makes us unique and use our weaknesses as strengths. I’m not talking about finding the silver lining in a storm cloud; I mean actual, actionable changes we can make.



What are our greatest weaknesses? Size is an obvious starting point – we’re the 49th largest metropolitan area and the 104th largest city in the country. Population size isn’t everything, but it means we’re low on the list for outside investment, whether that’s attracting a corporate headquarters or a major sports team or even just niceties like the availability of same-day delivery or car-sharing. How do we use that as an advantage?





Since our city is smaller, we’re more likely to have friends in different industries. Sure, most people have lots of connections in their field, but we don’t have the density to support isolated bubbles like a financial district or a collection of tech campuses. This means that we’re more likely to be serendipitously exposed to the obstacles and breakthroughs of other industries, giving us the chance to treat our entire city like a huge Innovation Depot.




There are other advantages to being a smaller city. Cost of living is low, our worst commutes are laughable in other cities, and seeing familiar faces on the street can ward off the social isolation experienced by some people in large cities. The pace is a little slower, and people tend to be friendlier when there’s a chance you probably have a mutual friend. These factors can be crucial when recruiting against other larger population centers.



But why are we comparatively small? Growth in the metro area is slow, and it’s been getting slower for years. The city itself has actually been losing population. The good news is that we haven’t sacrificed our natural areas to develop real estate. Within a few miles of downtown, we’ve had Ruffner Mountain for decades and now we have Red Mountain Park. That doesn’t have to be the end of the story though. The same mountain that currently divides the city from its wealthiest suburbs has also shaped the city itself, both geologically and geographically, preventing sprawl in certain directions. Natural and historical areas in close proximity to downtown are still largely unspoiled and ready for enjoyment and preservation.



Industries that were previously a leading cause of the metro area’s growth are now declining or outdated. The steel industry has moved on, the financial industry has consolidated elsewhere, and we’re now home to only one Fortune 500 company. Those industries were the fuel that powered our economy and gave us the nickname “The Magic City,” and they occupied some of the prime real estate in town. They also employed many of the people that shopped and ate in the heart of downtown. Now that the furnaces and mills have closed and the shops and restaurants have moved away, all that land and empty real estate are available. The McWane Center and the Pizitz have revitalized empty department stores, Sloss Furnace is now a museum and the home to a successful music festival, Back Forty just opened a brewery/restaurant at the old Sloss Docks, and Amazon is building a fulfillment center on former U.S. Steel land. Just this week, DC Blox announced that they’re building a flagship data center at a closed steel mill a few blocks from UAB. It’s hard to imagine many other major urban universities having that kind of available land nearby. It’s important to focus on developing these previously-abandoned areas in a way that weaves young and innovative companies throughout the city.



Our airport is substantially smaller than others in the southeast. Ignoring the behemoth to the east, it still sees just a fraction of the boardings as Nashville, New Orleans, and Memphis – cities whose metro areas aren’t that much bigger than ours.



Population vs. Enplanements (commercial boardings) by City



Tourism is a strong industry in those cities, but there’s clearly a lot of opportunity for growth. The good news is that people there who are looking at the future, realizing they have to innovate, and are already making plans. Enjoy the short security lines and easy parking while it’s not too busy.



Nobody on the outside is paying attention and expectations are low. It’s time to work together to leverage our disadvantages while still doing things our own way.










Recap: 3 Massive Mistakes Business Owners and Entrepreneurs Make When Managing Their Time

Recap: 3 Massive Mistakes Business Owners and Entrepreneurs Make When Managing Their Time

We recently hosted a Lunch & Learn with Dave Jesiolowski- he focus on the mistakes we make when managing our time. We snagged this post from Forge Member Jacqui Jones. Check out the original blog post here.




Wednesday, November 7th, I had the opportunity to attend a great lunch & learn at Forge in Birmingham, AL lead by Dave Jesiolowski.  I had to be at this one because as I scale my business, time management becomes a tricky thing.  When he started by saying, “I know we are all lacking in vitamin E, execution” I knew I was in the right place.



He gave the things that we as entrepreneurs do that plummet our time management.  There, of course, were portions where I felt “I’ve heard this before.”  But there were moments of “aha!”  Hopefully, it will help you the way it helped me.


Mistake #1: You don’t know your “why.”



I get up and go to my desk at Forge every single day.  I’ll be the first to say; I’ve never just written down my “why.”   I have a “why,” but I’ve never taken time to clarify it in the way that Dave described.  He encouraged us to post our “why” everywhere.  If there is a different “why” in different spaces for you, give yourself those reminders.  You may have a “why” for home and one for work.  Maybe you even have a “why” for the space where you get dressed.  These reminders speak to your reason for staying on track.  If my “why” for showing up at work by 745a every morning is because I want to grow my company to a size that can employ others and make a difference in the lives of those in my community, I need to give myself that reminder.  If my “why” for leaving my work bag in the car is so that I can achieve uninterrupted and distraction-free time with my family, I may need that reminder.



In his book, “One Decision Can,” he has created what he calls success formulas.  The formulas ask important questions that lead you to a well-defined “why.”  I bought a book and can’t wait to get into and create my own.  (I promise to come back and review my experience.)




Mistake #2: You have too many distractions and temptations. 



This reason was one of those things I had heard before.  But, you really can never have too many reminders that distractions are everywhere.  Dave talked about how marketers are amazingly efficient and creating distractions in people’s lives all day every day.  Though that’s my industry, I didn’t hang my head in shame.  The agencies he was speaking about will have ads showing up in your mailbox from a google search you made last week.  I’m good.  But, I’m not on that level of creating distractions.



For myself, however, I found a dilemma.   A part of my job is notifications.  I don’t manage as many accounts as I once did now that my team has grown.  But, I do still have a few.   So, this one, though a common time management call-out, may be a challenge for me personally.  He even talked about how we let people take over our calendars with the “do you a minute” and “can we talk this afternoon” type approaches.  I am guilty of letting people take over my calendar daily.   Dave made it clear that if I want to reach the goals I’ve set for the day, I have to be willing to say “no.”



Mistake #3: You don’t have accountability.



You may be thinking that this is a more common call-out as well.  It was, but it wasn’t.  We know that we all need accountability, but he was talking about new methods of self-accountability.  He mentioned that during coaching sessions he has clients create a scorecard for their perfect day.  He said, “we do things for pain or gain.”  Because of that, on the scorecard, you put what you gain by doing a thing and what pain you’re caused when you don’t.  Having a scorecard and keeping a record should allow you to be able to track more specifically why you’re getting the results that you are.



Your scorecard appears in all spaces.  If you’re trying to lose weight and you are tracking what you eat every day, looking back over the week or month of your detailed tracking should show you exactly what habits are leading you there.  I thought this was a great way to put it.   It spoke, not only to tracking your actions, but to analyzing your data.  That’s the part that I feel most people miss.  I know I do.



I will have a one-on-one call with Dave in the near future, and I’m excited to do so.  Coaching is an important part of growing and developing as a business owner, but even as a person.   This is something I’ve always known as a coach for business owners and entrepreneurs as it pertains to marketing and developing a strong brand foundation.  But, as I said in “Entrepreneurship Starts in the Mind,” there is more than doing the work that one must consider if you want success… repeatedly.



Spotlight on: Mindy Rohr, Experience Manager at The Pizitz Food Hall

Spotlight on: Mindy Rohr, Experience Manager at The Pizitz Food Hall

Thanks to Bham Now for another feature! This article was written by Lauren Bedford- focusing on Forge Member Mindy Rohr. Read more about Mindy’s role as the Experience Manager at The Pizitz!



Have you been to one of the recent events at The Pizitz, like Moonlight Movies or Flashback Brunch? Chances are, you had a great time. You can thank Mindy Rohr for that.


Rohr is the Experience Manager at The Pizitz Food Hall. While she has a background in Event Planning, this job takes that to a whole new level. Not only is Rohr responsible for the event itself, she is also responsible for the operations and all the behind-the-scenes work like social media and marketing.



Lexington To Birmingham



Rohr was born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky. Always a fan of finding the best restaurants and shops downtown, she started a successful Instagram account and blog called Love, Lexington that she used to highlight the businesses in town. Eventually, this budded into a pop-up style night market called Market 301. The market highlights local makers and shops and, even though Rohr transplanted to Birmingham, the market is still up and running.



I believe it is her love for local shops and the excitement to highlight small businesses that makes Rohr so successful in Birmingham. Ours is a city that loves to support small business and local shop owners, so she is a perfect fit.





Social Media Maven




As a large part of her career budded out of of her popular presence on social media (namely Instagram), I asked Rohr a few Instagram-specific questions. First I wanted to know what her advice would be to someone who is interested in breaking into the marketing / media field via social media. Here’s what she told me:



  • First, pick a platform and stick with it. For her, it is Instagram. For others, it may be Twitter or Facebook. Finding out where you excel and which platform targets your demographic is an important first step.
  • Good photography is CRUCIAL. She really stressed this point: “If you aren’t a skilled photographer, do some research and learn how to take great photos. Visual content is so important.”  Especially on a platform like Instagram, engagement comes from visual content first and foremost, so make sure it is quality.




“People Want to Feel Comfortable”



Rohr stressed the fact that she always wants her content to have utility. When she started out writing for her own blog, she knew that she wanted to include details in her write-ups. For example, when she visited a new restaurant she shared what was on the menu, what she ordered, what people were wearing, where the parking was, etc. She has taken that mindset with her to The Pizitz Food Hall.




With all of her Instagram posts and social media shares, Rohr aims to answer people’s questions. The day before we talked, she received a question from someone asking about vegan options at the food hall. Rohr is not vegan, but she went around to each food stall and compiled a list of vegan foods that she then shared. The attention to detail that she puts into marketing, events and everything else with the food hall is key to its success.






Foodie First



“The Birmingham food scene is booming. We don’t cook at home a lot so we have gotten to know the local food scene pretty well. Most of our friends turn to us for ideas of where to go when they have a date night or want to try a new spot.”




(Note: Rohr and her husband Jesse started the Instagram account @badass_bham. Check out the account for Birmingham food scene highlights!)



In talking to Rohr, it’s clear that she is a foodie. She loves to try new restaurants around town, so of course we got to chatting about food. She and her husband recently moved closer to downtown, so they have much more walkability to restaurants and bars. Lucky for her, she works at the food hall, with a variety of choices at all times. So, what would she eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner from the food hall?





A full day of eating at The Pizitz Food Hall



(Please note: this is Rohr’s ideal eating day. Calories don’t count in dream worlds, thank you very much.)


Breakfast: Croque Madame from Alabama Biscuit Co.


Lunch: A burger with a fried egg on it, plus a side of both tater tots and fries from The Standard.


Dinner: Poke bowl from Ono Poke, dumplings from mo:mo, and a glass of rose from The Louis. If she’s not feeling rose, she loves the $5 happy-hour Old Fashioned.



Birmingham Weather and A Great Job



Of course, Rohr loves living in Birmingham now. Although she was born and raised in Lexington, Birmingham has become her home. What’s her favorite thing about Birmingham? The weather! Apparently, Lexington is one of the most overcast cities in the U.S. — who knew?



“We moved here in early May, and every morning I would walk outside to sit on our porch and drink my coffee because I just couldn’t get over the perfect, sunny weather.”





Another one of her favorite things? Her job with The Pizitz. She told me all about the history of the building — did you know that The Pizitz Building was the home of the very first parking deck in downtown Birmingham? And of course, it’s the first ever food hall in Birmingham as well. In addition, there is a basement! Rohr was telling me how excited she is for the new Sidewalk theater to be built downstairs. There will be 2  theaters, and each will seat 100 people and have a concession stand as well as a bar. Construction will start soon (get excited Bham!)



Overall, it is the community aspect of her job that Rohr notes is her favorite:



“I love being downtown and being able to meet and work with the owners of the food stalls. I love being able to share all my favorites with my friends and make connections in the city.”




3 New Birmingham Business Concepts

3 New Birmingham Business Concepts

On September 18, we hosted our second pitch night at Forge. Your Big Idea is a place for entrepreneurs to share their new business concepts in front of panelists and an audience to receive valuable feedback. We love celebrating the growing small business community in Birmingham! We want to tell you more about these 3 new businesses.


1. It’s Poppin! Vintage

Keisha Paige Drammeh recently moved to Birmingham from Detroit and she’s settling into the entrepreneurship community here! In both Detroit and Atlanta, Keisha sold vintage clothing online but she’s looking to start something new in the Magic City. It’s Poppin! Vintage will be a sustainable cultural arts boutique for young kids. Keisha has a talent for finding used clothes and recycling them.



Vintage vs Modern: The Need for Sustainable Practice

  • 64% of Americans reported they throw out used clothing instead of donating
  • 62% threw clothing away because they didn’t think anyone would take them
  • 26 million lbsof clothing & textiles go into land fills each year yet 95% could bereusedor recycled



Keisha focuses on recycle, reuse and repurpose! There are no art programs in Birmingham that specify in sustainable fashion so Keisha will be filling in this gap. She has secured a location in East Lake for these classes but she is still working through details to begin the program soon! Be sure to follow her on Instagram and see updates of her progress!


2. Access BHM


Kennan Henderson is the Founder and CEO of Access BHM– a new way to earn rewards for helping the Birmingham community! Birmingham citizens want to improve their community but they don’t know how. Access BHM is a way to generate local charity, philanthropy and activism. It’s also a method for promoting local businesses and entrepreneurs.



Join the Access BHM club to get access to everything from free meals around town, to free activities like local runs, bowling, rock climbing, daycare and even free access to some of the biggest and brightest events in Birmingham. Access BHM members hold the power to choose what events they host and sponsor each month. The top 3 ideas are voted on by members!



We can’t wait to see Access BHM as it grows! Check out there Instagram account here.


3. S(w)ervice


Thomas Walker started S(w)ervice– an auto-tech startup company that provides digital service experiences to independent auto shop owners and their customers. S(w)ervice makes auto maintenance easy! They help auto shops maximize engagement value by providing faster and easier customer experiences with auto valet.



4 Key Services that Solve the Digital Gap Between Auto Shops and Customers:

  1. On- Demand Auto Valet
  2. 1:1 Customer Communication
  3. Data and Social Insights
  4. Meaningful Outreach



S(w)ervice focuses on:

Revolutionizing the customer experience for automotive retailers.

Developing digital experiences that break socioeconomic boundaries.

Repurposing routine car maintenance transactions into a purposeful opportunity to serve.


Thank you Gatehouse Law for sponsoring September’s pitch night. We love hosting Your Big Idea and look forward to the next one on October 16! RSVP by clicking here. Your Big Idea is free and open to the public!




5 Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make Concerning Holiday Sale Season

5 Marketing Mistakes Small Businesses Make Concerning Holiday Sale Season

Forge Member Jacqueline Jones of One Degree MMM wrote a blog post to warn small business owners as they prepare for the holiday sale season. Pay attention entrepreneurs! You need this info:


We all know that holiday season comes at the same time every year.  But for some reason, entrepreneurs and small business owners tend to treat it, each year, as though it’s a brand new concept.


Jacqueline Jones of One Degree MMM



While complaining about big box stores having their Christmas decorations up in October, they neglect to turn their attention to their own brand’s holiday plans.


Because the words holiday and sale are practically synonymous in the United States, let’s address where small business owners fall short in taking advantage of a seeming buffet of open wallets and thoughtless spending consumers.


5. Small Businesses Fail to Establish Their Marketing Process in Advance.


Figuring it out as you go along shows that you didn’t believe that your products would fly off the shelves or your services would book to capacity.  In a perfect world, small business owners would establish a sales funnel that met prospective buyers at each level of their journey of interaction with their brand.


Marketing at each step helps to push your audience closer and closer to their final commitment.  Further, it gives the business owner something to track to figure out where the sale gets lost in translation.


Establish your process and work on your sales funnel.  If you don’t know how to pull this plan together, consult with a marketing professional to get on the right track!


4. Small Business Don’t Engage Their Audience Before The Ask.


Unfortunately, a large number of small business owners don’t speak to their audience until they have something to sell.   That’s never really a good idea.  It’s a worse idea in the busiest sales season of the year.  Further, most small businesses primarily use social media as a way to promote and advertise their product or service.   By now, we all know that algorithms favor those who are consistent.



Once you’ve made a plan for your sale, turn your attention to what you will do between now and that sale.  Interacting with your customers will help build your relationship to both avoid being ignored because you only show up when you want money, and rank higher in platform algorithms.  Interacting with your audience may even lead you to adjust what services or products you’ve chosen to highlight for your holiday sale.   Put your ear to the streets early!



3. Small Business Don’t Invest in Promotion or Advertising to Increase Brand and Sale Awareness.


If only letting your circle friends know what you have to offer is enough for you to grow your business, GREAT!  KEEP AT IT!  If you are looking to scale your business and pick up new customers and clients during this busy sale season, start now figuring out what you can budget to support your fantastic holiday sale.



We’ve all heard the phrase, “You have to spend money to make money.” Well, it’s true.  Social media, Google, and other platforms practically do the work for you.  Your job as the marketer of your brand is to research to figure out what will work best, then put your money where your audience is.



2. Small Business Don’t Ask The Price That Generates Revenue.


The word “sale” can quickly make small business owners forget they have a bottom line.  Getting caught up in the competition of it all makes brands feel forced to go lower and lower on the price curve.    Stand your ground.  Ask what you’re worth, even while it’s on sale.



The first step to accomplishing is having done the work of understanding your pricing in the first place.  Since you’re starting early, if you haven’t done so, do it.  Then stand tall and ask for the sale.


1. Small Business Wait Until The Last Minute To Make Holiday Sale Decisions.


You can’t possibly be surprised by this.   This #1 mistake is the entire reason why this post exists.  My team and I strive to help business owners level the sale season playing field single-handedly.


For this reason, I’ve introduced a new and limited-time consultation.


Check out the Small Business Holiday Prep Consultation available now through October 15!


Go on… GO BE GREAT! 🔥