A Leading Role
Searcy Goes Big-Time for Small Businesses
By Molly Mitchell
Searcy, Arkansas—White County seat and home of several economy-boosting institutions like Unity Health White County Medical Center, Harding University and a Walmart distribution center—has long searched for ways to bring positive attention to its community. But being reality TV star is a new one, even for those thinking outside the box
The town recently won a spot on Hulu’s Small Business Revolution, a reality show in which businesses in a small town are chosen to receive $500,000 in investment and appear on an episode showing the progress of their redevelopment. The show is the brainchild of the Deluxe Corp., a company that provides services to small businesses, including logo design, marketing, payroll services, checking products and packaging.
Mat Faulkner, owner of Think Idea Studio and chairman of the small business committee for the Searcy Chamber of Commerce, discovered the show and filled out the application for Searcy. When Searcy made the top 20 out of 12,000 hopefuls, the town came together to go for the win. Small businesses, local government, volunteers and current and former residents came out of the woodwork for watch parties at the Rialto movie theater, pep rallies and a huge social media push to vote in the final rounds.
“I’ve never seen such an event that drew the entire community together for one unified effort like this has done.”
—Mat Faulkner, Think Idea Studio
“I’ve never seen such an event that drew the entire community together for one unified effort like this has done,” Faulkner said. “I feel like people knew that we’ve been in a rut for quite some time and we needed to make progress.”
“It was just really awesome to see how one particular effort could unite so many different people from all walks of life. The schools that normally compete against each other were all together with their mascots and everything, every church had it on their leaderboards, all the businesses and banks and everybody who typically would be in competition were all the sudden pulling together in one direction.”
While Deluxe got into the reality TV business as a canny marketing tool, the $500,000 award is real money for the small towns in question, especially for the small businesses that end up being selected to receive a piece of that investment. Searcy will be the subject of the fourth season, set to air on Hulu this fall, and the three previous winners have seen significant benefits from being featured on the show.
Wabash, Indiana, won Small Business Revolution in 2016 and has seen a lasting impact from the show. In 2014, Wabash was designated a Stellar Community, including a $4.5 million investment from the state which the town has already put to use revitalizing its downtown.
When Wabash Mayor Scott Long took office in January 2016, he quickly got on board with Small Business Revolution.
Long cites more businesses locating interesting stores downtown, a hopping real estate market and an influx of new residents as some of the show’s payoffs.
“It’s just encouraged growth throughout our downtown, and that continues to this day,” Long said.
“I think that Small Business Revolution really gave us the motivation, on top of everything else, to continue pressing forward and improve things as we go from year to year.”
For Coty Skinner, owner of ARganic Woodworks and one of the six Searcy businesses chosen to get a makeover on the show, the Small Business Revolution is taking his business outside his garage.
“I like to say it’s a company I started by accident,” Skinner says of ARganic Woodwork’s origin.
When the Skinner family needed more room around the dinner table to accommodate foster children, he built his own and got the idea to do the same to help other families who wanted to foster. He started building and selling tables through Facebook and word of mouth, and for every third table he sold, he built and donated one table to a foster family for free.
“Marketing wasn’t my strong point, and just from being chosen, I’ve seen a boost in requests. We just moved locations; before that I was still working out of my garage.” Skinner said.
Skinner’s vision for the future is focused on solving more than just a place at the dinner table for foster kids. His growth has enabled him to hire more employees, which precipitated the move to a bigger location. Through ARganic Woodwork, Skinner also hopes to address the problem of unemployment among kids aging out of the system by providing them jobs. And as a veteran, he also intends to hire more comrades in arms, too.
Since Small Business Revolution, Skinner has noticed a definitive change in the community. While only six small businesses were chosen to receive part of the money, other small businesses in town are seeing more community support and engagement, including a new “Revolution Fund” established through the Arkansas Community Foundation to crowd-fund support for other small businesses in town.
“More people are getting involved,” Skinner said. “They’re realizing that they can do more as a community and for the community.”