Business in a small community

Photos: (left) Will Osborn and Mary Little, owners of Laura's. (right) Sylvia Lange and Greg Meyer, owners of The Reluctant Fisherman.

Cordova is a small, remote town that presents unique business challenges and opportunities. Most Cordova business owners experience many of the same issues - a relatively small customer base and limited access to supplies. But with the help of a local banker who knows which financial tools can help their business grow, many business owners are flourishing in this coastal community. Here are just two examples:

LAURA'S, A LOCAL LANDMARK Laura's Liquor Shoppe was been a community landmark in Cordova for more than 25 years, offering beer, wine and spirits with a commitment to help each customer find exactly what they were looking for. That great customer service was offered by employees like Mary Little. In 1995, the original owners decided to sell the shop and Little jumped at the chance to buy it. She had visions of carrying on the legacy of the shop's great customer service, but expanding it to include non-alcoholic items, such as coffee and groceries. Those visions soon came to fruition, starting with the rebranding of the shop?s name to Laura's and the addition of an espresso bar. Next came the shop?s expansion into groceries, a renovation financed by First National Bank Alaska. "Laura's has become a store that has something for almost everyone in the community," said Will Osborn, Little's son and partner in the business. Like in other rural Alaska communities, Cordova's limited customer base presents a hurdle that businesses must overcome. By offering a greater variety of goods, Laura's attracts a larger number of customers, helping to maintain a steady flow of business. But carrying a larger and more diverse inventory comes with its own set of challenges. "Being a remote community, we have to keep a large inventory of product to span between shipments, which takes a fair amount of work to manage and is a substantial financial obligation," said Osborn. Stocking up on the right banking tools Maintaining an effective balance between products and cash flow can be a major headache. To help them stay on track, Little and Osborn turn to their local, knowledgeable First National banker, Cully Wooden, to help them find the right banking tools. "First National understands just what we face doing business in a remote community," said Osborn. In addition to Laura's, Little is busy with a few other business ventures as well, including a motel and a bookstore. She says through it all, First National has been there to provide banking expertise, great customer service, and moral support. "I have come to rely on First National's team to provide efficient service. It is important to me to work with an Alaska-owned bank that is intimate with the needs of a rural business. First National has been a partner with Laura's at each step of our growth and we look forward to many more exciting years working together," said Little. THE RELUCTANT FISHERMAN, A CORDOVA ICON Sylvia Lange and her husband, Greg Meyer, were looking for a new career path after several decades in the fishing industry. They wanted to stay in their beloved town of Cordova, but wanted to work for themselves. That's where The Reluctant Fisherman -- a hotel and fine dining icon on Cordova's waterfront -- came in. After its owner passed away, the building sat idle for a few years, while the estate looked for a buyer. "We hated driving by and seeing it dark. We thought it was a good buy, and we could operate it together, along with the family, and continue living in Cordova." In 2004 Lange and Meyer bought the business. They immediately revamped it to help customers feel like it's the go-to place for a comfortable stay and great food with a world class view. Lange says it's an effort that has community support. "We host wedding receptions, senior proms, and our favorite -- local fundraisers." Lange and Meyer know that living in a rural town like Cordova comes with a host of logistical challenges. Everything they order for their business must be freighted in. "We pay careful attention to detail and plan ahead, because if we run out of something, it usually takes two weeks or more to get here." Snagging financial solutions In addition to time spent planning, The Reluctant Fisherman owners continue to renovate the property. With so much time spent focusing on making their business run smoothly, Lange and Meyer use First National's banking services to help streamline the financial aspects of their company. In the hospitality business, Lange and Meyer rely heavily on credit card transactions, making the bank's merchant services a great option for them. To stay connected to their cash, even when they are extremely busy, the owners use the bank's online banking service, Business Essential, putting many banking options at their fingertips, including the ability to transfer funds between accounts and make loan payments online. But the best part is despite the remote location of their inn, Lange and Meyer still enjoy local customer service from their bank. "I like calling up someone I know personally and by name, not a phone menu. I like that I can stop by either the local branch or the head office when I visit Anchorage and actually get an answer to a question."
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