A few weeks ago, I spent a weekend celebrating the 150th birthday of Renovo, a small town in Pennsylvania. I visited the town’s historical museum and their town hall, both filled with the history and memorabilia documenting the community’s legacy. I talked with the people who call the town home, attended the parade, and 150th commemorative ceremony. What I found was a community that had survived countless changes, some of which were good for the town and many that were challenging. And yet the town retained a community spirit of faith and hope for the future, pride in their town, and commitment to staying true to its legacy.
The word renovo is derived from the Latin word renovar. It means to renew, restore, or revive. Over its 150 years, Renovo stayed true to its name and its heritage as a community. It leveraged its strengths and community spirit. Today, Renovo is looking forward to bringing new business and new life to the town. It has a strong heart, and is moving forward to restore and renew the promise for the town’s future.
Renovo’s celebration of its legacy and its plans for the future contains valuable business lessons. In the business world, the economic, political, technological, and geographic environment is constantly changing. These constant and often uncertain changes require awareness and an open mind to succeed and grow. Much like the small town of Renovo, your business will change and grow over time. You may start small, grow larger, downsize, and grow again. Throughout the cycle, you have to stay open to change, be aware of what’s going on in the world around you, make adjustments along the way, and stay true to your mission.
In 1825, William Baird took a man-made wooden canoe and a few provisions and moved to the wilderness where he built a home for his family on the land that would later become Renovo. Think about what it took to survive in the wilderness in the early 1800s ─ guns, knives, shovels, kerosene, blankets, clothes ─ and the cost of those things. What an act of faith and courage!
Think about the acts of faith and courage that caused you to start your business. What did you need to survive and what were the costs? That leap of faith created the foundation for your business. Think about all the things you’ve done since to build the foundation you need to achieve your vision and be successful.
Renovo has some interesting parallels you can apply to building your small business. Like this scrappy small town, your business is a community of people who come together to achieve a mission. Renovo’s legacy is to remain a friendly, welcoming place to live, filled with people who are willing to help those in need, keep an eye on your children, volunteer to serve the needs of the community, and work hard to preserve the beauty of the area in which they live.
The key to building a community in your business is knowing what you need to do to survive and finding the people who will help you. Those people may not only be your employees but also your customers who believe in and support your product or service. Renovo created a community by attracting immigrants who struggled to get there, and these immigrants became the backbone of the town. They were able to lead great lives because of the industries that provided jobs over the years, from logging to railroads to the Renovo Energy Center scheduled to begin construction next year at the site of the old railroad yards. These industries attracted people to this beautiful community to fill jobs and to start businesses like grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, hotels, movie theatres, and more. They created a vibrant community people were proud to be a part of.
In your business, you need to attract the right people to fill your jobs as well as the customers who will support you no matter what. Renovo’s birthday celebration was forced inside because the weather was cold, blustery, and raining with hints of snow and freezing precipitation. But that didn’t keep the Renovites home. Both past and present residents came out to celebrate anyway because they are hardworking, loyal, committed to their town, flexible, and have a strong sense of community pride.
These traits are similar to the traits most businesses want from their employees. Take some time to think about your business and what makes it special. These are the things that make up your company culture. It’s what makes you unique and what makes working for your business attractive to job seekers. It’s what makes customers want to do business with you instead of someone else.
What sets you apart from other businesses doing the same thing?
How do your employees help you stand out from your competition?
And most importantly, what legacy are you building that future employees and customers will celebrate in the future?
Renovo has gone through some challenging times. The town survived several major floods and the logging industry wiped out the beauty of the surrounding mountains. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC), several CCC Camps were established in the nearby mountains to plant trees and reforest the mountains. Today, these mountains are a beautiful attraction that the community celebrates during their annual Flaming Foliage Festival. If you visited today, you would not know that 100 years ago, the mountains were a deforested wasteland. The pride and commitment of the community to restore and celebrate its natural resources remains today.
In the late 1960s the railroad industry moved taking jobs from the community. Without jobs, people left town and businesses closed. But, the community stayed true to its heritage and kept working to bring jobs and people back to their community.
Renovo is proof that you can survive change and environmental challenges and stay true to your legacy. The recurring theme throughout the weekend’s celebration was that Renovo’s rich history has built a foundation on which the town will not only survive, but continue to thrive as well.
Your business will also face tough challenges. The key to staying true to your legacy and being successful is to face these challenges with an open mind, involve your employees in finding solutions, and to always be open and willing to change.
Take these survival lessons from this small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania and apply them to the challenges you face in your business. Like Renovo, you can also renew, restore, and revive your business and someday celebrate its 150th birthday.
Please share your business survival stories in the comments. Your insights may be just what someone else needs to hear.