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Manufacturing is critical to San Francisco’s economic vibrancy: #SFSBW2015 Interview with SFMade

#SFSBW2015 asked the nonprofit organizations that support small businesses throughout the year to share insights, best practices, stories and resources to help businesses flourish in today’s marketplace.

Today we hear from Janet Lees, Senior Director, SFMade.

Tell us about your organization in one sentence.

SFMade supports and promotes over 550 SFMade member companies, all manufacturing their products within the San Francisco City limits.

What is your organization doing to help small business owners navigate today’s increasingly competitive marketplace?

At the highest level, SFMade’s programs and services are designed to help manufacturing businesses start, grow, and stay in San Francisco. What we are finding particularly challenging in our sector right now are rising real estate prices, filling job vacancies with appropriately skilled workers, and access to new market channels.

On the real estate side, SFMade has a program called “Places to Make” that conducts industrial real estate searches for businesses – free of charge.  In addition, SFMade has created a sister organization called “PlaceMade” – San Francisco’s first non-profit affordable industrial real estate developer, working to design, build and renovate space for manufacturing.

On the workforce side, through SFMade’s “Hiring Made Better’ program, we help businesses find qualified workers by posting their job vacancies on SFMade’s online Job Board, and by partnering with all the major workforce agencies in the City, to circulate the job vacancies.

SFMade provides a powerful branding and promotional platform to help companies of all sizes and ages, gain visibility and access new markets. The SFMade member directory showcases all members and is a central place for individual consumers and procurement professionals. SFMade has been engaged in numerous innovative and high visibility retail partnerships including a pop-up store within Banana Republic, a curated shopping event with Pinterest, and currently with the San Francisco Giants, an SFMade branded pop-up shipping container at the YARD at Mission Rock.

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What is your organization doing to attract and support new and younger small business owners who are starting out today? What are you doing to bridge the gap between old and new businesses?

One of SFMade’s greatest successes so far has been our ability to create a very tightly knit, supportive and active community of member companies.  There’s a tremendous amount of pride in being an SFMade member and companies wear their SFMade colors like a badge of honor.  Across all ages of companies – from less than a year, to over 100 years old – SFMade’s manufacturers collaborate in very tangible  and creative ways, from sharing space, to sharing information and resources, to hosting joint events, to creating products – and even sharing employees.

Every year, SFMade produces “SFMade Week” – a celebration of San Francisco’s manufacturers, their products, and their workers.  There are over 70 events happening in all of the MakerHoods around the City and hosted by SFMade members. To celebrate the spirit of collaboration, this year’s theme is “Let’s get Together,” highlighting joint projects by SFMade members.

Please describe one of your organization’s innovations. How has this enhanced way you reach and serve your clients or members?

The Instagram Takeover: For a week we allowed a different SFMade member to take over a day on our Instagram, showing in three of more posts, an inside look at their factory and how they make an SFMade product. The campaign brought in hundreds of followers for SFMade and each participant.

What is one lesson you would like to share with small business owners—especially those who are struggling to change the way they do business in the current climate?

The most successful businesses I see are often the ones who launched and built their brand around one single product. The more general and expansive you are, the harder it is to build your brand and reach your audience. Aim for a specific niche, which will enable you to hone your message and target your audience.

Case in point, SFMade has been successful because we are very niche and specific – we serve manufacturing businesses who are headquartered and producing products within the San Francisco City limits.

What is the most important belief or principle that guides your work and the trajectory of your organization?

We believe that manufacturing businesses are a critical element of the economic vibrancy and fabric of San Francisco, and most importantly, that they provide unique job opportunities for a diverse set of local residents.

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