Valdosta Daily Times

November 20, 2013

Owner of City Market brings big-city business sense

Matthew Woody
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Jessica Newman, the owner of City Market for five years, has been involved in Valdosta Downtown businesses for over 15 years. Her mother owned Jessie's Eats and Treats for ten years, and actually named the restaurant after her.

Having a restaurant named after you while still in high school can be challenging, but Newman described it as both good and bad. The hardest part was when her mother would put her picture next to the daily specials.

Graduating from college with a Business degree, approximately seven years ago, Newman interviewed for a managerial position at City Market.

“They ended up hiring someone in their family to be the manager. So I moved to Atlanta, and got a job there for a year, then I moved back home. They approached me and asked if I was still interested in working at the City Market,” she explained.

At that time, Newman had no intention of managing City Market. She really wanted to have a booth to sell shoes and accessories.

“They told me I could do that and manage it. Well, it went from that to, ‘why don't you just buy the whole thing, then you can put whatever you want to in the store.’”

So in a hit or miss effort, she bought City Market, describing the purchase as jumping in feet first.

Business went really well for three months, then the economy began to slide, and small business owners felt the pinch.

Noticing her new business beginning to struggle with the changing economy, Newman took her business in a new direction. She sent out 60 day vacate notices to all of the booth renters because the original City Market and the City Market she bought were essentially two different stores.

Originally, City Market only sold hand made art from local artists. The artist would rent a booth, then give City Market ten percent of whatever they sold.

This turned out to be a poor business model for the previous owner, she said, so they changed it from local artists to anyone who wanted to sell something.

“It turned into a glorified flea market,” Newman said. “You could get anything in here from really cool collective stuff to people's old dishes because they bought new ones and wanted $5 a dish.”

She explained that that type of business model was not an atmosphere for positive customer service because you are selling other people’s products. If someone wanted to return an item that was broken, then she could not help them because the seller would not honor a return.

After the vendors were notified, their booths began to overflow with items they wanted to sell because “they wanted to cash out,” she said.

Once they were gone, Newman decided to keep the name and the same business concept, but instead of having independent vendors, Jessica used her business license to buy goods at an apparel market in Atlanta, and sell the items she owned. This allowed her to have a 30 day in store credit return policy, a policy that did not exist with independent vendors.

The Boutique that is currently in City Market was not always owned by City Market. Another rented that space, stayed there for six months, then they decided they wanted to relocate.

“It would have been foolish of me to have people coming in for six months buying clothes, and then come in and me say, 'I don't sell them anymore, but you can go down the street to buy it.' So we bought into being a boutique,” Newman said. “This is what saved City Market because it pays the bills, and lets me have all of these other great items.”

She completely changed City Market, taking it from an atmosphere that favored the individual seller, and focused all of her business's attention on her products and her customers.

During the interview, Newman was asked to explain City Market’s success. A customer came into the store, and she stopped the interview for a moment.

“Hey Lynn!” she shouted. Lynn asked, “How are you?” Newman replied, “Good. How are you?” Lynn answered, “Good. Thanks.”

Newman asked, “You need something? Are you looking for anything in particular?” Lynn said, “No I am just browsing.” Newman asked, “Just running errands, out and about?” Lynn replied, “Yeah.”

Newman said, “There's some really good stuff in there, I'll come help you in just a minute!”

Returning to the interview, she says, “That right there. We do our best to know our customers, know what they like, what they don't like, what they've already got. We build a good customer base with the locals and we know them by name, we know their sizes, and that's what keeps people coming back. They know that they are shopping with somebody they know, rather than walking into a department store where there is a different employee every time they go in, and someone is trying to sell them something they already have.”

As a business owner, Newman gives credit for her success to her customers, her employees, and a little bit of luck.

“It's all about finding a balance that meets as much demand, for as many people, at one time, as you can, that's what has kept me in business. It's about balance, and I am playing a balancing game every day,” she said. “People shop here because we strive to have high quality products at reasonable prices.”

Providing a little business advice, Newman says that every business should be trying to improve themselves on a daily basis.

Business for never stops. During the interview, the store phone rang several times, her cell phone received multiple texts, and yet she remained polite and accommodating throughout the entire interview.

The reason for Newman’s success is because she is a people person; everyday she caters to her customers.