MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Some small businesses in west central Minnesota are learning how to stand out, thanks to a unique program at the University of Minnesota.

WCCO’s Liz Collin went to Willmar to see how coaching from college students is helping rural retailers thrive.

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As the owner of a small boutique for six years, Misty Watkins has only recently realized how important that first step into her store is.

“The main people I want people to feel is the love we have for what we do, the love we have for the community,” Watkins said. “They really opened up my mind when it came to learning about that spiritual, emotional experience that a person has when they come into a retail business.”

Watkins is one of two dozen small business owners in Kandiyohi County to complete a 10-week program designed to take rural retail to the next level.

As a PhD student at the University of Minnesota’s College of Design, Jackie Parr worked alongside Watkins as part of the program.

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“We provided tools to these retailers to help them thrive in today’s retail environment,” Parr said.

From overhauling her Instagram and Facebook accounts, to lighting improvements, and moving merchandise inside the store, Parr says all of it helps the little guy to be able to compete with big box and online stores.

“They just needed specific strategies to help them target customers,” Parr said.

Strategies that have already boosted the bottom line at beauty box.

“Extremely rewarding, and it’s really fun to see, and it’s really about that community collaboration,” Parr said.

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