15 Sep 2014
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Wilson's of Wickford, 70-Year Mainstay, Turns to Crowdfunding to Save Business

It's make it or break it time for Wilson's of Wickford. "We're looking to reinvent the store," Owner Jim Wilson, said. "and Crowdtilt is the best way to make it happen."

Wilson's of Wickford, 70-Year Mainstay, Turns to Crowdfunding to Save Business
For 70 years, Wilson's of Wickford has stood the test of time, adapting to the retail clothing business and holding a steady presence on Brown Street in historic Wickford Village.

But the Great Recession has been hard on the small business community and Wilson's of Wickford, in particular. They need a Web site. They need to be able to sell online. The point-of-sale system and accounting software needs to be upgraded. And unless they come up more than $100,000, there won't be any arrivals of new clothes to put on the shelves come July 31. 

Their vendors have been patient, but they won't ship new fall merchandise until they're paid. And knowing that jobs are on the line — and arguably, the pace of revival happening in Wickford — the owners have turned to the public for help and launched a Crowdtilt campaign in the hopes of raising $148,000 to get the business over this hump and rejuvenate into a thriving, local brand.

"We're looking to reinvent the store," Jim Wilson, owner of Wilson's of Wickford said. "We hope to keep the best and restock our shelves with old friends and add some new ones . . .and Crowdtilt is the best way to make it happen."

Unique to Wilson's is their own collection of Rhode Island-branded products and they know they could expand the product line and reach vast audiences with a modern online store to supplement the retail side of the business. 

They intend on developing an attainable marketing plan and with the development of new products, "move the business into a positive direction."

And there's no question that "it would do an awful lot for restocking our shelves and would dramatically improve the cashflow here."

Wilson, the steward of a family business legacy here in North Kingstown, said the decision to turn to a crowdfunding campaign was painful and difficult. There have been smaller bids and offers, he said, "but not enough to fix the situation" for good. 

"We could accept smaller Band-Aids but we would then just have Band-Aids," Wilson said. "I designed this [campaign] to fix the situation."

Wilson said he feels part humiliation, part embarrassment asking for charity, but he is motivated after talking with other small business owners who have benefited from similar campaigns. He spoke several times with a woman who runs a toy store in Illinois that was able to raise $80,000 in a short period of time and move her business forward in a positive direction.

"It's uncomfortable, it's not easy to ask. We really struggled with it for a week or so back and forth and eventually I just felt this was the best vehicle to achieve a way to reinvent the store," Wilson said. 

And Wilson said he knows that there are thousands of hard working people in town who have struggled in recent years, too, so he feels the extra weight on his shoulders.

"You become the steward of their money and have to use it wisely and effectively," he said after putting a telephone interview on hold for a moment to thank a teenager who walked into the store to deliver a $2 donation. "We're prepared to work hard and know there are things we need to do to improve."

Already, since Friday, the campaign has raised nearly $40,000. Wilson said he's overwhelmed by the support, which included the owners of nearby JW Graham cooking up a poster and printing out 40 copies that are now scattered throughout Wickford Village.

With so many people contributing to the campaign, they are to a degree becoming shareholders in the business. And the campaign also comes with a big risk. If it fails to meet the goal by July 31, no money will change hands and the store will likely close by August. 

It's clear that with the clock ticking, Wilson's faced a do or die situation. Limp along for a while longer, or bet the house on fixing the structural problem. A house that has stood the test of time for generations whose fate now lies in the hands of the community.

"We have downsized, kept up with both economic and apparel trends, and persevered," the campaign statement reads. "We are no longer in a position to do this alone and we need your help."

Contribute to the campaign here:  https://www.crowdtilt.com/campaigns/help-save-wilsons-of-wickford/description

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