The Hartville Flea Market, as it exists today, is the product of 76 years of adapting to change. In this month’s Uniquely Akron/Canton, you’ll learn that the market began as a livestock auction in 1939, serving what was then a surrounding population of farmers.
Over time, a blooming manufacturing industry in Akron prompted many residents to move outside the city where they began buying up much of the farmland in Hartville, driving up land prices and causing many farmers to sell their properties and move. The livestock auction was losing customers, and during the 1960s the family slowly replaced it with a flea market — an enterprise that had a growing customer base.
There is no doubt that demand changes the dynamics of a market. There are, however, other factors that can introduce market opportunities that were previously unavailable, like legislation.
The passage of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999 made it possible for an institution to act simultaneously as an investment bank, commercial bank and an insurance company. The leadership at Westfield Insurance took advantage of the new law and brought in Jon Park to help them form a bank from scratch.
Seizing a niche
To get Westfield Bank off the ground, Park had to differentiate its services so it wasn’t lost among the larger, established banks. As we reveal in this month’s cover story, Park focused on Internet banking, primarily through remote deposit capture, something the bigger banks paid little attention to at the time.
According to Park: “The bigger banks took the tactic of thinking of it as a luxury item, so they were charging a premium for businesses that wanted to do this. We took the opposite approach and said we’ll give it to the businesses for free. And to businesses, this was a lot of money, this was hundreds if not a thousand dollars a month difference.”
That tactic helped the fledgling bank grow from its $11 million in seed money to more than $1 billion in assets under management in 14 years. It also helped it grow from a trailer located on the Westfield Insurance parking lot with a few employees to eight branches and 150 employees today.
Columnist Andre Thornton, president and CEO of ASW Global, touches on another factor affecting the market — diversity. Diversity, in this sense, is more than an internal issue regarding the race and gender of a workforce. It’s an issue affecting a business’s suppliers, customers and community.
“As leaders, we need to prepare our organizations and ourselves by identifying where and how diversity trends could impact us,” Thornton writes. “There are several business issues we must consider because it’s not if but where and how diversity trends will affect our business profitability, performance and sustainability.”
Identifying market trends and adapting to change is essential for every business. While some services might no longer be needed — like the livestock auction — a look around at the changing market dynamics could mean finding, by accident or ambition, a means to support your business for decades to come.
Adam Burroughs is interested in the people and businesses making a difference in Akron/Canton.