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Stories of Impact

Economic Vitality

TechTown’s Retail Boot Camp Ensures Excellence in Entrepreneurship

“Your business has to be well-branded; your processes need to be in place. Retail Boot Camp helps entrepreneurs elevate their persona and their skills.”

–Carrie Vestrand, Retail Strategist, TechTown Detroit

Detroit, MI (May 2024) - During his 50-plus-year career as a Detroit musician, Freddie Palmer noticed a common problem among on-stage keyboardists: their sustain pedal never stayed in one place. This often caused distractions and forced musicians to make adjustments that took them out of the moment. Palmer often wondered why no one had come up with a solution. So, he set out to invent one.

During the pandemic, Palmer tinkered and experimented in his garage workshop until he landed on an innovation. He named it PedalPal, and then patented it, manufactured the design, and sought to bring it to market. To make the product successful, Palmer realized he would also have to dive into other sides of entrepreneurship: branding, marketing, e-commerce and beyond.

The myriad components of entrepreneurship are often difficult to anticipate when great ideas spark. That’s one reason TechTown launched its Retail Boot Camp. The Boot Camp helps strengthen business owners’ skill sets and grow their businesses as they look to thrive in today’s retail environment. In its most recent iteration, supported by a Walters Family Foundation grant, the Boot Camp focused on home-based and e-commerce businesses. PedalPal was one of the first to enroll.

The Pedal Pal was invented by Freddie Palmer. His wife and daughter took the business to a new level with Retail Boot Camp. Photo courtesy or The Pedal Pal.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.

In two months of programming, Retail Boot Camp (RBC) covers a number of topics that are incredibly useful to businesses who are just starting out: from packaging and pricing to marketing and branding, target personas, pitching, finances, and logistics. Each Retail Boot Camp culminates in a showcase. Participants set up booths for an open-house-style meet-and-greet where they speak one-on-one with attendees about their businesses. The entrepreneurs then participate in a pitch competition where judges vote for four winners who receive $3,000 to put toward their small businesses.

In this cohort, PedalPal walked away with one of the prizes. The company used the earnings to purchase new equipment for faster manufacturing. What’s more, RBC helped the company prepare for a major music industry conference in Las Vegas in February 2024. “PedalPal was able to elevate its visual merchandising and branding for its display and implement e-commerce processes and procedures that didn't exist before,” said Verstad. “Little did it know, this would lead to a major celebrity endorsement. PedalPal received a live shout-out at the Oscars from renowned musician Wayne Lindsey who was using the product to perform at the event itself.”

PedalPal is one of 13 businesses that successfully graduated from its Retail Boot Camp cohort. These businesses will go on to receive six months of small-business training from TechTown. “There are a lot of barriers to starting and launching a business or helping one grow,” says Verstad. “When you have your stuff together, people take you more seriously. You're a real entity that people seek out and want to work with. It makes a difference.”

Retail Boot Camp is a Program of TechTown Detroit. Photo courtesy of TechTown Detroit and Wayne State University.Download a high-resolution version of this photo.