Bob Pickford, HCDC Business Coach & Second Act Award Winner

After spending more than a decade bringing vitality back to an Over-the-Rhine landmark as president and CEO of the nonprofit Corporation for Findlay Market,Bob Pickford is discovering other neighborhoods where his help is wanted. He’s now a business coach with HCDC Inc., the former Hamilton County Development Co.

The position takes him to the Uptown neighborhoods near the University of Cincinnati, as well as “first ring” communities such as Mount Healthy, Cheviot, North College Hill, Price Hill and Westwood. While his colleagues talk to the local business associations and development districts, Pickford goes one-on-one with individuals trying to start an enterprise, expand, relocate or develop an exit strategy.

“I like to say I work with all types of businesses, from fairy dust manufacturing to funeral homes,” the College Hill resident said.

Fairy dust? Actually, it’s appropriate that Pickford is assisting Fairy Dust Ltd., an East Price Hill maker of glittery gifts, because he sprinkled some magic in his former role.

He was the Corporation for Findlay Market’s first employee, hired a few months after the April 2001 riots in Over-the-Rhine. City Council had adopted a revitalization plan for the historic market in 1995, but funding had taken years. By the time the market’s expansion finally was complete in 2004, its occupancy rate had fallen below 50 percent.

“It was a challenge to find new businesses to move in and round out the vendor mix,” Pickford said. OTR’s population had dropped, and the construction had further weakened business. Yet Pickford and his team were able to pique curiosity.

“We discovered a vast reservoir of warmth for the market and people with some kind of connection to the neighborhood. Maybe a grandparent had lived there or taken them to the market. We were able to reposition it as a 21st-century institution at the heart of Cincinnati.”

The market achieved 100 percent occupancy in 2010. But there were growing pains along the way, especially when expanding hours. “I had a hard time imagining new businesses would be interested in opening 3½ days a week,” said Pickford, who previously operated wholesale foods businesses in Columbus.

He met resistance in persuading vendors, many of them one- or two-person operations, to open on Sunday. But it turned out to be one of the busiest days. The market is now open Tuesday-Sunday and draws more than 1 million visitors a year.

“By 2012, I felt Findlay’s revitalization had been secured,” Pickford said. He retired in January 2013. At the end of that year, HCDC called, and Pickford liked the opportunity to contribute to his city anew.

The person running a small business wears all the hats, from plumber to bill payer, Pickford said. The owners are exhausted. “For a lot, I’m an excuse to climb up above the daily battle and think about the larger picture,” he said. “I’m their daily management team.” Pickford sets priorities and puts business owners in touch with other resources, including architects, attorneys and webmasters. Thanks to a connection with the U.S. Commerce Department, Fairy Dust Ltd. now is selling its products worldwide.

Pickford, 64, encourages others looking for a post-retirement opportunity to find an inspirational team, as he did at HCDC. “More than money, success is the great feeling from being shouldered up with great people with commitment to a project,” he said.

Closer look

First act: President and CEO of the Corporation for Findlay Market

Second act: Business coach for HCDC Inc.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Cincinnati Business Courier at this link: