Friday, September 23, 2016

Do you have what it takes to lead a commercial district or downtown organization?

At this years International Downtown Association (IDA) annual conference I had a chance to sit in on a session on recent IDA report on "High Performing Distict CEO's". The report is part of a deep dive research effort by IDA, DHR International (a national placement firm), and Somerville Partners, Inc. (a leadership consulting firm). I attended the session because I have seen the challenges associated with managing urban districts - and have seen how difficult it can be to find the right person to lead an organization whose job is to lead and manage change. Panelists David Smith and Martita Mestéy gave an excellent presentation on the qualities of a CEO - I noted that many people in the audience were furiously taking notes!

The report itself is a fascinating analysis of leading CEO's throughout the nation. Fifty leaders in downtown management were asked to participate in a detailed online self-assessment instrument designed to identify leadership styles. The analysis then looked at CEO's with different staffing levels, budget sizes and CEO experience. While the entire report is worth a read (click here to download), what I found quite interesting was the comparison between CEO's running large organizations and those running medium-sized organizations.

Does size matter? 
In a nutshell, the answer is yes. Those running large organization's were more likely to collaborate with partners, rather than be the sole driver of major downtown initiatives. This made alot of sense to me, in part because the urban ecosystems associated with BIDs in large cities are likely more comlicated and therefore require partnerships to make progress.  These CEO's were also more "distant" over friendly or "succoriant" - perhaps reflecting the need for a professional and distant demeanor in a big city environment. They were also more generally focsed on the "big picture" and more likely to delegate work than CEO's from smaller mid-sized organizations.

CEO from mid-sized organizations, on the other hand, were often more "free-wheeling", prefering to wing it over establishing order. My guess is that bigger budgets require more systems in place to manage funds and activities. It takes a different kind of person to keep these systems humming. Mid-sized CEO's were also less "traditional minded" and more into the details when implementing projects, perhaps because a smaller staff means less opportunities to delegate?

In both cases however, high performing CEO's were flexible and creative in their approaches. Downtown management after all is a challenging field, requiring partnerships with a variety of actors over whom the CEO has no control. Succeeding in this environment at any level requires an ability to main interpersonal relationships and stay focused on a goal with persistance.

The report is available for download free to IDA members and $75 for non-members.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Round Up: Community-Run Commercial Space, City Power, Crowdfunding Green Space, NYC Kiosks Makeover, Detroit Small Business Growth

The Quest for Community-Run Commercial Space
England has pubs,  Paris has bookstores, so why can't New York City have state-sanctioned commercial spaces in an era of high commercial vacancy, especially in lower Manhattan, and shuttering of stores that are intricate to the cultural fabric of the city. The Real Estate Investment Cooperative steps in where the city is slow to form a plan.



Cities are powering the rebound in national income growth
For the most part we have recently seen headlines regarding a national income rebound. Much of the economic drive comes from US's thriving city economies.



Greening Urban Space through Crowdfunding
This a quick and simple example of using the power of community to green an urban space. Crowdfunding is not totally new but this short article sheds light on its usefulness to update a small derelict parcel of land for community enjoyment.


Free Wi-Fi Kiosks Were to Aid New Yorkers. An Unsavory Side Has Spurred a Retreat.
A new accessory to the streets of NYC has gone awry. These multifunctional units came to replace the underused or unusable pay telephones on the street but apparently came with too much functionality as people have begun to basically spend hours on end at them. This new NYC streetscape feature had good intentions and will be modified to ensure that those intentions are met for good. How is your district meeting technological needs?


Detroit Small Businesses Get Room to Grow
Grant money is giving Detroit business owners chance to grow. Does your city offer similar funding sources to help the entrepreneurial drive?  Big gains were noted in a follow up article "Entrepreneurship Fund Touts Big Gains for Metro Detroit."


Outdoor Seating: Recent Trends and Insights

Outdoor seating is an increasingly popular way to activate streetscapes and encourage economic development in neighborhood commercial districts. Outdoor seating has the capacity to attract more patrons by blurring the boundary between inside and out and bringing vibrancy to streets and commercial corridors.  Furthermore, it expands seating capacity for businesses and reinforces the image of a thriving downtown.

This London restaurant added removable planters to separate eating and circulation areas

During our work at LOA we have met many business owners who have shared with us the benefits that adding outdoor seating have brought to their businesses.  In fact, recent research by the Simons Advisory Group has shown that a simple deck or patio can increase revenue by up to 30 percent. What is it about outdoor seating that has such a large effect on customers? There are many factors involved, most of which revolve around comfort. Some people say that an outdoor dining experience makes the food taste fresher and better. Others simply enjoy gazing at the view as they share a meal with friends or family. Below are some recent trends*.

Sidewalk seating

One of the easiest ways to offer customers the joys of an open-air dining experience is to add a sidewalk dining area with a few comfortable sets of tables and chairs that match the restaurant’s theme. Sidewalk seating gives lots of flexibility, too. During lunchtime, diners will appreciate a casual dining experience as they watch pedestrians or sip a cold beverage while they enjoy the shade. At night, candles or umbrella lighting can make the atmosphere more intimate and create an attractive display for onlookers to enjoy. 

The added seating outside this bakery have brought vibrancy and liveliness to this section of Broadway, NYC



Rooftop dining

What if the business doesn’t have the space to expand outward? In these instances, many restaurateurs are instead choosing to expand upwards. From London to New York, diners everywhere are talking about rooftop eateries. Why? Because the bird’s-eye view allows them to take in beautiful city skylines or wide-open landscapes as they dine.




Dining in the garden

One of the industry’s hottest trends is farm-to-table food, and it’s a trend that is easily combined with outdoor dining. To take advantage of this trend, it’s less about the space — a sidewalk, deck, patio or rooftop — and more about what you grow in it. Some restaurants are landscaping their outdoor dining areas with the same fruits and vegetables that they’re serving their customers. With the addition of a few raised beds, you can create a wonderfully relaxing environment for your guests while growing some of the lettuce, tomatoes, peppers and other fruits and vegetables that you’ll be serving.


 Inspired? As a downtown district practitioner you can (and should!) encourage the trend:
  • Consider a program for helping local business owners navigate permit process and even a grant to offset their initial costs (i.e. to help with design services, or outdoor furniture, etc.)
  • Help with expediting the process. Nearly all municipalities require some sort of outdoor dining permit so consider creating a simple guide to the permitting process or providing individual guidance to business owners.  
  • Track the number of establishments with outdoor seating and share their success with other business owners. This could inspire many others to join the trend.



*Based on trends by Jeff Caldwell written for http://www.fastcasual.com



Tuesday, September 13, 2016

IDA Atlanta: A Few Takeways

We came back from IDA Atlanta inspired with the exciting panels we had the opportunity to attend. For those who missed the conference (and the fun!) here are some key takeaways:


The rise of mid-tier cities – millennials are moving back to mid-tier cities attracted by real estate affordability and quality of life.  Some lessons learned:

  •       Yes, millennials are moving back but they want to see positive change if they are to stay. They not only want to see those cities improving, but they want to be part of the change. Cities willing to attract (and especially retain) this population need to provide avenues for active civic engagement (and not just events).
  •       Walkability and the availability of multiple transportation options are the main factors attracting residents and businesses downtown.
  •       Availability of retail (eating establishments as well as stores) within walking distance of work is an amenity increasingly valued by employees and employers alike. Thus, investing in downtown commercial corridors, making them walkable and vibrant, is a necessary economic development strategy for those cities willing to attract the young skilled labor force (of the not so distant future).

Vibrancy is an economic development engine, but in districts with an active nighttime activity it is fundamental to balance the needs of customers and nearby residents. Some lessons learned:

  •       After complaints from residents, Edmonton installed urinals and found that over 500 people used them every night. With that information in hand, local commercial district practitioners were able to successfully advocate for the installation of public restrooms. 
  •        Night transportation is a problem.  In many cities public transit stops service before restaurants and bars close, forcing people to rely on automobiles. In many nighttime areas, traffic becomes a problem, with all the taxis, ubers and lyfts parking around to pick up customers. To address this problem, Austin created designated places for taxis and car service companies with strong enforcement.
  •       The creation of a local Hospitality Business Association (or Committee) is a first step towards establishing better interactions between businesses and local communities. Having open meetings between the association and community members allows for constant communication and having issues addressed before they become a problem. 
  •       A successful example includes the creation of local Community Court programs that allow people who commit low-level misdemeanors to avoid a criminal record if they complete community service and pay a smaller fine. The service typically ranges from clean up to graffiti removal events. The Beach Area Community Court in Pacific Beach has had an acceptance rate of 88% (of offenders accepting to participate in the program) and reports a recidivism rate of less than 5%.


      Civic engagement is no longer an option -  it is a must in creating more authentic and inclusive revitalization initiatives. Some of the main challenges include avoiding narrow interests to hijack the public dialogue, including the voices of the typically missing groups (minorities), and maintaining public trust in the process and the players. Some ideas and tools to address these challenges include:

  •       One way to generate meaningful participation includes the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach by focusing (and valuing) on what is working in the district, analyzing why it is working and fostering more of it. The basic tenet of AI is that a district(or organization) will grow in whichever directions the people in the district focus their attention.
  •      One way to reach people that are typically absent from the discussion is to bring the questions (the process) where they are and at the times that they are there (i.e. engage local students and have them interview their elders; bring the project to a local coffee shop, or the farmers market, and ask only one or two questions to make sure more people participate).
Some interesting engagement tools include:
Liberating Structures is an engagement model that facilitates relational coordination and trust. It consists of microstructures that foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone. The website has a menu with 34 structures on how groups can organize interactions and work together in multiple ways.  

Neighborland is a platform that allows civic leaders to collaborate with local communities in an accessible and participatory way. It does that by integrating on-site and online community feedback within the project website and allowing for continual feedback and online discussions.

MetroQuest is a community engagement software designed to educate communities and collect informed input in a short period of time. Participants can see the impact of their choices in real time and learn alternatives and tradeoffs based on their own priorities.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Enhancing Business Visibility: Six Tips for Producing Effective Retail Signage

It is well know that visibility is a key factor to retail success. Quality signage can be an easy and effective tool to make sure passersby see (and perhaps enter) business establishments. An effective signage not only shows customers where businesses are, but it also communicates their brand and identity and can be a powerful tool shaping overall corridor and district perception.

While it’s clear that signage is an essential tool to operating a successful retail establishment, there are many factors that must be considered when developing an appropriate signage strategy. Below are six tips to have these in mind when working with local businesses in facade improvement or district beautification efforts.

Example of clear and visible signage (note that despite being on the window, the signage did not obstruct views to inside the store)

Tip 1: Focus on Customer Experience

At the most basic level, retail signage has one purpose: to communicate with the customer. Businesses should prioritize this goal above all others when developing retail signage. After all, what’s the point of a sign if the public can’t understand the message around it? There are several ways to improve the customer experience.

Make sure businesses signage have appropriate size and placement. If signs are too big your district might end up overwhelming customers. If wrongly placed, signage might not be seen or might block another business signage, generating conflict and visual confusion for customers.


Analyze the district with fresh eyes. One of the best ways is to walk your district like a customer. Be honest about what works and what doesn’t. What’s easy to find, and what is missing? Are the signs easy to understand, or are they jumbled or confusing?

Tip 2: Think About Location, Location, Location

Sign placement can seem deceptively simple, but there are many important elements to consider. Of course a sign needs to be placed in an appropriate location where it can be seen, interpreted and ultimately drive consumer action. But what else do you need to consider? For exterior signage, make sure businesses place it where it can be seen by as many passersby—on foot and in vehicles--as possible. Consider factors like glare, and what might block it (parked cars? Delivery trucks? Hot dog cart?) at different times of the day or week. Effectively placed, businesses will have a guaranteed presence worth far more than the cost of the sign installation. As an expert marketer put it: “You pay for your signs once, and they work for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” (Bang 2011)

This creative signage spruces up the store entrance and reinforces the business identity as an antique store


Tip 3: Check out the Competition

Do your homework and check out other stores signage, especially the ones you admire. They don’t have to be in your district.  Pay attention and consider whether it’s a good model for the businesses in your district. By benchmarking other businesses (and districts), you just may discover something that you should do—or even not do—in your own district.


Tip 4: Get the Look Right

Once the type and placement of signage is established, it’s time to make sure the messaging looks professional and well-designed. There are some basic graphic design rules that should always be followed. “Be consistent with the feature lines, price, size, color, and fonts so the customer’s eyes can easily scan the sign. Allow for plenty of white space, keep the font simple, be sure the text is balanced and proportional and consider using bullets. Highlight words in bold or by using a different color. Avoid using all capital letters, which makes it difficult to read.” (DS 2006)

Color choices are also critical. Even a sign that looks nice and professionally designed from an aesthetic perspective may not be as readable as it needs to be in a retail environment. Using contrasting colors in the font and background is highly recommended. The most visible colors are black, white and red for the text, and these should be printed over backgrounds that are as opposite as possible. For example, white text on a black background, or red type over a yellow background can improve readability. Backgrounds that are nearly the same color as text can render signs nearly unreadable.

Tip 5: Be Clear and Keep it Simple

Clear, compelling messaging is what sets apart great signage from mediocre. Different signage has specific goals, and when a retailer can convey these distinct messages in a way that is clear, informative, and above all, still on brand, that business is going to be more competitive. Informative signage such as directional signage must be concise and readable to enable users to understand the message with a split-second glance.

Good quality signage doesn't require expensive materials. With simple paint is possible to have attractive and efficient signs.

Tip 6: Make Quality a Priority

Given that all business owners know how critical it is to inspire trust in their customers, it’s surprising how many stumble at producing well-made, error-free signage. And it doesn’t have to be this way. Creating quality signage is an easy and inexpensive way to cultivate that trust. “Signs will convey your authority and attention to detail. Make sure they are clear and accurate every time. Poorly printed signs, misspelled words and other inaccuracies can erode your credibility.” (Kinsella 2012)


Simplicity is key.  To be effective, signage must be easy to read. As some experts warn us: "Some signs are so full of tiny images, starbursts, exclamation marks, and small print, that you can’t take it all in.” (Inspire 2013).


Blade signs are a very effective way to capture pedestrians’ attention. The signs above are simple, straight to point and very effective in communicating what these businesses are about.



Works Cited/Referenced:
Business 2 Community. 5 Ways for Retailers to Drive Sales Using Digital Signage. 2012. Source Link
DS Marketing Solutions. Retail Signage…Tips for Increasing Sales & Service. 2006. Source Link
Foxfire. How to Start Using Retail Signage. Source Link
Inspire Retail Solutions. How to Create Effective Retail Signs. 2013. Source Link
John Kinsella. IGC Retailer. Powerful Signage Promotes Your Brand. 2012. Source Link
Kevin Johnston. Demand Media. Rules for Effective Retail Signage. Source Link
Bang Advertising. Why Exterior Signage Provides the Best ROI for Retailers. 2011. Source Link

http://www.signsbytomorrow.com/custom-retail-signage


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Retailer Spotlight of the Month: Junior's


A classic American-style restaurant, Junior's is known as the home of New York's best cheesecake. Since the 1950’s, Junior’s has been famous for great food, great fun, great service, and, of course, great cheesecake. They have a loyal customer base that comes from all over and all walks of life. With three thriving locations in New York City, the restaurant recently announced its decision to share its famous cheesecake (and its full menu ranging from steaks to seafood and sandwiches) with the rest of the country.  

Price Point: Affordable


Target Market:  Families and workers looking for American comfort food




History


Founded by Harry Rosen in 1950, Junior's landmark restaurant is known as the home of New York's best cheesecake. For decades, Brooklynites (and other New Yorkers) have gone to Junior’s to eat, laugh, and kibbtiz (argue) over cheesecake.


Over time, the restaurant became a very popular destination. In 1973 Junior’s cheesecake received a raved review from Ron Rosenbaum of The Village Voice saying that “There will never be a better cheesecake than the cheesecake they serve at Junior’s… it’s the best cheesecake in the material world.” That same year, New York Magazine conducted a blind taste test and rated Junior’s the best cheesecake in the New York. Since then, their cheesecake has won several accolades and awards including the "Best Overall Mailorder Cheesecake" from the Wall Street Journal and Best Food Gift NY from People Magazine. Junior’s popularity has attracted famous mayors, presidents, Hall of Fame athletes, authors, singers, movie stars and many more who have stopped by to try their famous cheesecake.

Alan Rosen with President Obama and Mayor Bill DeBlasio at Junior's

Expansion Plans

The restaurant is actively looking for additional locations to expand. With three NYC locations (in Brooklyn on Flatbush Avenue, in New York’s Grand Central Terminal and in the theater district on Broadway in Times Square), one at Foxwood’s Casino in Connecticut (just opened last summer) and another to open this fall in Boca Raton, Florida, third-generation owner Alan Rosen reports additional expansion plans at strategic locations, especially in places like Miami and Las Vegas and high-profile neighborhoods in well-established cities.

Inside Junior's Times Square location


Site Requirements: Looking for big-format locations (ranging 8,000 square feet)


Contact Info:

386 Flatbush Avenue 
Brooklyn, New York 11201
718-852-5257
info@juniorscheesecake.com

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

What is the secret to a sustainble neighborhood economic development strategy? Start by understanding regional market trends and clusters

This here is a cautionary tale about good intentions gone awry. ("Cuomo's $15 Million High-Tech Film Studio? It's a Flop", NYTimes, 8/22) The story starts innocently enough. The goal was to create jobs in an area with a struggling economy. In this case the State of New York invested $15 million in the creation of a high-tech film studio. The idea was to "build a sustainable film industry in Central New York from the ground up" according to this press release.

But there is a problem. Economic development simply does not work like this.  "If you build it they will come" is largely a myth. Creating jobs, much less building an industry from scratch, is more often than not a fool's errand. A viable economic development approach must therefore be rooted in local opportunities, strengths and market reality. In many cases, it means being on the look out for industry clusters that have already deemed the market suitable. This is about developing a strategy that rests on improving the business environment for an existing industry cluster--a much easier lift than starting from scratch. While the cluster approach is not new (it is embedded within a long history of market-based economic development planning synonymous to many with Prof. Michael Porter) it unfortunately remains mysteriously absent from major public or non-profit led economic development decision-making strategies. And I'm not alone in thinking this. The Brookings Institute recently released a great paper, which I wrote about a few months ago, entitled "Remaking Economic Development" that made the point about clusters precisely, "Economic development should prioritize building strong business ecosystems for core industries, improving the productivity of firms and people, and facilitating trade— the market foundations from which growth, prosperity, and inclusion emerge."

So why all this discussion about regional economic trends and clusters? Aren't we talking about neighborhoods? Well, without the region there is no neighborhood economy. So when it comes to developing a viable neighborhood economic development strategy we need to next these efforts within a larger regional market. This means identifying industries that are already making a go of the opportunities and competitive advantages of an area, from a skilled labor force to critical infrastructure to the presence of complimentary firms. These are all the factors that enable a business to generate profit. Consider the unique local factors that led Hershey to build his factory in Pennsylvania--proximity to lots and lots of cows who produce milk, the main commodity in milk chocolate. Or why Detroit's auto industry has stuck it out in Detroit--there exist a cluster of suppliers, manufacturers, distributions, researchers, etc. that are quite difficult to move and replicate elsewhere. Putting these clusters on a more aggressive growth trajectory, whereby they are able to lower costs, grow profits, hire more people and fill more vacant real estate space is the opportunity that we have in our urban neighborhoods.

A study commissioned by Indianapolis LISC
offers insight into how a local
non-profit can tap regional economic trends to
build a real estate investment and job
growth strategy in low-income urban neighborhoods. 
The Indianapolis chapter of the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC) is helping lead an effort of this kind by commissioning an report that served as a guide for industrial investment strategies in urban places. The findings? Three clusters showed "particular promise and a competitive edge for Indianapolis...Food Manufacturing and Distribution, Business to Business (B2B) and Technology." The recommendations offer the beginning of a road map for how LISC, one of the nation's largest CDFI's, can help grow industry clusters through targeted, place-based real investments. Some notable recommendations include supporting feasibility analysis for industrial buildings and developing accessible expertise around site selection, industrial building re-use and conversion.

Another approach is helping to absorb build out costs for the kinds of capital investments necessary for the Food Manufacturing Cluster. Ensuring space can accomodate enhanced refrigeration and electrical loads, or can support high-quality processing and distribution all while maintaining high health and safety standards requires a site by site analysis to determine feasibility and any gap financing needed to make a project viable.

The solutions aren't always easy - in some cases they involve developing regional working groups that will open lines of communication between the public and private sectors to guide and inform investment and policy initiatives over time. As it turns out, engaging a broad spectrum of private sector partners and ground-truthing potential public investments might have made a difference between a great New York Times piece and an embarrassing one.