Monday, March 30, 2009

The Commercial District Advisor is now on Facebook!

Become our 'friend' on Facebook and get easy updates of our newest blog entries, events, updates, and connect with colleagues and friends in the field. It's easy, simply search for 'The Commercial District Advisor' and click on 'Become a Fan'. And viola! You're in the know!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's Not Just About Neighborhood Pride: Murals Prevent Graffiti AND Drive Retail Sales

Graffiti covered walls and trash strewn streets are not exactly the most attractive additions to your commercial district. But then sometimes the remedy is not much more attractive than the original problem. We recently toured a commercial district in downtown Newark, NJ and talked to businesses who have given up on the painting and repainting necessary to keep graffiti in check. To make matters worse, the paint jobs are sometimes a mish-mash of different paint colors that look messy, and while an improvement, still communicate a not so positive message about the district to shoppers.

A Better Method - Murals!
The verdict is in - and we now know without a doubt that there is a better way. Neighborhood murals not only prevent graffiti, but are good for local business. A 2008 study by E-Consult, among the most comprehensive of it's kind, looked at 265 commercial corridors in the City of Philadelphia and found a positive correlation between corridor success (as measured by retail sales) and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Murals have an amazing way of creating neighborhood pride, building a neighborhood identity - and more so than a temporary paint fix - are well respected by neighbors who become their unofficial stewards and protectors. The need to paint over the same wall again and again and again is often a thing of the past.

Engaging youth in this effort is another powerful way to work towards long-term graffiti prevention. One Washington D.C. non-profit is doing just that. The Latin American Youth Center Art + Media House partners with local artists to create murals that brighten up the community. Tim Gibbons is a local artist who helped facilitate a group of 14 youth this past summer brighten up a cement wall...see more of the wonderful results here on his blog. Certainly an improvement, and a lesson learned that engaging youth in this effort can accomplish multiple goals - the least of which might just be an improvement in retail sales for local businesses.

Friday, March 27, 2009

FREE Webinar: Navigating ICSC's ReCon, April 2nd

Mark your calendars--ICSC is hosting a FREE webinar for public officials (this can include nonprofits) on how to navigate the ICSC ReCon dealmaking convention--see bottom of this post for details.

If you're not familiar with the jargon I'm throwing out here, ICSC stands for the International Council of Shopping Centers and it is the primary trade association for the retail industry. Major retailers, developers, brokers, mall and lifestyle center administrators all belong and if you're working on revitalizing your commercial district you should consider joining too.

Larisa and I are active members in ICSC. Why? Because while we in the commercial revitalization community are dealing with fundamentally more complexities that mall managers might deal with (read: crime, the need to coordinate multiple property owners instead of one) there are a lot of retailing concepts that those in the shopping center industry have spent years and years refining that we can apply to our work. ICSC offers a special nonprofit and public sector membership rate.

Every year ICSC puts on dealmaking exchanges where retailers, brokers and property owners can meet up discuss deals. The largest of these events is the ReCon event which takes place annually each May in Las Vegas, NV. Last year, Larisa and I helped five nonprofit organizations across the country prepare for and attend an ICSC dealmaking exchange in partnership with ICSC's Community Affairs division. We were told that one of the most useful sessions presented as part of this process was how to navigate the floor of an ICSC dealmaking exchange like ReCon--now is your chance to attend a similar webinar.

While we all know that now is maybe not the hottest time for 'dealmaking' (a lot of us are figuring out how to *retain* who we've got--see Larisa's earlier post on 12 Tips for a Recession Proof Commercial District !), it doesn't hurt to continue educating ourselves on these concepts so when the economy turns around, we're ready to make a good impression with retailers.


Space is limited! Reserve your Webinar seat now at

2009 could prove to be a year of opportunity and attending ICSC's RECON and maximizing your effectiveness is more important than ever. Preparation is the key to success. Learn tips to make the most of your trip to Las Vegas and be prepared when you meet with some of the more than 30,000 developers, brokers and retailers that will be in attendance. This webinar will offer public officials effective retail recruitment strategies. A panel of experts will share experience and advice during this one hour webinar. All you need is a PC, a phone and a web connection to participate. REGISTRATION IS FREE -- your only cost is the expense of a phone call.

The panel discussion will include:
- Making use of ICSC resources
- Identifying the right retailers to approach
- The top ten "know before you go" tips

Date: Thursday, April 2, 2009
Time: 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT

After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

If you have questions, please contact Cynthia Stewart, Director of Community Relations,
International Council of Shopping Centers, at 864-968-9324 or

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows(R) 2000, XP Home, XP Pro, 2003 Server, Vista
Macintosh(R)-based attendees
Required: Mac OS(R) X 10.3.9 (Panther(R)) or newer

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Learning from Starbucks - remaining competitive during these difficult times...

Love 'em or hate 'em, Starbucks has made a name among commercial district professionals as a bellwether retailer along many of our commercial corridors. Well, these days Starbucks is suffering, and in many cases so are our commercial districts. In response, Starbucks is tweaking and evolving its retail model to remain competitive during these difficult economic times..and there is a lot we can learn from their efforts.

If you've been into Starbucks lately, you know they are working hard to combat their luxury image. They have been particularly sensitive to the perception (encouraged by their competitors) that all of their offerings are $4 or more. As a result, they have begun to bundle breakfast options to compete with Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's...two retailers benefiting as folks trade down. I pulled a few additional key 'lessons learned' from a recent NY Times article (Starbucks Addresses the Price Issue, and Breakfast - New York Times, March 2, 2009) that covers some of the strategies that Starbucks is employing....strategies that suggest a set of fundamental principles we can also apply to our commercial districts.
  • Diversify your revenue. These days, Starbucks is looking to increase its breakfast sales - not a traditional source of revenue for the store. But this also allows them to be more competitive with other retailers who are offering breakfast options with coffee. Are your local retailers carrying merchandise that meets the changing needs of customers? Are goods languishing on shelves? If your local merchants had the right information about customer needs and wants, would they consider diversifying their merchandise offerings if they know there is demand for it?
  • Adjust menus to highlight more affordable options, or consider bundling items for sale. Starbucks is doing this by bundling breakfast sandwiches and coffee for under $4, but your businesses can also do this. Bundling gives customers a sense that they are getting more value for their dollar. For example, a small gift stores can create gift baskets out of discrete merchandise.
  • Maintain your core customer, but find ways to increase visitation from customers that visit less often. The Starbucks strategy - one that emphasises value - aims to increase visitation from customers who visit once a month or less. This customer is more concerned about price-point, which may be different from their regular customers, but just as important.
  • Survey your customers. Starbucks did this by asking customers to record their breakfast eating habits for two weeks. This information led them to develop breakfast options that prioritized healthy options with 'enough protein to fill them up until lunchtime'. You can do this by conducting a customer intercept survey in your district and sharing your findings with local merchants.
Applying some of these basic principles may help your local businesses generate additional revenue...and these days, every penny counts.