Thursday, May 31, 2012

Demystifying community-led retail attraction efforts

NYCSBS Deputy Commissioner Elizabeth DeLeon speaking at the Grand Opening of Island Salad in Brooklyn. A business attracted through support from SBS' Retail Leasing Program.
Yesterday I was excited and honored to attend the Grand Opening of Island Salad in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Island Salad is a wonderful healthy salad bar franchise with three locations in New York City. Attracting a regional independent business like Island Salad to your district, like Bed-Stuy Gateway BID did, is a wonderful accomplishment. What is even more exciting is that the process they followed is not some mystical approach to retail attraction - the process they followed can be replicated in your community.

The Gateway BID is a graduate of the New York City Department of Small Business Services (NYCSBS) NYC Retail Leasing Program. As Senior Director of Retail Attraction, I was charged with designing and exeucting the program in its first year. Over the course of eight months in 2010-2011, together with Merchantville, NJ consultants JGSC Group, we led the Gateway BID staff through a comprehensive approach to retail attraction. The approach was something I brought to SBS from my time at LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation), where in partnership with ICSC, we created a national program for community-based organizations. It was exciting and heady to apply these same principles across multiple communities in New York. Today, those investments are beginning to bear fruit - and the results are getting great coverage.

In Bed-Stuy, that includes the successful opening of Island Salad. Lisa Thompson, Deputy Director of the BID, was a participant in both the SBS program and the Coro Neighborhood Leadership Program where I also serve as Director. Both of these training programs helped reinforce the lessons on retail prospecting, and Lisa took these lessons to heart. On her sojourns to Harlem, she frequented Island Salad, getting to know the owner, even "friending" them on Facebook. She was also simultaneously beginning to develop relationships with local property owners, per our recommendations, and made sure to keep her fingers on the pulse of available properties coming onto market. The ability to connect a retailer she had cultivated with the right property was a matter of building those relationships and making the connections. It is a casebook study in how a BID should be managing tenant mix. [See Bed-Stuy Patch, "Island Salad Celebrates Grand Opening"]

Another excellent example of outcomes from the program can be found in the South Bronx, where WHEDCO participant Kerry McKlean has been able to reduce the vacancy rate by 8%, from 24%. You can read more about Kerry's efforts in this Crain's piece: "Former 'worst' area is on the mend: Shoppers and retailers rediscover Crotona Park East strip in the Bronx"

Kerry has applied the comphensive approach as well - using market data to identify opportunities, using that information to surgically go after retailers in the niche markets where she can meet three criteria - 1) consumer demand, 2) adequate space, and 3) community desire.

So, what is the approach? In a nutshell, there are four phases to the program.

Phase I. Diagnose your Market Gather data in an effort to understand your district and shoppers. This will help you develop a compelling story to share when marketing your district. That story should communicate your vision and brand clearly and concisely, while providing fact-based evidence of market demand. There are many caveats to these "facts", particularly in communities where census data does not reflect neighborhood change, or where a large office market skews residential income data.

That said, some of the most common fee-based providers of trade area market data are Esri's Business Analyst Online (BAO) and Nielsen Claritas SiteReports. We also advocate, when resource are available, collecting primary data to substantiate your case and better understand your market. Specifically, this includes comprehensive consumer surveys, which are a powerful mechanism to understand customer shopping habits. This valuable data serves as a checks and balances to census generated data. Not only that, but the specificity of the information cannot be beat.

Finally, you can't forget that ultimately, this work is about connecting retailers to available spaces. Take the time to develop an opportunity site inventory. While a comprehensive database is extremely valuable, it can be a resource trap if an exhaustive effort is made too quickly.

Phase II. Develop a Leasing Plan
Once you have your vision in place and your retail categories identified tell EVERYONE. Local business owners, property owners, brokers, etc. Communicate your Leasing Plan far and wide, market it, tell the press about it...get it out in the open.

Phase III. Generate Leads
Develop simple marketing material, identify prospects (there is a difference between prospecting for regional independents versus national retailers...), and make the call. There are subscription services to find some of this information - is one - but much of the work, particular when looking for unique smaller retailers, involves hitting the streets, networking, shopping and eating your way through competitive districts in search of good retailers.

Phase IV. Be Proactive
Once you've made the connection, be ready to help negotiations between landlords and tenants, and once a deal is inked - CELEBRATE! Preferably over good food and drink! Building buzz is an intrigal step in this process. You never know who will read about your district's success, and who in turn will contact you seeking spaces for their business concepts.

This process is a wonderful way in which communities can be proactive in their retail leasing efforts. As a consultant I am often tied up in planning and strategy, so it is always a pleasure to celebrate these wonderful outcomes!

For more information on how this retail attraction program can help your community, contact

Friday, May 18, 2012

Measuring Success

By David Feehan

David M. Feehan is CDA's newest Advisor. Feehan is the President of Civitas Consultants and former President of the International Downtown Association. Welcome David!

How do many downtown and commercial district organizations measure “success”? Not very well, in most cases.  Some report how many hours cleaning staff sweep sidewalks. Others count how many gallons of trash were collected. A few track estimated increases in the number of people attending events.

What’s wrong with tracking hours, gallons, and attendees? Candidly, it tells you very little about how successful your program is. And while it may or may not provide you with useful management information, it probably is not compelling evidence of success for business and property owners, local residents, or public officials.

While a few large BIDs in major cities do a good job of collecting and utilizing data that show the impact of what they do, many other business district management organizations, both large and small, either collect no data, collect the wrong data, or fail to use what they collect in an effective way.

Here are some examples of the kinds of information downtown organizations collect:
  • INPUTS: Number of hours spent by staff and volunteers on a particular task; number of dollars spent; number of people involved in meetings.
  • OUTPUTS: Number of gallons or pounds of trash collect collected; number of incidents of graffiti removed; number of festivals held; number of brochures produced or distributed.
  •  RESULTS: Increase in sales by merchants; reduction in vacancies along Main Street; increase in number of downtown residents; perceptions by visitors that downtown is cleaner and safer.
  •  IMPACTS: A livelier and more vibrant downtown; a more accessible downtown; a more sustainable downtown.
An additional problem: most downtown organizations don’t have a strategic plan. But if your organization doesn’t have something like a strategic plan (and it may be called by a different name) that tells where your organization is going and what it is seeking to achieve, how do you decide what to measure? And if you do make the effort to collect, analyze and distribute information, what do you measure it against?

A strategic plan should at a minimum describe a vision (what you would like your business district to look like and feel like at a future point in time); a mission (a statement of commitment by board and staff to achieve the vision); a limited set of broad goals (major elements that, when achieved, show that you are on your way to reaching your vision); measurable objectives (milestones along the way that guide you to the achievement of broader goals); strategies (descriptions of how you are going to achieve specific objectives); and tasks (the actual day-to-day work that includes specific information about who is responsible for what).

Once you know what vision you are seeking to achieve and have a strong commitment to achieving it, you need to ask yourself: How will I know if we are really getting there?

The answer: measure the right things. Impacts relate directly to your vision and mission. Results tell you if you are achieving broad goals. Outputs measure achievement of specific objectives, and inputs relate directly to strategies and tasks.

As downtown managers wrestle with tighter budgets, funders and stakeholders will increasingly demand accountability. Now would be a great time to start work on a strategic plan, and determine how you are going to measure success. Otherwise, every day is basically a crapshoot.

Note: This article summarizes a recent article I wrote for Downtown Idea Exchange.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Driving traffic and creating "ambiance" through entertainment

No doubt about it, special events drive pedestrian traffic, but the once-a-year festival does not always result in sustained visitation over the long term. These events are also time and resource intensive, and can  drain a downtown organization of the energy to take on other initiatives. An alternative approach to the once-a-year event is offering free entertainment on a regular basis that helps build your district ambiance. Ambient entertainment makes a visit to your district exciting and a place to visit - not just for the stores. Ambient entertainment encourages visitors to your district to linger, and the longer they stay, the more they window-shop, browse, and ultimately spend. In one community I visit frequently, local businesses have come to depend on the regular evening bocci tournaments that drive visitors. The pure joy of going to buy an ice cream and watch the old Italian men play bocci with my son in tow is one of my favorite summer activities. 

As you consider ways to drive pedestrian traffic in your district, consider opportunities for both sanctioned and unsanctioned ambient entertainment, and take care to ensure that the entertainment you are offering is in line with the clientele likely to patronize local businesses. 

With that, here are some of my favorite examples of ambient entertainment. Enjoy!

The Carousel in Bryan Park, NY is maintained by a local Business Improvement District. 

The twice-hourly light shows in Grand Central Station, NY make it a must-visit stop for residents and visitors alike, who then can't help but eat and shop in local stores! 

More from Grand Central....

Sidewalk artists are a great way to get people walking on the street...this community created a sidewalk artist competition. 

My favorite...bocci at "Spagetti Park" in Corona, Queens. An ice cream goes perfectly with a stop by the courts to see the men in action. 

Portrait artists are fun to watch, even if you don't buy!

Fanieul Hall, in Boston, MA takes street performers seriously!

Tango performers in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In a city known for tango, this ambient entertainment is a perfect fit with the city's brand. 

Acrobats in action, Washington Square Park, NY

Friday, May 4, 2012

Outdoor dining regulations - are they helping or hurting your downtown efforts?

From Lombard, IL come some enlightened efforts  to support outdoor dining as a way to further spur downtown revitalization. [Daily Herald, "Lombard waives outdoor dining fees fordowntown eateries"]

The changes were the result of a request by the Lombard Town Centre Executive Director. After some discussion, town Trustees "agreed to waive the fee for downtown eateries seeking outdoor dining permits for this summer and to remove the requirement that a meal must be provided with all alcoholic beverages served outside." 

I have worked in a number of communities that are hesitant to make changes or to simplify their outdoor dining regulations for fear that adults drinking (without food service) will result in loud and perhaps somewhat raucous activity. Yet inadvertently, these regulations often end up hurting downtown revitalization efforts by keeping exciting activity and energy out of sight and out of mind. Communities sometimes forget that there are ways to control and regulate outdoor drinking - and it was nice to see Lombard seek out these reasonable solutions. 

The new rules are as follows: "Under the new regulations, outdoor dining hours cannot last longer than an eatery's indoor hours and must end by 12:30 a.m. after Sunday through Thursday nights and 1:30 a.m. after Friday and Saturday nights. Music provided for outdoor diners must end by 10:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and by 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday."

For communities concerned about allowing outdoor drinking without food, these regulations might offer an interesting alternative to a ban on outdoor drinking without food service.