Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What a Pittsburgh CDC can teach you about improving your retail mix

BEFORE: The space had been vacant for 5 years.
Photo courtesy of Google Maps. 
How do you find a retailer to fill a specific niche in your community. Well, at least one answer is as simple as it sounds - tell people! I recently visited Mount Washington, a community in Pittsburgh, PA known for its scenic and incredible view of the Pittsburgh skyline. In 2009, the local community organization, Mount Washington CDC, conducted community survey as a way to better understand the kinds of retail that residents wanted and needed. The idea was that the survey would inform their retail recruitment efforts. The survey confirmed what they had heard anecdotally, residents wanted the basics, including a hardware store, a bakery and a souvenir shop. Coupled with market data that confirmed the viability of these uses, the CDC set about sharing their survey findings in their neighborhood newsletter, "On the Mount". In addition to the survey findings, they also used the opportunity to ask the community if they knew of anyone who wanted to start a bakery in the neighborhood. 
Grandview Bakery, a great addition to Mount Washington

Calling all Bakers!
Lo and behold, Vickie Pisowicz, a resident, former baker and businesswoman was reading the newsletter - and the announcement caught her eye. Vicki has previously co-owned a bakery and was ready to get back in the game. She called Chris Beichner, Executive Director of MWCDC, in June of 2010 and they started a conversation. At the same time, Chris had developed relationships with property owners in the district and was poised to show her vacant spaces that met her needs. He was also prepared to help her take advantage of incentives available to start small businesses - including programs offered by the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority. One included a $2,000 contribution towards design layout services, as well as grant funds from the City's Storefront Renovation Program. The design layout was really crucial because the space they finally found was a bit larger than she needed. The larger space required Vickie to change her business plan to include a party room and the sale of bakery supplies. MWCDC also connected Vicki with local restaurants, many of whom gave her contracts to bake for them. 

In October of 2011, Grandview Bakery opened it's door to the public with a bang. Vickie estimates that 90% of her early customers where residents - and her first few days the lines were out the door. As they move into the first tourist season, she is now poised to welcome some of the more than 1 million visitors to venture up the incline to take in the amazing view.
[For more: Grandview Bakery and Sweet Shop opens in Mount Washington, Pop City Media, Oct. 2011]

So what are the lessons learned here? 

  • Use your survey data - what good is a survey if you don't share your findings. So don't be shy to tell people about your findings! In Mount Washington they put the findings in a newsletter, but you should also take the show on the road, so speak. Speak to your local chamber of commerce, ask for meetings with property owners, host a "broker breakfast" and tell your local brokerage community. The more people you can tell about what you are looking for, the more likely a prospect will hear about you and call you. And don't forget to cultivate the media too!
  • Flashy marketing brochures aren't always necessary. The proof is in the pudding. Or should I say "cupcake"? Bad pun. 
  • Use the communication tools at your disposal - newsletters, email list-serves, etc. These tools are invaluable to you. So use them. And don't forget to take the time to build your mailing and email lists. One of your tasks as an organization should always be to grow your distribution lists. Include brokers, property owners and business owners in addition to local residents.  
  • Cultivate relationships with property owners and/or their brokers so that you can connect them with tenants. What good is having tenants who want spaces if you can't show them viable vacancies?
  • Know about any and all incentives and be prepared to connect local business owners with the resources available to them. Many cities offer matching grants and other business services. Make it your job to know about these resources and cultivate relationships with the organizations that offer these services, so when you make the call asking them to help they are ready to do so. 
MWCDC is an excellent example of how, by applying these basic principles, you can succeed in attracting the retail that your community needs and wants. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Lesson Learned: The Most Common Streetscape Improvement Mistake

Streetscape improvements are a common and popular way to spruce up a retail district. Sidewalks, curbs, trees, landscaping, etc....the idea is that these improvements will result in a more attractive and welcoming environment for visitors, shoppers, and ultimately businesses. This kind of improvement is relatively easy. Infrastructure money can often be wrestled from Federal and State sources, and the visible improvements are always a favorite of local elected officials, who can often be counted on to contribute additional dollars. So what is wrong with this scenario? Win, win, right?

A new brick sidewalk in Kansas City, KA. Vacancies remain.
If only that were the case. Organizations intent on improving the downtown streetscape should heed this word of warning...avoid installing brick sidewalks and pavers. Communities are increasingly turning away from this once popular option, citing slip and fall lawsuits, on-going maintenance challenges, and increasingly the recognition that brick sidewalks are insignificant to the shopper experience. Consider Salem, MA, where they are actually pulling and paving the brick sidewalks that were installed in the 1990's after complaints from businesses ["Salem pulling, paving downtown brick crosswalks"]. Shoppers want a clean environment, and well maintained concrete sidewalks, for instance, are just as effective not to mention less expensive and easier to maintain. Now THAT is a win, win.