Wednesday, July 10, 2013

10 (More) Retail Recruitment Tips for Commercial District Managers

We are excited to see that retail recruitment efforts by commercial district entities are increasingly taking center stage as many communities master the fundamentals of clean and safe and graduate to more advanced corridor management strategies. Ask any shopping center owner and they will tell you - tenant mix is the most important single thing that attracts shoppers - and commercial districts are no different!
Demographic and market profiles, like the one shown here
for a client in Woonsocket, RI, help quantify
and communicate retail opportunistic for entrepreneurs. 
Here are some tips culled from our work and knowledge of best practices that may help demystify the retail attraction process. What can I say...this is the stuff that we know and do best! 
  1. Know what categories of retail you want and can support. It starts with knowing your customers. There is no way around doing some simple market research early on this process to avoid wasting precious time and resources chasing retailers that are not the right fit for your district. Finding out what you need might include surveys of local residents or focus groups. Additionally, it should definitely include industry accepted market data- if only to help you understand with clarity how retailers are already sizing up market opportunities.  
  2. Once you know what kind of retail you want and can support, be ruthless in connecting with every single retailer who fits both the quality and category of retail you are looking. I often suggest that BIDs form retail attraction committees to spread this work among many. Give every single member of your committee a card and make sure that they hand them out frequently. Every time a member is shopping or eating in another district, they should see it is an opportunity for them to give your organization’s card to an owner.
  3. Research and know every property owner and vacant space on the street. In some communities, absentee landlords make it difficult for a corridor manager to engage in retail leasing efforts. Consider sending certified mailings to existing absentee property owners to ensure that they have indeed received your information. Work hard to build relationships with property owners. It’s no use reaching out to a potential tenant if you don’t have space to show them! You will also find that as your retail leasing efforts gain traction, property owners will eventually warm up to you.
  4. Don’t forget about existing businesses – they are the calling card for new businesses who will inevitably use their success or failure to inform their own site selection decisions. Visit frequently with local businesses and get to know them and their needs. If local businesses need help with visual merchandising, see if you can partner with a local design school to get them support for free. Do whatever you can to demonstrate tangible ways in which you can help them grow and improve their business.
  5. Work with your anchor institutions. Do you have any local anchor institutions? Work with them to attract retail, their students are your customers after all! In many communities universities have agreed to place a campus center bookstore closer to the commercial strip, which in turn helps other local businesses.  
  6. Think local for your retail prospecting. Visit nearby neighborhoods on a regular basis – these owners are more likely to consider a community that may not be obviously desirable. Local entrepreneurs know when their customers are coming from other neighborhoods, so they might be willing to locate a new business closer to their customers.
  7. Engage local resident groups in your campaign to attract retailers. If there a particular retailer that you really want, speak to local resident groups and get them to send letters to the retailer.
  8. Offer incentives and market them. If you have a storefront improvement program, be sure to market and include that information in your retail recruitment packet. In New York, there is a program that helps restaurants expedite permitting – but many new business owners don’t know about it. BID managers that can shepherd new businesses towards this program are worth their weight in gold! Become intimately familiar with the incentive and resources available to small businesses in your community and aggressive in getting your businesses to participate and benefit from them.
  9. Be religious about keeping track of lease expiration dates (your budding relationships with property owners will help you fill in this information). Finding a potential space one to two years out is not unheard of when working with national chains. Locals may not need as much lead time, but in either case you need to know about vacancies before they occur so you can help prevent turnover a property owner from filling a vacancy with a retailer you aren't happy with. Failure to keep track of lease expiration dates is probably the most frequent cause of missed leasing opportunities. 
  10. Celebrate your success! There is nothing like a ribbon cutting ceremony to attract local press and convey the sense that the reputation of a community is changing. Sometimes, the press piece is just what will catch a local entrepreneur’s eye. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When Census Data Doesn't Cut It: 5 (Fun) Alternative Sources for Understanding Neighborhood Change

When you work in neighborhoods undergoing significant, rapid change, it helps to get a little creative with your research and data sources, especially as we move further away from the last census.

Here are some of our favorite (and fun!) tools that we use to understand what’s been happening in the communities where we work. Let us know in the comments what tools you use to understand neighborhood change.

Tracking Buzz

Yelp Wordmap
Yelp’s new Wordmap (launched yesterday!) shows density of keywords used in Yelp reviews around different cities. These maps are helpful in understanding characteristics and mix of local businesses, and the consumers in each of these neighborhoods. They may also prove useful if you’re searching for prospective retailers to bring to your community, or for businesses that are considering expanding into new markets.

They also reveal some subtle differences in clientele (Williamsburg has a density of Hipster businesses, while Park Slope and Prospect Heights are more appealing to Yuppies) and regional differences (Yelpers like to eat/review Biscuits in Portland, OR, Hoagies in Philadelphia, Dim Sum in San Francisco, Poutine in Toronto, and Bacon just about everywhere.) We hope they’ll add in a timeline feature so we can see how these clusters change over time!

Yelp Reviews that Mention "Hipster" in NYC

Google Trends
Google Trends allows you to see how, when, and how often people have been Googling different terms (since 2005). We use this to evaluate any “buzz” around a neighborhood, and to see how communities stack up against one another in terms of search popularity. See below how NYC’s five boroughs have trended over the past eight years.

(Just for fun - try putting in different parks and beaches to see how the trend lines change with the seasons.)

Understanding New Customers

LOA Lifestyle Matrix
Inspired by retail guru John Williams approach to tenant mix analysis, we’ve created the LOA Lifestyle Matrix that we use to plot both customers (using psychographic data) and retailers in a particular commercial district by Income/Price and Lifestyle. By overlaying these two data points, we can visualize fairly quickly how well stores in a particular place are meeting the needs of their community, and what consumers want (do they want an expensive trendy store like Opening Ceremony, or one that is trendy but inexpensive like Rainbow? Is this a J. Crew shopping district or a Talbot’s kind of market?). We can then identify any mismatch between offerings and customers, and use that insight to both attract the right mix of new retail, while also helping retailers adapt to neighborhood change. Even if you don’t have access to psychographic data, try creating your own matrix with census data, Yelp reviews, and other free sources.

Impact of Transit on Neighborhood Change

Annual Subway Ridership
So much of urban development is influenced by access and proximity to transit. In New York, the MTA collects annual ridership by station. Using this data, we can see where the most significant increases in ridership are happening, which can help us understand where new activity and investment is taking place and project what neighborhoods might be next.

Tracking Recent Investment and Growth

Property Shark Maps: Home Price Changes by Neighborhood (2012 vs 2004)

Property Shark maps the change in price per square foot of residential properties by neighborhood. This helps to illustrate where new investments are being made, and what neighborhoods are struggling, stagnant or soaring.

Brooklyn Price/ SqFt Changes 2012 vs 2004

Top 10 Mistakes District Managers Make

1. Staying in the office
Relationships grease the wheels of successful commercial district management. If you don't go out and meet your business owners, property owners and customers, how in the world can you serve them? How will you know how to deploy your resources most effectively to address the concerns that they have?

2. Trying to be everything to everyone
If your district were a car, what kind of car would you be? A trendy mini coop or a practical Toyota Sentry? You need to think of your district like a brand and focus your energies on delivering to your target customer - the kind of customer that makes up 80% of your base. In some cases that target customer is somewhat trendy and young, but in others that target customer is a family with young kids who is not likely going out drinking and dancing on a weekly basis. Embrace your customer and find better ways to meet their needs. Don't try to be something that you aren't.

3. Performance benchmarks? What performance benchmarks?
Failure to measure performance undermines your long term ability to leverage resources and convince naysayers of the impact of your efforts. The more you can communicate tangible improvements in your district, the more you can advocate for additional resources. Start small, show impact, win more converts...get bigger, show more impact, win more's a cycle that can repeat itself infinitely.

4. Failure to cultivate local media friends
You may be doing a wonderful job - but if nobody knows it, you've got a problem on your hands. You are a sitting duck for those who oppose your activities and are in a position to undermine your support at every level.

5. Events that undermine, or fail to generate, retail sales
I once worked with a district that held most of its events at a very nice park...two blocks from the main retail district. Not only that, but the events were held when most stores were closed. I'm not sure how this helped the downtown merchants, in fact I'm pretty sure that it didn't.

6. Mailing list? List-serve? What are those?
The most powerful contribution that you can make as a district manager is to sell your district to shoppers. In order to do that effectively you need to cultivate lists. You need to make sure you have an excellent database of shoppers and then you need to use that list effectively. These days that means not just email, but social media including Facebook and Twitter.

7. District identity crisis. Lack of a consistent brand. 
This goes along with "trying to be everything to everyone", you just can't. One major pet peeve of mine is a district that brands itself and a good place to "eat, work and play". That may be be true, but what distinguishes that from any other place.

8. A crappy, crappy website. 
Consider your website your digital business card. If you handed someone a business card that was torn, dirty and with misspellings, would you expect someone to call you for business? Outdated market information about your district, difficulty finding who to contact for more information, failure to manage and post news and information about events and activities...all of these make a website irrelevant. Unfortunately, if a crappy website is not getting much traffic,this is precisely what makes district managers think that websites don't need to be any good, because really, who's looking? It's a self-fulling prophecy.

9. Social media usage that misses the mark
The right social media strategy depends on your district identify and your customer base. You don't need to tweet extensively if your district is a convenience district where folks come to get milk and a bagel on Saturdays. But if you are a nightlife or restaurant destination, popular with younger people, building a twitter following and tweeting information about special events, time sensitive sales, and activities might be the way to go. Think of your social media strategy as a way to reach your customer - before you invest time and energy in a strategy, understand your customer and how they get information. In one community we work in, a large international population with young children makes Twitter and Facebook less important, instead we recommended that the BID partner with a local school and send notices home with school children about family-oriented events, activities and sales at local children's stores. This can be a win-win for everyone.

10. Poor PR
If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? Too often great work goes under the radar, which ultimately undermines local district promotional efforts. Good PR includes maintaining communication and sharing your successes, because success breeds success. For example, ribbon cuttings are a great way to generate PR, and also to communicate to other potential tenant prospects that your district is a great place to start a business.

I'm sure there are many more...feel free to share!