Friday, October 25, 2013

5 Ideas for Building Your List of Retail Prospects

So you want to attract new retailers to your commercial district. Perhaps you've done a market study already, and if so, you're off to a great start. But how do you take that study and run with it?

A few months back we posted some strategies in Retail Recruitment 101: Tips for Identifying Potential Tenants. Here are a five more to get you started.

1. Invite a tenant rep to come on a tour of your district.
Buy them a coffee (or channel your inner Don Draper and opt for a cocktail if you're looking to attract bars and restaurants) and take them on a walk through the district. Plan ahead - let a few retailers know you're coming by and ask them to say a few words about (how great it is) doing business there. Coordinate with property owners or brokers so that your guest can tour a few spaces that are available. Once you're done, send them off with marketing materials to share with their clients.

2. “E-prospect” 
You don't have to buy a subscription to an expensive database to find prospects online. Here are some free and easy things to try:
  • Search Yelp for businesses with good reviews in similar neighborhoods. Popular shops may be ready to open up another location. 
  • Read blogs and papers (and follow them on Facebook) to find out about new store openings and expansions. 
  • Set Google email alerts to track specific stores and brokers.
3. Visit "like" districts.
Go to a commercial district that has similar customers. Browse, eat, and while you're at it, take photos and notes on stores that would fit nicely in your neighborhood. Strike up a conversation with a few business owners if you can. Find out if they're looking to expand and invite them to come on a tour of your corridor.

4. Consider attending an ICSC event 
The International Council of Shopping Centers has networking events all the time, all over the world. The big ones are Dealmaking in Las Vegas in May and in NYC in December. If you want to find tenant reps or national retailers, that's where they'll be.

5. Be persistent
If you want to get on a retailer or broker's radar, mailing a brochure probably won't be enough. Send your marketing materials, include a customized letter, follow up with an email and then give them a call. If you throw enough mud, eventually something will stick!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pop-Up Stores: Here to Stay?

Online retailer Etsy opened its first pop-up store
over the 2013 holidays in Brooklyn, NY 
Furniture retailer Crate and Barrel is now doing temporary pop-up stores? Yes, in fact, they are. In Las Vegas, C&B recently leased 6,700 sf in a local mall for a temporary showroom. Keep in mind that their typical stores run between 25,000 sf to 30,000 sf or more. According to the retailer, these small temporary stores help them "test the market" and determine whether a long term investment in permanent space is worth it. A recent WSJ article (Pop-Up Stores Raise a Question for Landlords, 10/22) covers some of the issues and concerns that landlords are raising as the pop-up store becomes more popular.

More and more downtown organizations are exploring the use of  pop-ups as a tool in revitalization efforts, and for good reason.  For downtown, pop-ups can be especially good for spaces that have been vacant for a while. When a vacant site has no recent tenant sales figures, neither the landlord nor the retailer are in a position to appropriately and fairly price the space. This is sometimes why a space can remain vacant for longer than necessary...and this is where a pop-up can come in to play. Instead of leaving the space vacant, which produces no cash flow for the owner, a landlord may be open to renting the space short term for a lower rent (almost like a teaser rate). This gives the landlord cash flow they wouldn't otherwise have, but does not tie them down in a long-term lease they consider too low. It also gives the retailer a low-risk way to test the market. With sales figures in hand, a retailer would then have more information and data to negotiate a lease term and rates that are sustainable over the long term. And if the downtown organization is involved, it gives the organization the sales information necessary to potentially lure other retailers downtown.
Circa 2010. A Toys-R-Us Pop Up Store in an
old bank on Fulton Street, Brooklyn, NY

Pop-ups may also serve retailers who are looking to avoid permanent space altogether. When you consider that most retailers only turn profits during the holiday season, opening up stores just to capture those sales makes good business sense, especially if your business does a lot of internet sales. Hence the Etsy Holiday Shop - a pop-up store in the Dumbo neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Expect to see more of these types of establishments in the future. Union Square in New York was among the first, but now many Business Improvement Districts enliven their public spaces with temporary craft markets during the holidays. These markets are basically open-air pop-up stores...before the term pop-up was popular of course!

Is your Downtown organization exploring pop-up stores? If so we'd love to hear more about it!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The roads (and trains) to downtown are crumbling

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal chronicled the infrastructure challenges facing our cities and suburbs (“Slow Road to Recovery", WSJ, 10/14). This is a real problem for urban communities, as the majority of the aging infrastructure is located in our urban centers. As the article mentions, 42% of urban highways are congested. And it’s not just our highway infrastructure that is at risk, our mass transit infrastructure is also deteriorating with no major reinvestment in sight. New York may be an outlier in its dependence on mass transit – at least for an American city – but the challenges here are no less acute than elsewhere.

Why should transportation matter to those of us working to improve downtown and neighborhood commercial districts? Because commercial districts function first and foremost when they are convenient. This is why we often hear merchants say parking is critical. But the truth is, it is often less about parking than it is about plain old access. Businesses in dense urban communities often lack parking, but they are doing just fine thank you. As a visiting assistant professor at Pratt Institute, I often talk to my students about the importance of access. Whether by car, bike, bus, train or two legs, one of the things we can do to support commercial districts to ensure that are easy and convenient for people to visit, work and shop in. 

One particular issue that came up in the recent Mayoral primary here in New York was the long commute that many New Yorker's face. In fact, mayoral candidate Christine Quinn made a case for public policy that would, by the year 2023, ensure that no New Yorker commute more than an hour to and from work. In a city like New York, which is really a collection of cities, these distances matter. Young professionals priced out of Manhattan and increasingly Brooklyn – and whose jobs are downtown or in other boroughs – will increasingly choose other cities where life is just well, easier. In fact, a few years ago the City of Philadelphia built an entire marketing campaign around attracting these young professionals, calling on them to “Stop Paying Someone Else’s Mortgage”. They might as well have added, “decrease your commute by half and live in a decent apartment you can afford while you are at it!”
I guess public transportation access
to Philly has greatly improved.

I often joke with my friends in Brooklyn (I live in Queens) that they might as well live in Philadelphia, because sometimes that is how long it takes me to get there by public transit. By car, with no traffic (which as we now know is rare) the commute can easily be three times as long. The long commute also disproportionately affects lower income people – of the 750,000 commuters in New York who travel more than an hour a day, ¾ of them earn less than $35,000/year. The lost productivity, not to mention the incredible waste and pollution created by this congestion is a shame. When Quinn mentioned during the mayoral primaries that “our transportation infrastructure hasn’t kept pace” – she might as well have been talking about all major American cities.

One of the glimmers of hope, however, is the growing bicycle infrastructure that is being built. I recently wrote about a panel I attended at the International Downtown Association conference on “bike friendly business districts”. Improving access to our business districts by ensuring that biking is convenient and safe is probably one of the smartest moves we can make to support our local commercial districts - particularly in dense urban areas. That, and investing in our overall urban infrastructure before it undermines continued economic growth. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Favorite Moments from the IDA World Congress 2013

Kristen is a (reluctant) blogger and (enthusiastic) project manager at Larisa Ortiz Associates. 

The Commercial District Advisor team spent the beginning of this week at the International Downtown Association (IDA) World Congress and 59th Annual Conference. The event brought downtown managers and other urbanists from all over the world to New York City for three days of panels, round tables, tours and workshops.

With so many things to see and do, it is difficult to put together a complete list of highlights. Here are just a few of my favorites...

1. Sitting in the front row while Mayor Mike Bloomberg talks about adding "zest" to city life.

2. Kristopher Larson, ED of the Grand Rapids Downtown Development Authority's insightful and entertaining presentation on innovative approaches to modern public engagement.

The takeaway? The "same old" strategies for getting public input in downtown revitalization projects don't work anymore. To be effective in reaching new downtown residents and soliciting their input, use social media (polls on Facebook, for example) and rethink public meetings (see image), to name a few.

3. Seeing how other cities around the world approach their marketing materials for business attraction. (The Mill Avenue District in Downtown Tempe's "Brag Sheet" is a great idea. Click the photo for digital versions of Mill Avenue's materials.)

4. Taking Placemaking 301 with Dan Biederman, and learning that one of the metrics for evaluating Bryant Park is the ratio of women to men using the park every day (when women outnumber men, it is a good day). More about the counts on their blog.

5. At the Day 2 Plenary Session held at Pratt Institute (my alma mater), Professor Stuart Pertz presents the Pratt Program for Sustainable Planning and Development's new Placemaking curriculum that is in the works (and then I live Tweet it).

6. The Commercial District Advisor (in the flesh!) giving a presentation on Identifying and Attracting the Appropriate Retailers and Developers.

7. And finally, when downtown managers from all over the world got together in DUMBO, and this happens:

Did you attend IDA this year? If so, what were some of your favorite moments? Let us know in the comments, or on our Facebook.

IDA Recap: Bike Friendly Business Districts and their Impact on Local Business

Yesterday marked the close of the International Downtown Association World Conference! What a fantastic event - and I'm so pleased that Larisa Ortiz Associates was able to participate as a contributing sponsor.

One of my favorite panels was on Bike Friendly Business Districts (BFBD). One speaker, April Economides of Alta Planning + Design spoke to the impact of bike infrastructure on local businesses. The successful launch of Citibike in New York is but one testament to the pent up demand - and opportunities - that more bike infrastructure unleashes. What made this session particularly powerful was the economic case for Bicycle-Friendly Business Districts that can be made - and measured! In San Francisco, new lanes led to increased sales by local merchants. In Fort Worth, restaurant sales increased 200% after lanes were introduced. In Toronto along Bloor Street, bicyclists spend more money in the area than drivers...and the list goes on. Some good links to research on this include:
Another speaker, Tifanny Bromfeld, CEO of the BID Council in San Diego spoke to the incredible impact that the effort has had in business districts throughout San Diego. It was wonderful to hear their real life stories and I know other attendees came out as inspired as I was!

Unfortunately, not every community gets the link between businesses and bikes - and so there is clearly a lot of work to be done. One recent example...I recently developed a downtown plan for a community where the local Mayor expressed serious misgivings about encouraging bicycle usage. He didn't want to have to spend the money to maintain bike infrastructure (including lanes, bike parking, etc.) and didn't quite see how it was a smart downtown revitalization strategy. In fact, he saw bikes as a nuisance and was pushing for legislation that would make locking bikes to sign posts illegal. This without providing bike parking. This despite the fact that the town's experience during Hurricane Sandy (and the lack of available gas) made biking and walking a vital necessity. This despite the fact that downtown businesses do deliveries and need the parking and access. This despite the inherently walk-ability of the surrounding residential community that would make biking a perfect fit. It still confounds me, but armed with more information I know that a stronger case for a Bike Friendly Business District can be made!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Spurring Revitalization, LISC and New Kensington CDC unveil "Model Block" in Philadelphia

I was excited to attend the unveiling of the "Model Block" yesterday - the result of a nearly 18 month effort to bring technical assistance and resources to the New Kensington Community Development Corporation in Fishtown, Philadelphia. The program, called "Corridors of Retail Excellence" is run by LISC MetroEdge (LME). As a consultant to LISC, my job was to help diagnose the corridor challenges and identify a menu of strategic improvements that would accomplish multiple goals; address the unique conditions of the street, deliver visible impact for pedestrians and drivers along the busy thorough fare, and leverage additional funds...a tall order! But we did it! Over the course of the project, two new retailers opened up on the Model Block, one restaurant is slated to open shortly, and an additional $25k in funds were secured to fund the additional marketing and promotional materials for the district. 

One exciting component of the project was an interactive fence that will serve to bridge the new retail node with the rest of the district. The fence is designed to host activities, from an impromptu First Friday Gallery show to a sidewalk sale. The program also included storefront improvements for local businesses and was funded by a $98,000 grant from the PNC Foundation and delivered by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC). 
The Interactive Fence with flexible "shelves" that can serve as
benches, display tables or tables. Just pull up a chair and enjoy!
The goal of the Model Block program was to accelerate the economic revitalization of Fishtown.  In addition to the interactive fence around a vacant lot anchoring the block of 300 East Girard Avenue, four properties between Marlborough and East Oxford Streets will receive façade improvements.  The businesses are Keys to the Attic (314 E Girard), NicNacs4Peanuts (312 E Girard), Dash Delivery (310 E Girard), and Push Skate Gallery (306 E Girard).  

East Girard businesses suffer from significant gaps in the retail mix and lack of continuous activity despite the high visibility of the corridor.  The Model Block initiative seeks to spark investment along the street by establishing a model for improvements on one block ripe for retail activity and economic improvement.

“Redeveloping small properties can be a big challenge. The PNC funding gave us direct access to LISC experts, a professional design team and NKCDC staff w
ho all went above and beyond. The result is budget-friendly and visually appealing.  It addresses crucial design elements in a way that can be applied to almost any neighborhood project. This experience will certainly shape our future development decisions,” said Josh Olivo, Principal URBAN-CORE Development, owner of 310 & 312 E. Girard.

A National Program
Fishtown was one of six communities nationwide selected through a competitive process for the LISC program called Corridors of Retail Excellence (CORE).  It’s a national initiative delivering visible improvements and capacity-building in low and moderate-income communities. 

“The CORE program provides communities with access to both expertise and funds to encourage additional community investments,” said Terri Copeland, Vice President of Community Development Banking from PNC. “Commercial corridor revitalization provides an opportunity to attract residents from different neighborhoods.  In achieving that, business corridors are transformed from a dividing line between communities, to a bridge.”

For Fishtown, LISC gathered intelligence through focus groups and individual meetings with local business owners, through market data analysis and through a study of best practices in other LISC communities.  Other selected communities include 52nd Street in Philadelphia, Lawrenceville and Mount Washington in Pittsburgh and the Quad Communities and Uptown in Chicago.

CORE provides technical assistance to businesses and business-support groups to attract customers and improve profitability; facilitate property improvements; develop capacity and expanded leadership in local communities and business-development organizations; and engage stakeholders in developing strategies.

Catalyst for the Community
According to Angie Williamson, economic development director of NKCDC, the grant from the PNC Foundation is a strong catalyst for additional investments in the neighborhood. It funded a Storefront Improvement Menu so business owners can easily make simple updates to their properties such as signage, lighting, awnings and security enhancements. 

“The grant also gave us the impetus to acquire funding from the City’s Storefront Improvement Program (SIP).  It reimburses store owners up to 50 percent for their investment in commercial corridor façade improvements,” she said. “We also secured $25,000 from Pennsylvania’s Department of Community and Economic Development for a comprehensive marketing plan to create branding and direct further streetscape improvements.”

According to LISC commercial corridor consultant Larisa Ortiz, similar low-cost, highly visible improvements around the country have inspired additional investments by business and property owners. “The CORE approach has worked in communities from Phoenix to Rhode Island and has been an amazing catalyst for neighborhood transformation and the leveraging of additional community resources.” Andy Frishkoff, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) adds “We are so pleased to connect national resources to our local community partners. This project will serve as a model for future LISC investments along Philadelphia’s commercial corridors.

Interactive Fence
Designed by MAKE. architecture+planning, the Model Block includes a modular interactive fence with multi-level platforms that can serve as benches, tables and shelves.  “We looked at these vacant lots and tried to imagine ways of activating these areas,” said Brian Szymanik of MAKE. “We thought that if we could invite people to spend some time in front of them, then perhaps they could attract life in what are currently empty spaces.

“We like to think of the system we’ve designed as urban infrastructure.  Ideally, this fence should allow for a wide variety of uses to activate the corner of the block and support the community, local retail, and neighborhood residents.  A fence is almost always used as a way to separate people, but this project asks the question whether or not it is possible for a fence to be something that brings us together.”