Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Mobile Marketing: Are your businesses on the map?

Customers are increasingly using on-line platforms to find local businesses in real time. I know I do it all the time.  Just the other night I was out with a friend and we had planned to meet at a restaurant in Soho. When we got there it was packed. What did we do? On a cold winters night in New York there was only one option. We stood in the heated vestibule and searched Yelp for an alternative. We found a great restaurant with a two block walk that had good reviews, a decent price range, and no wait. We liked it so much that we will undoubtedly go back. And honestly, I can't even tell you the name of the first place we tried. Clearly, Yelp helped at least one business gain a customer they otherwise would never have seen.

On-line profiles definitely help, yet most businesses do very little to manage them. In 2013, the Boston Consulting Group surveyed 4,800 local businesses and found that those businesses that claimed their FREE Yelp profile reported "incremental revenues of $8,000 annually". This is not paid advertising, mind you. Yet only 15% of small business owners know that they can get a free Yelp profile, and only 11% claimed it.

Below is a quick summary of some of the most popular on-line platforms and some basic instructions on how to use them. In each case, the instructions are somewhat similar, a business goes to the search engine and verifies their identify. They are given an account and go easily go about managing their identity. In some cases you as a commercial district manager can actively help (for example, a business using Google can add you as a "Manager"), in others, only the business owner can verify and manage their on-line identity.

Keeping with the Soho theme, I went ahead and tested business listings for Soho using four listing engines...

Bing "Venue" Maps
Bing is increasingly creating opportunities for "venue" maps. They started in 2010 by adding maps of malls, but it seems that more and more commercial districts are getting into the business. Check out the image below for a map of Soho with nearly every business listed. If you roll over the map, the businesses are linked back to a profile that includes the company website and hours of operation. When you compare it to the Google map below, it is clearly easier to navigate and understand. The map has the look and feel of a mall directory. How commercial districts can get onto Bing is not quite clear...but we have a request in to find out and will share with you when we know.

Google Maps
Google is the 6th most popular mobile app, and the first most popular mapping engine in the world, so getting businesses on the Google map should be a no brainer.

Direct your business owners to http://www.google.com/business/#befound to get started. Once a business has claimed an add, they can do things like set up a Google Adwords campaign much more easily. Remind them that additional managers can be added under Settings>Managers.

You should also know that you can list your commercial district management entity to the Google Map directory as well. Your district entity can then take the lead on setting up Adwords campaign for the entire district, which can be used to market events and actitivies as well. We worked with a community a few years ago on a restaurant marketing campaign that used Google Adwords and we were thrilled that it resulted in significant increased sales for participating local businesses.

What sets Yelp apart is really its rating and filtering function. The site gets over 100 million unique click a month so clearly something is working. Like on Google, the first step is to Claim and Verify your Business (https://biz.yelp.com/claiming)

It should be noted that many businesses loathe Yelp. The issue here is that some businesses think that Yelp unfairly filters positive reviews (in an effort to prevent an owner from soliciting reviews from customers) and therefore highlights negative reviews. Not sure where I stand on that, but the truth is that a Yelp listing can drive traffic. Business owners can help increase the number of reviews - and good business will undoubtedly receive more positive reviews than negative ones - by adding badges to their websites or putting "Find us on Yelp" signs in the window or on the front counter.

With 45 million registered users (up from 30 million in January 2013), FourSquare is a force to be reckoned with (although not nearly as popular as Facebook or Twitter as a social networking app). Business looking to claim their profile can do so at: http://business.foursquare.com/

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Fulton Area Shoppers Prefer Bike Over Car

We're always talking and writing about bike-friendly business districts, so we were pleased to see coverage from Streetsblog of biking on Fulton Street in Fort Greene and Clinton Hill where we recently wrapped up a retail market study for the  the Fulton Area Business Alliance and Pratt Area Community Council.
image: cityinajar.com

On street parking is so coveted by business owners that the shear thought of removing the spots for bicycle infrastructure such as protected bike lanes or public plazas sends many into panic because those spots are often assumed to be directly associated with increased business and revenue. The findings of a recent study may help to calm business owners' nerves. The FAB Alliance and the Pratt Area Community Council surveyed 477 people on Fulton Street this summer and found that the vast majority of shoppers arrive without a car. 

Image: FAB Alliance and Pratt Area Community Council
The results of the survey show that only 15% of respondents used an automobile to access Fulton Street to shop, which is even less than those that typically bike to the area to shop (either by their own bike or CitiBike). This may be an isolated set of data but it adds to the growing strength of argument toward bike-friendly and multi-modal business districts.

A 2011 study by Kooshian and Winkleman, "Growing Wealthier," notes market trends now favoring mixed-use, walkable and bikable town centers and neighborhoods. They also note that businesses profit from bicycle and pedestrian facility improvements, time savings, and healthcare cost savings, referencing Gotschi's “Costeffectiveness of Nonmotorized Transportation Investments as a Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy.” 

image: nydailynews.com
The point to drive, or in this case walk or bike, home here is that with a growing number of shoppers walking and biking, car-centric streets could be a thing of the past.  

Friday, December 5, 2014

Some Roads Should Just Go on a Diet

Bigger is better right? By and large the answer is no. Bigger is not always better when addressing roadways that run through commercial corridors.  In many places where LOA works, the challenges of a too wide street - one designed for cars but not for people or even bikes - undermines local businesses who see traffic speed by, unlikely to stop.

The problem of too wide streets is rampant throughout the nation. This issue came up recently for us...LOA is currently working on a project in Chicago where the large berth of the street was simply too cumbersome and unnecessary. And when we looked at traffic counts we found that there was actually much less traffic on a road that was clearly designed to handle much more. So, what to do with so much excess "fat"?  We suggested that roadway go on a road diet.

“Road dieting” is a term applied to “skinny-ing up” streets into leaner, more productive members of society. The ideal roadway candidate, as Burden and Lagerwey, of Walkable Communities Inc, note in "Road Diets: Losing width and gaining respect," is often a four-lane road carrying 12,000-18,000 auto trips per day. But as many of you know, road diets can be controversial in places where people think that a narrower road means more congestion - but in most cases the facts simply do not bear out.

Before and after Road Diet pictures. Image source:
Before we get to that, first back to Chicago. Our work resulted in a few key recommendations, the first included removal of a dedicated rush-hour lane (a parking lane that was converted to a travel lane only during rush hour - making it impossible for drop-in customers to stop by and therefore hurting local businesses). What we found that that although the street was perceived as a busy thoroughfare, data suggested otherwise: 13,300 Annual Average Daily Traffic (AADT) counts (between North Pulaski Road and North Kedzie Avenue) put the traffic flow as moderate to relatively low.

With low-traffic counts, we knew that the replacement of a single rush hour lane with on-street parking would not only allow customers to stop more easily - picking up food or convenience items on their way to or from work - but that it would also result would be slower speeds for motorists in general. Narrowing the flow of traffic and adding bike lanes – aka a “road diet” - would help address some of the concerns that residents and businesses have with the sometime excessive speed of motorists who pass through the area. And taking this a step further by adding a lane for bicyclists would add another transportation option  for a low-income community with very low car ownership rates.

Much safer corridor for all. Image source:
Public safety has always been a proponent of change for urban development and planning, this case is no different. A reduction in a lane or lanes, a road diet, can reduce unsafe driving, excess speeds, and serve as a street calming mechanism. Burden and Lagerwey note "crash rates and severity of conflicts with autos result in almost certain death (83% of pedestrians hit at 40 mph die)".  Four lanes of traffic are difficult to cross for pedestrians and uncomfortable/dangerous for cyclists. Furthermore, businesses that might benefit from co-location across the street from another business never accrue the benefits because for most pedestrians, they might as well be miles away.

In addition to safety, a road that has dieted sees change in commercial activity around the road. The change can increase value of existing properties and some cases costs of reconstructing roadways are repaid in as little as one year through increased sales tax or property tax revenue.

Image source: sf.streetsblog.org/category/
Even high-density urban downtowns can go on diets. San Francisco, as seen in the image to the left, envisioned a downtown along Sixth Street with a more pedestrian and cycling friendly environment with continued on street parking.

In an opposite regard, a study by Thomas Welch “The Conversion of Four-Lane Undivided Urban Roadways to Three-Lane Facilities” demonstrates the problems and negative outcomes associated with increasing road sizes from a slimmer two-lane road to a wider four-lane road.  Welch notes it led to increased accidents, increased speeds, increased corridor delays, and increased injuries.  Not the results people want or expect - sometimes slimming down is the best remedy for the health of your commercial district.

If you want to read more...here are some additional readings: