Monday, August 24, 2015

Strategies for Retail Niche Building

Competition is not always a bad things. Depending on the retail industry, competition and multiple retail offerings can drive even more people to your district. The research is clear on this point, one critical factor in the success of urban retail districts is "store density." Why? Because being able to accomplish multiple shopping tasks in one trip makes a district convenient. And simply put, people will travel further for that level of convenience. [LISC, New and Definitive Evidence on What Works to Revitalize Urban Commercial Corridors, 2011]

Certain retail categories in particular benefit from what economists call "agglomeration economies" - clusters of businesses that benefit from co-location. Together these firms attract more customers than they could alone. That is often why you will find restaurants clustered together. Another fairly typical example are furniture stores. In some places a "Diamond District" or "Flower District" are good examples of industries that benefit from the ability to draw both suppliers and customers. 

I recently came across another example while walking in Manhattan the other day. I had about an hour to kill and went to Yelp to see where I could accomplish some "retail therapy". What immediately became apparent to me was that I was adjacent to a cluster of vintage stores. For those unfamiliar with New York, the Gramercy neighborhood is also a very high-end community, so I had no doubt that these stores would have a very nice selection of merchandise. Without a moments hesitation, I set out to explore.
I wasn't disappointed. $30 later, I had three shirts and a dress to show for my excursion! I have been living in New York now for longer than I care to how did this great retail niche get by me? I began to think about how these businesses could improve upon their market position and start attracting more people.

If your district has a niche of some kind, here are a few ways in which you can support their marketing efforts.

1. On-Line Listing and Categorization. Ensure that these businesses are listed on the most common search engines and they share similar categorizations. For example, each of these stores popped up when I searched "vintage". (Admittedly I started by search looking for "apparel" and then realized how many stores were of the vintage variety")

2.  Organize! Get your niche firms together and see if they want to take out a joint advertisement in a local media outlet. They will benefit from coming together on a regular basis and discussing opportunities to further enhance their visibility and marketing efforts.

3. Business directory. Consider developing a directory of your niche stores

4. Event marketing. Hold events that highlight the niche. How about an "evening vintage store crawl" with wine at every stop? You could even develop a hashtag - #vintagestroll anyone?

5. Branding. Consider branding the district. "Vintage Alley" has a nice ring to it...

6. Tenant Recruitment. Consider growing the niche by recruiting additional businesses in the category. Together with a strong marketing campaign this can help enhance the regional appeal of your district and grow the customer base.

The ideas are endless!

Below are the images of the four local thrift stores - what I find interesting is that they vary tremendously in quality. Vintage Thrift and Housing Works are much more high-end in their displays. The Salvation Army and City Opera were less concerned about the aesthetic appearance of their stores. But all had great merchandise. I know at least one person who will be returning

Vintage Thrift has a high-end look and feel. Too bad it was closed on Saturday when I stopped by. The store is run by a Jewish Organization and they were closed for the Jewish holiday. 

Housing Works is one of the premier thrift stores in New York. The proceeds go to AIDS prevention.  

The Salvation Army has the largest retail spot of the bunch - and also had the lowest end look and feel. 

The smallest store by far...but nicer things and from what I could tell, a higher price point than the others. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Spotlight: Online Business Directories for BIDs

We wanted to take a moment here at Commercial District Advisor to do a round up of various commercial district online business directories. Since many people take a look at what a district has to offer before or after they make a visit, or even during a visit via mobile device, it is important to explore the variety of directories districts are posting online. Here are a few:

Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership has an interactive website where you can browse businesses through categories like dine, shop, services, etc with an interactive map and lists of businesses.  Not only do they provide an impressive amount of information on each individual business listing page, but they go a step further to include lists of Nearby Parking, Services, and Dining.  I personally like the interactive map and the level of detail provided for each business, it does take a little bit of navigating to figure out that the business directory is within the various sections and not put together in one spot.

Downtown Albany's business directory is featured in their main menu and is interactive, meaning if you wanted to find coffee shops in the district you would first click "Dining Styles" and then click "Coffee Shops." You would then see all coffee shops in the district. Clicking one opens up an individual page with an impressive amount of information including shop description, location, hours, website, news about the store and sometimes pictures. This directory seems to filter your choices rather effortlessly and is easy to understand.

Downtown Madison's business directory is featured under their Shop & Dine section of the main menu. The directory gives a few options to "View Businesses by Type" - eat, shop, etc - or "View Businesses by Category" - book shops, government, jewelers, etc. You can also search for a business or view all the businesses in one list. When you click a business you get an individual page with business info and their location on a Google map.  This site has simplicity with additional subtle elements.

LA Fashion District integrated a map into their directory which adjusts to directory searches. Business categories in their directory include hotels, floral, bags, restaurants, etc. Businesses can be searched by keyword as well and can be filtered by retail or wholesale.  I enjoyed the neat visualization connecting the map with your search, the color consistency of their website and the customized map is a plus.

Myrtle Avenue Ridgewood Business Improvement District also features their Business Directory in their main menu of their website. Their directory is straightforward and lists many categories of businesses with the number of that type of business indicated beside the category. Clicking the category shows all the businesses and their information listed. You can also see all listings at once or do a search. This is a nice simple directory that is easy to find and easy to navigate.

Upcoming Speaking Engagements

LOA is excited to announce upcoming speaking engagements.  Hope to see you there!

New York State Urban Council
Annual Downtown Conference: The Art & Science of Place-Making
Ithaca, NY  |   Sept 16, 12-1pm
Lunchtime presentation of best practices for retail attraction in both large and small communities.

International Economic Development Council
Training Courses: Neighborhood Development Strategies
Baltimore, MD   |   Sept 24-25
Two sessions: Neighborhood Commercial Development highlighting the importance of urban design, political and financial support, and the role of retail and non-retail establishments. And Community Economic Development discussing what strategies have emerged in recent years to help build personal assets for individuals as well as the tax base for a community.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Nominate your favorite public place for a Great Public Spaces award!

Public spaces, when designed well, make a great destination, draw the community together, generate pedestrian traffic and activity, and, let's be honest, make for some excellent people watching.

Project for Public Space (PPS) is honoring the world's best places and is currently taking nominations for Great Public Spaces.  PPS is not just giving out awards, they are "sparking a conversation" on what makes a public space great.  Do you have a favorite public space in mind that deserves notice? Simply follow the link HERE to nominate one - could be one that you might remember from travels or one that might be in your own town.

Some notable public spaces from around the world:
Plaza de la ConstituciĆ³n - Oaxaca City, Mexico | Credit: Steve Cadman
The Spanish Steps - Rome, Italy | Credit: Wooly Matt
Rittenhouse Square Park - Philadelphia, PA | Credit: R. Kennedy
Museumkwartier - Amsterdam, The Netherlands 
The High Line - New York, NY | Credit: Iwan Baan
Barton Springs - Austin, TX | Credit: Wally Gobetz

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Top 10's Do and Don't when designing a retail attraction website

Executing a successful retail attraction program hinges on the details, and in particular the ability to communicate retail opportunities, build relationships, and maintain these connections overtime using consistent and regular outreach. That is why we often incorporate a heavy dose of feedback on an organization's "administrative capacity", i.e. the people, resources and tools necessary to get things done after a consultant engagement ends. One extremely important element of that strategy is a website (or other on-line presence - these days Facebook page is an increasingly popular alternative but one I'll speak to in another post).

So, with that in are a few do's and don'ts from our nearly 20 years of experience working in the field of commercial district management.
  1. DO have a dedicated landing page for retailers and investors interested in the district. It can be called any of the following: "Doing Business Downtown", "Do Business Here", "Bring you Business Here" - just so long as it is clear there is a dedicated spot to find information about your district. 
    In 2011 LOA worked with the Myrtle Avenue, Queens BID to develop marketing material, but found that the BID had an outdated website and no dedicated landing page for interested business owners. Their landing page now communicates front and center that they are an accessible and family-oriented community. No wonder that Carter's is a new tenant to the district! 
  2. DO use the website to tell your story and share your data. This is where people will land who have very little impression of your district. Use the opportunity to make a good first impression. This might include images, testimonials, icons, etc. that are visible right when you land on the page. 
    The Center City BID in Philly has taken their retail attraction efforts one step further and developed a dedicated website in collaboration with other partners. Michelle Shannon leads this effort on their behalf. 
  3. DO allow for the download of any retail attraction related materials that you have developed. Better yet, if people want to download your market data for free, have them sign up first before doing so This way you can add your real estate mailing list! On that note...
    Following LOA's engagement with the Myrtle Avenue Brooklyn BID (not to be confused with Myrtle Avenue Queens!), the BID launched a Quarterly Real Estate Report that is used to communicate the findings of their market study. All can be downloaded from their "Business Attraction" webpage
  4. DO use your website to build your real estate database. Be sure to provide an opportunity to sign up for real estate related emails (a newsletter, a quarterly real estate alert, etc) on the landing page. What is a real estate database? This should be a separate database of individuals who only want to hear about your real estate opportunities. These folks will include property owners, business owners, brokers, etc. They are not people who want to hear about your events and activities, in fact, if you do send them information on events and activities, they are likely to unsubscribe to your list. So bifurcate your list and be sure that anything you send this is useful, not spam. Oh - and don't tell them to sign up for a "newsletter"! Make the offer a bit more tempting by telling them the value of what they are signing up for. Consider asking them to "Sign up for up to date real estate information" or "Stay on top of district vacancies and real estate news by signing up here". 
  5. DO include testimonials from merchants. Testimonials are a great way to communicate retailer to retailer that a district is a good place to do business. 
    In 2013, LOA worked with the Seattle-Chinatown BID to develop a retail strategy. Their website and "Doing Business" brochure is a fantastic example of the use of testimonials. 
  6. DO take into account the power of images. Hire a professional to take shots of your district. This is especially important for communities that are looking to change perceptions of their district. Consider images of an iconic building or piece of public art. Or better yet, a new retailer who bucks the trend and has a fantastic storefront, or a long line of people waiting to get into a hot new restaurant. These tidbits can communicate quite a bit about what is happening in your district in the mere seconds it takes for a viewer to make a first impression. You know what they say...a picture is worth a thousand words. 
  7. DO consider including the logos of district businesses somewhere on your page - this could be on a map, or simply in a side bar. Logos are a great visual shortcut that helps cue retailers as to the kind of retail that is in  your district - and whether they would be successful or not. Because if they recognize a particular retailer and know they share similar customers, you have passed one threshold of within seconds of visiting your page. 
  8. DO share information about incentives and business resources that might be available (and that you can help them access!).
  9. DON'T assume people will visit your website. Brokers, property owners, retailers may stumble upon your website, but BIDs and commercial district management entities are not a particularly known quantity in the commercial real estate world, so they definitely aren't going out looking for your website, in case you were wondering. Therefore you must find ways to push your website into their realm, into their inboxes and through social media outlets. There are lots of ways to do this, but first and foremost is attending local real estate events and trade shows and collecting business cards. Use these cards to build your database and email folks regular communications materials (Did you just complete a market study - email the announcement and send a link to your website! Do you have new vacancies you want people to know about - email info about the listing and send them to your website! Is this sounding familiar?)
  10. DON'T let your real estate listings go stale!! Are your listings over three months old? That is an eternity in the retail leasing world. Stale listings are also the quickest way to ensure that someone will never return to your site again. Basically, you have just demonstrated your ability to waste a busy persons time...not a good first impression. One solution is to automatically provide monthly updates - with the month of the listings located in a prominent place on the material. Another is to simply avoid listing vacancies all together and include a phone and email address where they can reach out for more information on current listings. Not ideal, but much better than having them spend time looking at listings that are outdated. 

Friday, August 7, 2015

"Improving Tenant Mix" goes on the road...

Since the publication of "Improving Tenant Mix: A Guide for Commercial District Practitioners", we have been quite busy making sure that folks in the field know about this great - and free - resource! 

Most recently, the International Downtown Association (IDA) held a webinar and I had the opportunity to serve on a panel with colleagues Cindy Stewart (ICSC), Joel Dabu (Taubman Companies) and Davon Barbour (City of Hollywood, FL). Joel works for a nationally recognized high-end mall developer, and provided great insight into how they approach retailers. Davon shared how his City approached retail attraction along one particular corridor, including the importance of public engagement in defining corridor needs. It was fascinating to juxtapose both public and private sector approaches to this work and to see how much they overlap.  A few things we all agreed on - the importance of knowing your market and customer; the importance of relationship building; and participation in ICSC trade shows. The podcast can be purchased for download on IDA's website here

On that note, earlier in the season I presented at RECon, ICSC's largest trade show held every year in Las Vegas. If there is a place to be in May for those in the retail industry, it is RECon (short for Real Estate Convention), with over 36,000 attendees from all over the world. The session, entitled "Optimizing Tenant Mix for Downtown Business Districts" offered practitioners an overview of the book and offered a practical step-by-step process for advancing retail attraction in traditional downtown and "Main Street" urban environments. A number of attendees followed up with us directly, with one graciously saying...

"I attended your session 'Optimizing Tenant Mix for Downtown Business Districts" at RECon. I thoroughly enjoyed it and felt it was "meaty", as in I took home practicable and actionable information. Your talk was one of the only talks at RECon that seemed to understand that solutions must be customized to the market and that some markets are challenged by economics, demographics (particularly household income) and other constraints unique to each location." - Michele Dempsey, Scranton, PA

And back in February the Philadelphia Association of CDCs and Philadelphia LISC invited me to speak to a full house of Philly-based corridor managers as part of a 1/2 day workshop. Our colleagues in Philly did a great job marrying the content from the book with a panel of practitioners who do this work locally and then topped this off with a series of round tables organized around the themes of the book. I always encourage using the content in an interactive way that gets people engaged and talking to one another - and it was a pleasure to see it come off without a hitch. 

Our tour inevitably continues...we are thrilled to have been invited back by ICSC to participate at the Wharton University of Shopping Centers in Philadelphia on March 7th, 2016. We'll keep you posted on registration as the date nears. It would be great to see you there!

If your city or organization would like Larisa to come speak to your community, please contact us at 

Authored by Larisa Ortiz

Roundup: Best Practices for Generating Pedestrian Activity, Cons of Mixed Use, Detroit's Two-wheel Culture, Abandonment of Suburban Office Parks, and Chicago's Riverwalk

Which Streetscape Features Best Generate Pedestrian Activity?
An academic publication by Reid Ewing et al, examined which features and elements most effectively encourage pedestrian activity. They found that three of twenty features had a significant impact on ped counts: the proportion of windows on the street, the proportion of active street frontage, and the number of pieces of street furniture.  Fascinating and good news for districts who want to know what kinds of street furniture they should invest in!  Direct link to publication here (accessible through Aug 31).

Big City Dreaming: The Sometimes Mixed Results of Mixed Use
As the pendulum has swung away from Euclidian zoning toward mixed use, there are some hazards that practitioners should be aware of. For example, too much vacant retail has become the unintended blight of mixed use in smaller urban/suburban areas - "too many cities are insisting on mixed uses in locations that are, at best, suitable for a single use."

Detroit Bike Culture Is Unstoppable
Two wheels are starting to dominate the scene in the city known for four wheels.  Despite the city dealing with bankruptcy and blight, the Motor City of Detroit continues to see a renaissance that expands year after year.  A weekly bike meetup, the Slow Roll, now has thousands of riders. The bike lane network will expand to 200 miles. The annual Tour de Troit will have an estimated 7,500 riders this fall. And new bike oriented businesses are sprouting up.

Suburban corporate campuses came on the American scene in the 1940's outside of Birmingham and spread thereafter, but have reached a tipping point especially in the suburbs of Washington DC where it is reported that there is enough vacant office square footage to fill the Mall of America four times over and fill most of the Pentagon. See what and why...

Chicago continues its reputation as an architectural magnate with the addition of new public spaces on the Riverwalk. Chicago has tried before to create public space along the Riverwalk, this time however, with wonderful conceptualization, craftsmanship, design, and detailing, appears to be a public space that will connect the public to the water effortlessly for a long time to come.

Trenton Citywide Market Study...what's happening now.

It is always exciting to see our work start taking shape! Last year Larisa Ortiz Associates took on an ambitious project, a City-wide Market Study for Trenton, NJ. The City recently unveiled the report which can be found here.

Like many former industrial cities in the northeast, Trenton is a City with significant challenges - but with real assets upon which to build. The City's central location in a diverse and dense region, between two of the largest markets in the country make for tremendous opportunity. It's growing Latino population are taking risks and opening businesses. The City's historic fabric - with buildings that wow and inspire - can be leveraged and used to build visitation. And let us not forget a strong and growing set of downtown cultural anchors that can form the basis of a strong set of arts, culture, and entertainment offerings. ArtWorks Trenton is a bright star in the City, putting on Art All Night, an annual event that has attracted 30,000 to the City, proving that Trenton can attract visitors.

Broad Street is an important link between the Sun National Bank Center
 - 10,000 person area - and Mill Hill/Downtown. 

Vacant land is a challenge, but also an opportunity. 

Trenton's historic fabric is under display along
Warren Street in downtown Trenton.

Downtown office workers, many state employees, are critical to driving demand.

The Passage Theatre Co. in Mill Hill is a wonderful example of the
arts and cultural activities that can be found in Downtown Trenton. 
But getting to a stronger economy is a slow process, and one of our key findings was the need to build density. In this respect, the City's challenges are also its opportunities - land (and lots of it) can be had for relatively low cost in what is otherwise an expensive market. Moving forward, the opportunities to assemble and get land into the hands of a variety of investors - both local and regional, large and small - is going to be critical to stabilizing the local economy. And in a City where historic buildings are a valuable, if sometimes crumbling assets, the opportunity is significant. One of our more interesting findings involved doing some research into a very useful tool that has proven impactful in other communities like Trenton - a state historic tax credit. Unfortunately, New Jersey is one of only two states in the Northeast that does not offer a State Historic Tax Credit. It was quite a surprise to us - but underscored how valuable a State Credit can be in driving development in markets where historic assets are plentiful. This was a critical finding because developers looking to rehab older buildings in communities where land value is still quite low and the market is not yet mature - require a combination of BOTH federal and state tax credits to make their proformas work.

For more on our findings and analysis, please click here

In the meantime, here are a few press clippings to give you an idea of how the report is being used to inform the City's economic development strategy under the new mayor.

Trenton mayor: Economic development tied to 'strong public safety'

5 things Trenton is focusing on to foster economic development

Former Bell building to become mixed-use retail and residential property, expected to boost Trenton economy