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 mind...here are a few do's and don'ts from our nearly 20 years of experience working in the field of commercial district management.
- 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.
- 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 www.philadelphiaretail.com in collaboration with other partners. Michelle Shannon leads this effort on their behalf.
- 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.
- 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".
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- DO share information about incentives and business resources that might be available (and that you can help them access!).
- 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?)
- 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.