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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.