Most national retailers make decisions based on their own market research. And these days, market data is easy to come by – retailers and investors have market data at their disposal within minutes. Most begin by looking at traditional indicators such as number of people, number of households, median income and trade area. If your community is coming up short on any of those indicators, you have your work cut out for you.
But don’t despair, there are opportunities to influence retail site selection and control the narrative. Many retailers are interested in urban markets but don’t have enough information to make a compelling case. A 2008 study by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Social Compact found that retailers want, but struggle with finding information on daytime population, pedestrian traffic, consumer preferences, and neighborhood change as defined by anticipated development. In the absence of a dedicated downtown advocate, that case never gets made and investment gets made elsewhere. But fortunately, this is where a Business Improvement District (or Chamber, CDC, City, etc) can be particularly useful.
Increasingly, BIDs have begun to embrace their role as an information resource. Center City Philadelphia has a particularly robust reporting program. Their annual “State of Center City Report” even has its own webpage, and the report is positioned as a tool for investors with an emphasis on providing valuable – and hard(er) to obtain – information on employment trends (including employee wages and growth rates) and residential housing development.
Another good example is Downtown Portland’s “Business Census& Survey” , commissioned by Greater Portland’s Chamber of Commerce. This simplified version accomplishes a similar goal, sharing information about local employment trends and also incorporates findings from an annual survey of business owners and managers. What I particularly like is that the report functions in part as a report card, allowing downtown leaders to tweak public and private sector improvements on an annual basis. This level of transparency and accountability is a powerful response to many BID critics – it helps to keep everyone honest and ensures that BID assessments are having a positive impact.
These reports also position the downtown organization or chamber not as a competitor to the private sector, but rather as a valuable resource to property owners. Having information that people want helps open doors and builds relationships and partnerships. So instead of brokers, for example, seeing you as competition (sadly, this is more common than you think) they will look to you as a valuable partner in their investment decisions – decisions that will ultimately direct and shape the future of your community.