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A Primer for Cities on Retail Development

Co-authored by Rickey Hayes and Mandy Vavrinak

More and more cities and communities are realizing that growing their retail base wisely is an integral part of any balanced and long-term economic development strategy. Not every city can support extensive retail; overbuilding in some categories and areas has contributed to today’s economic woes in the retail sector. However, many areas are still significantly underretailed and opportunities exist for both savvy cities and smart retailers. Since fewer retailers are moving in this challenging environment, competition for those new projects and locations is fierce. How can a city help get its name on the expansion list? Here are some tips we’ve found to be effective as we help cities recruit new businesses:

  1. Believe in and utilize public/private partnerships. Cities can assemble land, provide needed public infrastructure and ensue the development process is as pain-free and efficient as possible. Now is the time for innovate approaches to incentives and improving internal processes.
  2. Know your city/sites well, from a development perspective. What would make them attractive (or not) to a particular retailer? Does the site fit the retailer’s criteria?
  3. Get your demographic house in order. Using the numbers from the last census is NOT providing current, actionable information for the site selection process. Numbers generated via internal studies (not independently verifiable) are also not helpful. Use a reputable source for solid demographics based on a reasonable trade area.
  4. Understand the development process from the development side. Knowing how to work with site selectors, brokers, developers, leasing agents and retailers is crucial to ensure a smooth process and positive outcome.
  5. Craft a marketing position and use it. If your city logo/motto reflects 150 years of history but not where you’re headed, or what new residents or businesses can expect in the future, you’ve missed an opportunity to shine. If your web site looks like an internal project, you’ve missed another one. Cities selling themselves need the same tools as other companies with products to sell… good logo, solid identity, good product information, great marketing vehicles to share it all.
  6. Own your own economic development efforts. Chambers of Commerce, industrial development authorities, and other quasi-governmental bodies cannot “pull the trigger” on projects, yet the decision-making process and the ability to get things done in a consistent manner is an integral part of economic growth and development.

It’s not easy to get noticed by national retailers and other site selectors, but using these tips will help your community put its best foot forward and increase the chances you’ll get a shot at new business expansions or developments.

Cross-posted at NAI Commerce One blog and at citiesofvision blog.

Rickey Hayes is the principal of Retail Attractions, LLC http://www.retailattractions.com, a firm dedicated to helping cities and developers successfully find retail sites, close deals and improve the quality of life for our client cities. Mandy Vavrinak is the principal of Crossroads Communications, LLC, http://www.crossroadscommunications.com, a firm dedicated to effectively marketing places and spaces and specializing in working with retailers and cities. They’ve successfully partnered on a number of projects, attracting more than 6 million square feet of retail to the right locations over the past 6 years.