Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How Christmas Lights and A Little Pixie Dust Changed My Downtown!

In 2005, I was on vacation at my favorite destination, Walt Disney World, minding my own business when inspiration struck. I had been to Disney World many times before, and had heard about the Osbourne Family Spectacle of Lights at the Disney-MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) but was never there at the right time to see it.  That year, we decided to stay longer than usual, and that meant we would be there for opening night of the light show.

We staked out our spot at the end of the event street, excited to see what all the fuss was about.  As the snow fell (thanks to Disney magic), the announcers hosted a mock radio show, telling the story of the lights and how they came to be at Disney World.  When they flipped the switch, my heart skipped a beat.  Being a Christmas chick at heart, the lights made me feel like a kid again.  Then I realized the 5,000+ people around me were feeling the exact same thing.  And it hit me. Could we do this in Rochester?

The next morning I woke up in logistics mode.  We raced back to the park to figure out how it all worked.  (Did I mention how lucky I am to have such and understanding and supportive husband?) We took photos of everything, picked up every piece of advertising I could find and was well on the way to creating a proposal for my Board.  Two weeks later, I had my DDA Executive Committee Meeting (including the City Manager and Mayor) and pitched the idea, complete with a video of the show.  Surely they would see the same thing that I saw?  How could they say no?  Well, they did.  Very nicely and politely, they let me down easy.  The reason - well no one else has ever done this, it's too big of a risk.  I was disappointed, but I understood.

But my disappointment didn't last for long.  A few hours later, the Mayor called.  He had a chance to think about it and the idea really grew on him.  He became the champion for the event, even going so far as to ask the Council to throw in $35,000 of seed money to get the event off the ground.  By February 2006, I had all the City approvals and monies needed to pull off the show and The Big, Bright Light Show was born.

The next few months I was back in logistics mode, getting signed agreements from all the property owners to allow us to string holiday lights on their buildings every four inches.  To make it interesting, our Main Street is a state highway, so I had to get the Michigan Department of Transportation involved. As you might imagine, they are not big fans of anything in their right-of-way, let alone a really large display of lights.  After several meetings, phone calls and a fair amount of begging, everything was in place.  Now the big question, will anyone come to see it?

So there we were the Monday after Thanksgiving in 2006, ready to flip the switch on 500,000 lights.  Around town, we now lovingly refer to that night as The Perfect Storm.  Who could have predicted that we would have 65 degree weather, that our local ABC affiliate would take a special interest in the show and that about 50,000 people had nothing better to do than to come downtown?  The lights went on, and in an instant, my downtown changed. 

Over the next month, the visitors continued to flock to downtown to see the lights.  And more importantly, they stayed.  They shopped in our stores, they ate in our restaurants and that translated to an average 29% increase in sales for our downtown businesses.  Fast forward to 2011 and next Monday we will be flipping the switch on over 1.5 million lights during the 6th Annual Big, Bright Light Show.

So what did The Big, Bright Light Show teach me?  You can't find inspiration, it finds you.  No doesn't always mean no.  Christmas lights and a little bit of pixie dust can change your downtown.

Happy Thanksgiving!

The Downtown Geek

P.S. - Want more?  Seek The Geek on Facebook!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Business Retention is Business Recruitment!

So how many new businesses opened in your downtown this year?  Often, this is the only number used to gauge the success of a business recruitment program.   I believe that there are a lot of things behind that magic number, not the least of which is business retention.  You can recruit new businesses all day long, but if you are not stabilizing those businesses all you are really doing is creating a revolving door effect which certainly doesn't help the overall perception or image of your district.  So how do you retain businesses? 

Let me state for the record that I am not suggesting that you are solely responsible for their success, but you can't just cut the ribbon with the big scissors and wish them luck.  There is a middle ground between hand-holding and hands-off and it should have three elements - communication, partnerships and education.

You need to establish an open line of communication or open door policy with your businesses.  Make sure that they know that you are available to them anytime.  How do you communicate this?  You have to be out there, visiting the stores.  Let this be the first step in forming these relationships.  You know the signs when a business is in trouble - limited hours, lack of participation, elimination of advertising, no new merchandise, etc.  Be aware of what's happening so you can respond to businesses at risk immediately. 

While your relationships with your businesses are a great tool, it's even more important to encourage partnerships with fellow merchants.  They can become a source of mentoring, a confidant or even an opportunity to share customers through special events and cross-promotions.  Being an independent business owner doesn't have to mean that they are on their own.  Small businesses locate in downtowns because they want to be a part of a community.  It is that community - both the businesses and residents - that will help them succeed.

I'm a big fan of teaching people how to fish.  Sure, it might be easier and quicker to do it for them, but then what have they really learned?  You're not always going to be there, looking over their shoulder (nor should you).  In addition to including quick-hit marketing tips in our monthly Merchant Forum meetings, we also offer a quarterly Speaker Series.  The series is a more intense, workshop-style seminar.  Topics are selected based on merchant input and key topics in the marketplace. 

Six years ago, we added an aggressive business retention element to our business recruitment program and in the last few years, we have started to reap the rewards.  This year, we are on track to open over 30 businesses and should finish the year with a 96% retail occupancy rate. Even more exciting, 10 of our existing businesses have expanded, relocating to larger spaces within the downtown.   It doesn't take a big budget, just a consistent, long-term strategy that is focused on both recruitment and retention.

By integrating communication, partnerships and education into your business retention efforts, you can execute a comprehensive approach that will foster a business-friendly environment in which small businesses can thrive. And that's just another selling point in your business recruitment pitch!

The Downtown Geek

P.S. Want more?  Seek The Geek on Facebook!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

So You Want To Be A Downtown Manager...

If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me how I got into this job (okay, I'd have about $11, but I digress).  Most people I know in this field never intended to be here and typically have a long story, filled with twists and turns that led them to the magical place known as community development.  I asked my fellow geeks what they think are the keys to success for anyone in downtown development.  As you might imagine, they had a lot to offer.

I took the best of the best, added a few of my own and here's the final product:

10. Flexibility - Accept the reality that there isn't just one way to do things.  Strong organizational skills are important, but you need to know when to scrap the plan and try something different.

9. Opportunist - The ability to look at your downtown and see what could be.

8. Crazy - Let's face it, we're all a little crazy in our own way.  You need to learn how to harness your craziness for the good of your community.

7. Patience - It's a fast paced job, but not everything moves as quickly as you might like and road blocks come out of nowhere.  Take a deep breath, focus on your goals and keep a smile on your face.

6. Talk People Into Anything - Getting people to say yes to giving you money, time and the green light to do some pretty quirky stuff is an art form.

5. Talk People Out of Anything - Taking a step back from a new idea to do some due diligence without squashing enthusiasm.

4. Broad Shoulders - You'll have to do the heavy lifting and be a shoulder to cry on.  Both are equally important.

3. Enjoy Rejection - You'll hear the word no a lot.  It's nothing personal, remember that.  Embrace the rejection as an opportunity.

2. Believe In Something - People follow those who inspire by their actions and beliefs. You have to believe in your community and what your organization is doing.  If you don't, why would anyone else?

1. Be MacGyver - You need to be able to create anything out of a paper clip, the Dukes of Hazzard First Season DVD and a stick of bubble gum.

So there you have it.  A not-so-scientific study into what makes a downtown manager tick.  What do you think of the list?  What's missing?

The Downtown Geek

Want more?  Seek The Geek on Facebook!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Stop Doing What You've Always Done

Inspiration made an appearance this past week at the Michigan Downtown Conference in Kalamazoo, MI.  I attended many fantastic sessions on various topics (alternative funding sources, branding, in-store events, etc.).  As time went on, I realized that there was a common message connecting all the information I heard throughout the conference.  The message?  Stop doing what you've always done - start thinking differently.  The playing field has changed.  It's not about change for the sake of change, but reacting to a new landscape that throws the traditional rule book for downtown revitalization out the window.

It all came together for me as I was listening to Closing Session Speaker Rob Bliss talk about his creative perspective and how he brought some pretty off-the-wall events to life in Grand Rapids, MI.  Have you heard of the Grand Rapids Lip Dub? (4 million YouTube hits and counting)  As he took us on a "tour" of his creative mind, one thing became clear.  He wasn't telling us to all go out and replicate what he did.  He was encouraging us to find the creative people in our community and engage them in our revitalization efforts.

On the three-hour ride home, I took time to reflect on what I learned over the past two days and started translating it into something I could use.  The word that kept coming into my head over and over was engagement.  What are we doing to engage all segments of our community?  Are we successfully telling our story to our residents and visitors?  Are we asking for their support, rather than waiting for them to come to us?  Yep, looks like I've got a lot of work ahead of me.  I always know that a conference was worth the time spent if it sends my mind spinning in all directions with new ideas and inspirations.  The Michigan Downtown Conference was a home run for me.

So whether you're tossing 100,000 paper airplanes off downtown rooftops, creating art out of scrap yard finds or covering historic buildings every four inches with Christmas lights, inspiration comes in many forms. Don't be afraid of new ideas just because they have never been done before.  Embrace them for within those opportunities you may find the means to set your downtown on the path to future stability and success.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Successful Events - It's All About Selection

Ever wonder why an event is a smash hit in one town, but completely falls flat in another?  Event selection is the key to making sure that you are spending your time and dollars wisely.  Before you add a new event to your downtown's calendar, make sure you can answer some key questions.

Find Your Event Sweet Spot - Who is your target market?  Families, young singles, teens, baby boomers?  The tendency is to say all of the above but it is rare to design an event that has wide enough appeal to hit all those markets. (Not impossible, but that's a blog post for another day).  What does the crowd look like at your events?  When people are calling to get more information, what kind of things are they interested in (i.e. children's activities, alcohol availability, entertainment, etc.).  Pay attention to the feedback you receive through your social media channels as well.  This approach should give you the clues you need to design an effective event calendar.  Design events for the market you have, not the market you want.

What's The Point?  Is the point of the event to raise money, ring registers or raise awareness?  It could be a combination of any of these, but you should be able to identify the primary purpose.  To me, it's all about balance.  You don't want to overdo the "sale" events because of the negative consequences it can bring (customers wait for the next sale, because there are so many).  Conversely, it's impractical to only host friend-raising events because the value is much harder to measure and these types of events are only a part of your overall promotional effort.  The best event calendars I see have a mix both fundraising and friend-raising, with some retail events sprinkled in.

Can You Execute It?  There are tons of great event ideas out there.  But the single difference between a successful event and an epic failure comes down to one thing - execution.  Whenever I'm thinking of adding a new event, these items are part of my evaluation.   Logistics - Develop a sketch in your mind of what the event looks like.  What do you need to bring in to make the event happen (i.e. electricity, rental items, signage, etc.)?  Community Support - Determine how much support do you need to run the event.  Volunteers are key.  What do you need from the businesses and are your expectations realistic?  Make sure you are not setting yourself up for failure before you even get started.  And finally, the dreaded "B" word, Budget.  Do you have the dollars to do it right?  Identify any opportunities within the event that could generate revenue to offset costs. 

Last, but certainly not least, what is the "right" number of events for a downtown?  It varies from town to town, and it depends on the willingness of your businesses and the appetite of your event-goers.  In Downtown Rochester, our calendar has grown over the past 14 years from 3 events to now over 100 event days annually.  Learn from each event, and build your calendar gradually.  Don't be afraid to make the hard decisions to eliminate events that, while they have some nostalgia, have run their course.  Events are a key element of any downtown revitalization program and, when well-executed, can deliver significant traffic, dollars and awareness to your downtown.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Secrets of a Downtown Manager

I never intended to be a downtown manager.  In my six years with the Rochester Downtown Development Authority (DDA) as the Marketing Manager, the Director position came available three times and I never applied.  Each time, I would ask myself, why would I want that job?  I never had a good answer to the question, so I stayed in my little promotions world.

Fast forward to 2005.  I had left the DDA two-and-a-half years prior to try my luck in the private sector.  Once again, the Director position was available (fourth time in nine years).  A few downtown merchants tracked me down to see if I was interested in applying.  Of course, I said no.  Why in the world would I want that job?  But for some reason, I actually had an answer this time.  As a matter of fact, not only did I have the answer, but I had a lot of ideas too.  So I threw my hat in the ring.  After two panel interviews and one incredibly painful public interview, no one was more surprised than me to hear my phone ring at 10:15 pm that fateful night to say I got the job.

So here I am six years later, reflecting on this unexpected journey.  I thought I would share a few of the things that I have learned that give me a reason to get out of bed every morning. 

You have to ask for help.  Your job is to make things look effortless, even though you know there are hundreds of moving parts behind the scenes to pull off your programs.  It's easy to fall into the trap of waiting for people to step up because they must know you can't do it by yourself.  It creates a dangerous cycle that is frustrating and self-defeating.  The bottom line is that they don't know unless you tell them.  Communication is the greatest tool that a downtown manager has in their arsenal.

And here's a bonus tip for working with volunteers - never ask them to do anything you wouldn't do yourself.  Whether it's picking up trash, passing out flyers or calling for donations, you better be in there shoulder-to-shoulder with them.  It sets the tone for your organization's work ethic and your volunteer retention will be off the charts. 

Find your happy place. If you are hoping for your Board to swoon every time you land a big donor or present a killer proposal, you'll have a long wait.  The bottom line is that the Main Street Program is not about you (anyone who knows me will realize this is a bold statement for me to make).  It's about the community and everything your organization is doing to make it a vibrant, viable place to be.  It can't ever be about just one person, because what happens when that person leaves?

That's not to say that your efforts are not recognized, but it's up to you to find that place of satisfaction.  Maybe it's a particular committee or volunteer group.  For me, it's my merchants.  This is your place to go to to get your warm fuzzy.  It reminds me of the movie Soapdish (highly underrated soap opera spoof with a star-studded cast).  Whenever the lead character (Sally Field) feels like she is losing her star power, she and her assistant (Whoopi Goldberg) head out the Paramus Mall.  Her assistant pretends to be a fan and creates a frenzy of photos and autograph hounds.  This might be an extreme example, but it perfectly illustrates my point.  Just because people don't tell you every minute of every day that you are appreciated, it doesn't mean that they don't think it. 

You have to love it.  This is not a 9 to 5, punch-your-time-card kind of job.  A friend of mine once told me that being in this business is a calling and I couldn't agree more.  It gets into your blood and becomes a part of your soul.  If you're just doing it for the paycheck or because it might be fun, you're not doing it for the right reasons and most likely, you won't be at your job very long.  Knowing that I have the opportunity to make a difference is all the motivation I need to kick ass and take names each and every day.  That's not to say that there aren't good days and bad days, but as long as the good outnumber the bad, I can handle it.

So what is the most important thing that I learned over the last six years?  I learned it my first day on the job. Taking risks will deliver the greatest rewards.  If I hadn't taken the chance at this job, I would have missed out on one of the best experiences of my life.  I love the people that I am fortunate enough to work with and the amazing projects that keep coming our way.  Most of all, every day when I get out of bed, I am proud to say that I work for Downtown Rochester.

The Downtown Geek

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Business Development - Promote It Like You Stole It!

Whether you call it Economic Restructuring or Business Development, you need to promote it.  When recruiting businesses you are selling your community, so why not include all the great things your district has going for it in the sales pitch. 

Here are a few ways to employ the methods of the Promotions Committee in your efforts:

Statistics, but not the kind you might expect.  Every business recruitment packet includes the demographics of the community/trade area, but that only tells part of the story.  Your sales pitch is about how those demographics translate into dollars for the district.  Include the annual number of event days you have downtown, along with estimated attendance at each event.  Wouldn't hurt to mention how much your district spends each year on marketing.  This is an ideal way to demonstrate that your organization is a valuable partner to the businesses.

What's your downtown's occupancy rate (commonly referred to as a vacancy rate, but why be negative)?  You might be surprised how many downtowners don't know the answer to this crucial question.  If you don't know, you better find out.  This number is not only a powerful tool in your business recruitment pitch, but demonstrates the effectiveness of your organization to the community at large.  It also provides a way to benchmark your recruitment efforts on an ongoing basis.

Promote new businesses.  Okay, so they made the move to your downtown, now what?  Issue monthly press releases, listing all the new businesses, plus any existing businesses that have expanded and/or relocated within the district.  And don't forget to include that fun little occupancy rate figure too!  Keep a tally of all the new/expanded businesses for the year and issue a press release at the end of the year telling your success story.  It's been my experience that you can't wait for the media to notice what a great job your organization is doing, so this will give them a nudge in the right direction.  And don't forget to push all of this information out through your social media channels as well.

Ribbon Cuttings.  Yes, they are old school, but people love them.  Seeing the looks on business owners' faces when you pull out those big scissors is priceless.  We partner with our local Chamber of Commerce to handle the ribbon cuttings.   Take lots of photos and post them instantly on your Facebook Page.  What a great way to introduce the business to the community and to raise awareness of your organization's business attraction efforts. It's also a subtle way to say "Hey, lots of businesses are opening here and you should too!"

Make business recruitment a special event. Host a Downtown Property Tour.  Essentially, it is an Open House, but for your entire business district.  Engage your landlords to make sure that their property is open for the hours of the event.  Select an available property for your host location where you can distribute master lists of available properties, while chatting up prospective tenants.  Make sure you capture attendee contact information so you can follow up after the event.  While the hope would be to have leases signed within 60-90 days, many attendees are testing the waters, but may be ready to make a move within 18-24 months. 

While this is far from a comprehensive list of ways to integrate Promotions into Business Development, I hope that I am starting to make a compelling case for the Four Points working together for the overall benefit of the downtown organization.  Stay tuned, we still have two more points to go...

Kristi Trevarrow
The Downtown Geek

First in a series of blogs demonstrating ways to incorporate Promotions into each of the Main Street Committees.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Main Street - Just A Bunch of Party Planners?

Having just returned from the National Main Streets Conference, I am bursting at the seams with enthusiasm and new ideas.  But my primary takeaway from this year's conference came from Tuesday morning's general session after hearing that Main Street organizations are viewed as "party planners".  And it wasn't meant in a good way.  I've always been proud to say that I'm a Promotions chick, but at that moment, I felt like I wanted to crawl under my chair.  Could my passion for Promotions be hurting my downtown, pegging us only as an events organization?

The discussion further suggested that being viewed as party planners compromises the overall credibility of your organization.  Sorry, I don't buy that.  You establish credibility for your organization through your projects and your positioning.  If anything, Promotions is the most undervalued point of Main Street.  Promotions is, in my opinion, the sexiest point of Main Street.  It is what attracts attention to the district.  The opportunity lies in finding creative ways to not only engage the community, but continuing to bring them back time after time.

Think of it like a first date.  Something attracted you in the first place - a glance, a smile, that extra bit of lip gloss or a hot sports car.  As the relationship goes on, you are still attracted by those things, but the connection goes way beyond the surface.  When people feel good about your downtown and they want to spend time there, that means something.  When they marvel at your historic architecture, that's all about Design.  When they spend money in your businesses, that's Economic Restructuring.  When they want to be a part of your efforts, that's all about Organization.

If you're not telling the complete story of what your organization is doing, don't blame Promotions.  Instead, embrace their methods.  Here are a few quick examples:

Organization - Capitalize on the traffic generated by special events by having your membership materials available at every downtown business. 

Design - Make each of your projects an "event".  Host ribbon cuttings for your restored buildings.  Post photos of your spring flowers plantings or your holiday light installation on your organization's Facebook Page.

Economic Restructuring - Promote the number of new businesses opening and/or expanding in your district as a tool for business recruitment.

To advance my not-so-subtle Promotions agenda, I'll be expanding on these suggestions in future posts, offering ways to pair Promotions with each of the other Main Street committees to develop a comprehensive approach that spotlights the best of what your program has to offer.

Downtown Geek and Proud Party Planner

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Customer Service and The Downtown Manager

I know these are two concepts that you don't often see together, kind of like chocolate milk and salt (trust me, you won't be sorry).  As a follow-up to last month's "How's Your Customer Service" post, it's time to take the focus off the business owners and shine the spotlight on some of the hardest working people in the business - downtown managers.  I've been with my community for a total of twelve years, six as the director.  In that time, I've witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to working with business owners.

Back in the day, I was a bright-eyed, incredibly enthusiastic Promotions & Marketing Coordinator ready to change the world (or at least my little corner of it).  First task on my list was to get out and meet the downtown business owners.  I was working for them, so it seemed like a good place to start.  That decision, hands down, was the best thing  I ever did and now in my capacity as Executive Director, it is still paying dividends.  I have always believed that we are in a service business and the downtown businesses and property owners are our key group of customers.  But how do you measure your customer service efforts?

Indicator 1:  Shoes 

Yes, you read that right, shoes.  The person who gave me my start in this business, Bob Donohue, told me that he would know if I was doing my job by how many pairs of shoes I went through each month.  And as much as it pains me to admit that Bob is right about anything, he was absolutely spot on with this one.  Cement and asphalt are especially hard on the soles of your shoes and provide irrefutable evidence of whether or not you're getting the job done.  On the plus side, this phenomenon complemented my over-the-top shoe buying habit quite nicely.

Indicator 2:  Establish Relationships 

Let's start with the basics - do you know your business owners by name? When was the last time you walked into your businesses just to check in?  I attended a seminar where the downtown manager boasted that he and a group of board members conducted an annual downtown walk of their business district.  He described it as a generally unpleasant experience with the fervent hope that a random thunderstorm would strike, thereby cancelling the walk until next year.  He further explained that he didn't understand why his merchants weren't engaged and always complained.  Hmm.

Visiting once a year on a sunny day is just not enough.  Like any good relationship, you'll only get out of it what you put into it.  Consistency and variety are the keys to making this connection.  Everyone engages in different ways.  Try hosting merchant meetings at the same time and place every month.  They might not be able to attend every month, but at least they will know that the opportunity exists.  Some of your business owners might not be the social types, so how about a merchant newsletter or weekly e-blast to let them know what's happening around town.  The goal is let them know that their input is not only desired, but required to make your downtown a better place. 

Indicator 3:  Establish Value

What's in it for them?  Yes, I know they should want to participate by virtue of the fact that you are trying to help them, but I'm sorry to say that good intentions are not enough to engage the independent business owner.  Their focus is on their business, and rightfully so. Not sure where to start?  Try sending out an annual business survey to discover what their expectations and feelings are about your organization. Forward the results to your appropriate committees to see if there are some actionable items.  If you can make a few of the requests actually happen, you'll be their hero.  People, by nature, want to feel validated.  When you take the time to listen to their ideas and concerns, it goes a long way.

Will working with your businesses always produce a positive outcome?  No, not always.  Inevitably, you will come across someone who has no interest in you or your organization, but that doesn't mean that you should stop trying.  In short, customer service can be a valuable tool in your community revitalization efforts.  It takes time, a sincere effort and some comfortable, snappy shoes but in the long run, it is one the best things that you can do for your downtown.

Want more?   I'll be presenting From Zero to Hero:  A Main Street Manager's Story at the National Main Street Conference in Des Moines, Iowa on Monday, May 23, 3:45 - 5:00 pm.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beyond Promotions: Using Facebook For Your Downtown

As a die-hard downtown promotions girl, it's hard for me to talk about downtowns using Facebook without mentioning events and promotions.  But so many downtowners use social media exclusively for this purpose without exploring the vast opportunities that a Facebook Page provides.  It connects you instantly with people who choose to "like" your downtown.  Are you maximizing your fan base?

Here are a few of my favorite ideas:

Business Recruitment:  Ask people what new businesses they would like to see open in your downtown.  It shows that you are interested in their input, plus it allows you do to a little bit of amateur market research.  With so many people interested in starting a small business in their own community, you might be surprised by the response you receive.

Business Retention: Many of your businesses are on Facebook, so why not help to get the word out?  Feature a daily link to a downtown business Facebook page. Encourage your businesses to do the same by featuring their fellow merchants.  Ask them to post downtown events and make sure they tag your downtown page in their posts.

Fundraising:  The goal of any successful fundraising campaign is to raise maximum funds with minimal overhead costs.  Facebook is a great platform for this effort because it raises awareness of your fundraising goals to a targeted audience beyond what traditional media outlets can provide.  And did I mention it’s free?

In Case of Emergency:  Ever have an event sponsor drop out at the last minute?  What about a new project that needs more volunteers than you originally anticipated?  Last year we lost a presenting sponsor two weeks before an event.  We posted our plight on Facebook and landed a new sponsor within 24 hours.  Does that happen all the time?  Maybe not, but it is an easy and efficient way to put out a call to action.

Make The Ordinary Extraordinary:  Some things that happen downtown may be just routine to you, but not to your fans.  Try posting photos of those everyday activities.  Photos of spring flowers being planted, tents going up for an event or a new business under construction are all ideal ways to show that there is always something new happening in your downtown.

The possibilities that a Facebook Page can provide are endless.  Promotions and events are key, but are far from the only uses for Facebook.  Not sure where to start?  Create a post asking people what they want to see on your page.  This will not only confirm what they do like, but provide you with a road map to continue creating engaging content that will benefit your downtown for years to come.

Want more?  Seek The Geek on Facebook!

Monday, April 11, 2011

When Is The Right Time?

I recently attended an event and overheard a politician explaining to his constituents that with state of the economy and impending budget cuts that "this is not the time for new ideas". Not the right time? Really? I can't think of a better time to come up with new ideas. What could happen? It's not like you could make things worse.

Without overstating it, this statement haunted me for days to follow.  Nevertheless, it made me think. Is this same sentiment ringing through downtowns across the country? Have we been so paralyzed by the economic pressures around us that we have stopped generating new ideas?  It's easy to fall into the routine of waiting for opportunities, but it's so much more satisfying to get out there and create them yourself.

In true geek form, I have a good brainstorming session at least once a week, even going so far as to keep paper and pen on my nightstand in anticipation of those inevitable 2 a.m. revelations. When was the last time you brainstormed? It could be about a specific project, committee or event. Maybe an age-old problem that you set aside long ago. It's a great way to engage and re-energize your committees and staff.

Do all good ideas cost money? Absolutely not. Simple, easy ideas can yield some valuable results. For example, in my downtown we host Facebook Fridays. During these monthly events, merchants can come in for Facebook "Tech Support". Whether they need help setting up a page or are looking for suggestions to use their page more effectively, we set aside hour-long appointments to address their needs. Since its inception two years ago, over 140 of our downtown businesses are now on Facebook.

Something unexpected happened along the way on Facebook Fridays. Within that hour-long period, we started talking. Not about Facebook, but about what was happening in their business. Over the two years of hosting these trainings, we have gained supporters & volunteers, identified and addressed businesses needs and most importantly, we found new ideas.

So go ahead and get those ideas flowing?  What's the worst thing that could happen?

Don't forget to seek The Geek on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How's Your Customer Service? (Part 1)

When I ask merchants what sets their business apart from the competition, nine times out of ten the response is the same - customer service. Upon further questioning of what makes their approach to customer service unique, it is hard to nail down a specific answer other than "it's great".

It seems that many define great service as providing the customer with the product they came in to buy. I would classify that as being efficient, but certainly not a testimonial for superior customer service. When I think of places I have visited and found the customer service to be of note, it was more about the overall experience than the actual service.

The experience is what makes a customer want to return to support your business and within this lies the opportunity to set your business apart. Independent businesses are, by nature, positioned to deliver an unforgettable customer experience because of their typically intimate setting, select product offerings and small staff.

Here are few things you can do to create a memorable customer experience:

Be An Expert: Know the product you sell. You should not only be able to answer questions about it, but offer interesting information or background about the item and how it came to be in your shop. This will not only enhance your customer's experience, but establish you as an expert in your field. This will ensure your designation of the "must see" person when your customer is in the market for your product or service.

It's the Small Things: When was the last time you delivered an item to a customer's home? What about calling after the fact to see if they are satisfied with their purchase? In my town we have a shop that offers free gift wrap with every purchase. From a photo album to a rubber duckie, if you want it wrapped, they have you covered. For this reason (and their fabulous product selection), whenever I need a last-minute gift, they are my only stop.

Go Old School: Send a hand-written thank you note. Yep, I said it, hand-written. I know, it's crazy, because it is no longer a standard practice, but how fantastic would it be to see your customer's face when they realize that you took the time to actually send them a note through snail mail. Don't underestimate the power of the mailbox moment. And don't wait for a purchase to send a note. Send a "thanks for stopping in" or "great to see you" note. You'd be surprised how much customer loyalty can be generated for the cost of a stamp.

The bottom line is that in the ever-expanding retail landscape, consumers have more options than ever. The key is establishing that outstanding customer experience that keeps them coming back for more.

Next Time - How's Your Customer Service - Part 2: Main Street Managers, This One's For You!

Don't forget to seek The Geek on Facebook!

Friday, February 4, 2011

What is The Downtown Geek?

The term geek is defined many different ways. A quick Internet search yields the following results: (1) A person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest; (2) Anyone paid to do work considered odd or bizarre by mainstream society; (3) The people you pick on in high school and wind up working for as an adult. Well, I couldn't have put it better myself.

Why are downtowns the object of my geek affections? I guess I have my Grandma Sonia to thank for that. I spent my summers on the east side of Detroit with my grandparents. Each day followed the same routine. Grandma Sonia didn't drive, so we walked to the small business district in her neighborhood. We'd start the morning at the counter at Sanders to have breakfast and catch up on the local gossip. Next it was on to S.S. Kresge Five & Dime to see what new treasures and trinkets awaited us. Then Cunningham's Drug Store to pick up her prescriptions. And last, but certainly not least for a growing girl, a stop at Kowalski's for fresh cut ring bologna for my lunch.

This is the stuff of my most vivid childhood memories. To this day, I remember clearly how the stools at Sanders wobbled or squeak of the hinges on the back door at the dime store. But more importantly, I remember the people and how they knew Grandma Sonia and by association, me. That was my first experience being a part of a community. Of being a part of something bigger than myself, like a family. A family made of wonderful shops, great old buildings that creaked when you walked on their floors and the smiling faces that knew my name as if I was their own child or grandchild.

Fast forward to 2011 and here I am working for a downtown. It’s not easy to explain what I do for a living, let alone why I do it. Being a downtown manager for Downtown Rochester, Michigan, people think I’m everything from a glorified secretary to a party planner. As anyone in the field of community development will tell you, every day is different. For me, that’s what makes this job worth waking up for each morning.

So what's the purpose of “The Downtown Geek”? Day in and day out we are inundated with negative stories about the economy. But there are encouraging, positive stories out there, they just need a forum to be heard. And there are no better stories to tell than those that are taking place every day in communities across the country.

I believe The Downtown Geek will be a source for good news, innovative ideas and a different perspective. While I will always be happy to share my two cents, I hope to convince some my fellow downtown geeks to contribute their talents as well. I guarantee to keep it fresh, interesting and heck, maybe even inspiring.

Remember being a geek isn’t a look, it’s a lifestyle.

Kristi Trevarrow
The Downtown Geek

P.S. – Want more? Seek The Geek on Facebook – www.facebook.com/DowntownGeek