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

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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

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