Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Has Your Main Street Program Jumped The Shark?

"Jumped the shark" is one of my all-time favorite pop culture phrases, referring to the infamous Happy Days episode where Fonzie grabbed his water skis and actually jumped over a shark.  This is widely regarded as the point at which the beloved sitcom began to go downhill.  The phrase caught on and now refers to anything that seems to be stale or outlived its appeal or usefulness.  So how do you know if your Main Street program has jumped the shark?

Are you preaching to the choir?
When you have merchant meetings are you seeing the same faces?  Engaging new businesses is as important as maintaining relationships with existing stakeholders.  You may have a great turnout in terms of attendance, but if you are not attracting new people there's a problem.  It's easy to say that people are too busy to attend, but if you create an event that demonstrates value to your businesses, you'd be surprised how many will make the time to be there.

You count success by the number of awards on your wall.
Nope.  Sorry.  Never.  Don't get me wrong, awards are awesome and certainly validate your organization's efforts.  I'm extremely proud of the wall o' fame in our office.  But you know what is a true measure of success?  When an existing business tells you they need new space because they are so busy they need to expand.  Or how about when a resident calls to offer some ideas to help your efforts and make downtown even better.  My personal favorite, the smile on a child's face when they see the Christmas lights in your downtown for the first time.  Many say that success can be measured by statistics, charts and graphs.  I prefer a much simpler approach.  If the people in your town are happy, then you are doing your job.

When was the last time you had a new idea? 
I understand the rationale of "if it's not broken, don't fix it", but I don't think that really applies to Main Street.  Downtowns are living things, full of opportunity and change.  If you are only doing the same things over and over, are you really responding to the current environment in which your downtown exists?  Further, what reasons are you giving people to continue to come to your town?  Traditions are one thing and should absolutely be maintained, but to be relevant to an increasingly distracted population, you need to keep looking forward.  Not everything has to be the next big thing or a million dollar idea.  Maybe it's a fresh approach to an existing event, or engaging an under-served market in your trade area.  Bottom line, it never hurts to have ideas.

You think you're done.
The buildings are full, streetscape looks fresh, events are attracting record crowds. What else is there to do?  Really?!? If you or your board ever actually think this, then you are done and you should move out of the way to let someone else take the reins.  It's easy to sit back and admire your achievements - goals met and successes gained.  But after that moment in your happy place, it's time to get back to work.  Just because things are the way you hoped they would be is no guarantee that they will stay that way.  New challenges are waiting for you, all you have to do is look around. 

So what motivates me to keep our program on track and make sure we aren't in danger of becoming irrelevant?   I think Walt Disney described it best, "That’s what I like about this business, the certainty that there is always something bigger and more exciting just around the bend; and the uncertainty of everything else."

The Downtown Geek