The loss of much off our retail during the recession hurt us in many ways. As citizens, it took away many local places like Target to shop and buy the things that we want. Middletown residents often have to spend their local dollars driving up or down the highway to some other city to buy their consumer goods.
For our citizens, places like Target and other service-related businesses offered local employment opportunities.
For the City, the loss of retail affects property tax and income tax receipts, limiting the services the City can provide for its residents.
During the recession, most people had to adjust their spending to match their lack of raises and/or loss of employment, further hurting the retail business in general.
The recession is now behind us. Unemployment in Butler County is less than 4%, which the experts would say constitutes full employment.
With that in mind, staff has started work on developing a retail recruitment strategy for the City to return some of those national and regional retailers to Middletown and to look at support we can offer to local, homegrown merchants.
In the regional and national retail sector, retailers have a specific group of desirable demographic attributes that they require to open a new location.
As a fake example… Tim Horton’s coffee may have learned through past experience that there are 10 demographic attributes that every one of their successful stores has. It could be things like average household income of a certain level, so many people living within 3 miles of the proposed location, a certain average educational level attained by residents, etc. If the store has all 10 of the attributes, they know the store will be successful. If the location under consideration lacks even one of the desired attributes, there is some possibility that the proposed new store will not meet expectations.
Retailers, as a rule, only consider new locations that meet all of whatever target attributes they have determined make them successful.
Those target attributes start with simple things like census data, but can get much deeper. In this digital world we live in, we are constantly sending out electronic information about what we buy with a credit card, what kind of groceries we purchase, what kinds of cars we drive, what we like and don’t like and on and on.
Buxton is one of the largest retail recruiters in the country. Their company buys all of the electronic data that is available and builds a digital footprint of different geographic areas. After purchasing and analyzing the data, they may find in a certain community that 70% of automobiles driven are produced domestically and 30% of the residents drive foreign cars… 60% drink beer and 40% drink wine… all kinds of consumer details that help retailers find their next location.
What Buxton discovered several years ago was that they could also help municipalities recruit retail. When they build the digital footprint for an area like Middletown, they may find that while we don’t meet all of a certain brand’s needs, there may be a similar retailer with a similar product that is looking for a location just like Middletown. As another fake example… we theoretically might not meet all of the requirements for a new Tim Horton’s location, but we might have exactly what Starbucks is looking for in a new location.
Buxton matches your existing demographics against retailers looking for what you already have. They then prepare the report demonstrating your qualifications in a form that retail site selectors need to make a decision and Buxton then facilitates the introduction and interaction between the city and the retailer.
Buxton has an attractive track record of bringing multiple retailers to the cities they work with. I will be asking City Council on December 15th for permission to contract with Buxton to start recruiting new national and regional retail business to the City. This will be not only on the east end at the highway, but also for our existing shopping centers that have vacancies and downtown.
Finally, I am looking at ways we can better support our homegrown merchants. There are a few communities in Ohio that have ongoing programs for façade improvements, micro-loans to small business and other tools to help local business thrive and grow. While we have a limited façade program for downtown business, I’d like to expand our capacity to help locally-owned businesses throughout the community.
As with all new things, we’ll need to talk to the business community about what would be helpful, develop a program to meet those goals and then find a way to fund it going forward.
We have a couple of good models from other parts of Ohio to start from, so with everyone working towards the same goal, hopefully we can find a win/win program that will work well in Middletown.
Have a great week!