Leaders consider consultant to get restaurants, retail

Friday, April 27, 2007

Leaders of Marshall County and its municipalities heard a Fort Worth, Tex.-based "retail identification and marketing program" manager describe his company's services on Tuesday night and have been asking themselves if they should hire the consultant.

"Ultimately, it's a retail attraction program," Chas Stoker, territory business manager for the CommunityID Division of Buxton Co., told members of Marshall County's Joint Economic and Community Development Board during a meeting in the Courthouse Annex.

"I can drive around this community and tell you that you need a restaurant," Stoker said. "But which one?"

Corporate leaders are less concerned with standard demographic information, he said, contrasting that with information about customers. The former describes populations by age, income, race and other census data. The latter includes descriptions on buying habits and consumer tastes.

"Retail recruitment looks at customers, not people," Buxton's territory business manager said.

A more sophisticated analysis of markets may reveal whether a Chili's restaurant will thrive where an Applebee's would not, Stoker said.

He noted an influx of new residents to Marshall County because land and construction costs offer home buyers more for less. More residents might also follow successful industrial development, and new jobs can be a goal for a program that might be developed for the county, he said.

Most community leaders don't understand how retailers speak, so Buxton's service can help them understand, for example, that retailers are more interested in how long it takes a consumer to drive to their store and not the actual mileage, he said.

"Home Depot wants to be within five minutes of their customers," Stoker said.

"Where do you eat, work and play," Stoker asked rhetorically as he spoke of customers lifestyles, purchasing behavior and media habits.

Furthermore, the service his employer offers "is a great way to help out your local retailers," he said, suggesting that a better awareness of what customers want can prompt retailers here to stock different products which may sell as well as, or better than what's in stock now.

"We had one community that didn't recruit any new business," Stoker said. However, that community's sales tax revenue increased because products were added to existing stores.

Franklin has worried Nashville leaders because consumers spent money at Cool Springs Galleria, he said.

Previous leaders in Franklin have said they wanted the mall because of the sales tax revenue and it grew so much that the property tax rate has remained the same. And for several years the city's sales tax revenue has been greater than what's generated by property taxes. Most local government budgets show property taxes as the largest source of revenue.

Various levels of service may be obtained from Buxton. While a detailed price list wasn't described, Stoker said if one Radio Shack store is brought to the community as a result of the consultant's work, then the increase in sales tax revenue will cover the service's fee.

Jaimie Stitt, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, introduced Stoker, saying that she and another county leader found Buxton Co. at a trade show.

County commissioners, city and town leaders and other local government officials attended the 90 minute presentation by Stoker on Tuesday. Members of the economic and community development panel were asking each other for reactions that night and the questions were still heard Wednesday at Chapel Hill's budget workshop.

"CommunityID provides ... marketing tools" for a retail development program so local leaders can: rate sites with the best potential; identify businesses that match residents' buying and dining preferences; get the message to retailers; logically present advantages for retailers, and; focus on specific retailers and restaurants, the company's brochure says.

Since 1949, Buxton has helped retailers find the right locations and identifies suitable retailers for growing communities, the company said. Stoker said he spoke with leaders in Fayetteville earlier this week. The company serves 180 communities nationwide.