TVA resources applied locally for more sales

Friday, December 4, 2009
Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, left, confers with Chuck Marquis, project manager for TVA's Economic Development Business Resources Division, center, as County Commissioner Jimmy Stitt, chairman of the county's Economic and Community Development-Tourism Committee, looks on.

Just in time for the Christmas shopping season, TVA's business resource division delivered handy hints on how to boost business by talking to people and acting on economic information provided Tuesday night in Lewisburg.

"We're trying to help retailers think through their customers so that shopping is a pleasurable experience for them," Chuck Marquis, project manager for TVA's Economic Development Business Resources Division, explained the city's Recreation Center.

Some of his message is as simple as talking with people when they enter a business so there's a conversation instead of the "May I help you?" question that's easily deflected with "Just looking."

Another part of Marquis' story is from market analysis that, on the face of it, would appear to be obvious, given descriptions of what's found by his closer look.

"This market is a great middle America market," he said of what merchants have here.

Marquis' descriptions are of market segments that describe the lifestyle here as focused on "Shotguns and Pickups," meaning big working class families with young sportsmen and small or manufactured homes. "Blue Highways" is another phrase for customers from rural roads winding through the American landscape where men hunt and fish, and women like crafts, and couples go to country music concerts.

Other descriptions of the neighbors, relatives and friends sound like TV shows: they're the "Young and Rustic" from "Mayberry-ville" and the "Heartlanders" from "Old Milltowns" where "Simple Pleasures" are at "Kid Country."

An earnest look at what the people want from merchants shows that, Marquis said, "There seems to be a gap that could be filled by local retailers."

Greg Lowe, whose assignment at Lewisburg City Hall has been expanded from codes enforcement to helping with industrial and economic development, offered some insights on Marquis' point about a gap.

"That's leakage," Lowe said, suggesting that merchants find ways to "bring that money back to Marshall County."

Economic and trade analysis shows that residents spend money on products and services that are offered here, Lowe noted. But frequently, those purchases are made elsewhere.

Mike Wiles, executive director of the Joint Economic and Community Development Board, agreed.

"Sometimes it's an event when they go out to eat and then go shopping," Wiles said.

Auto parts stores, Lowe said, offer the same products here where those purchases build the local economy and help those businessmen and women who are neighbors, instead of people living near malls.

Marquis said this market area is large enough and there's room for growth. The epicenter of Marshall's "substantial retail base" is the intersection of Nashville Highway and Ellington Parkway. That is a crossroads of commerce that encompasses an area defined by a 16-mile drive in all directions.

There was an estimated $351 million in retail sales in the area during 2009, but there was a demand of $520 million, Lowe reported from Marquis' presentation that used data from Claris, a nationally recognized source of accurate, up-to-date demographic data and target marketing research information about population, consumer behavior, consumer spending, market segments, households and businesses within any specific geographic target market area in the U.S.A.

The difference between what people here spent and what they spent here is $169 million and that's the potential retail sale not being realized by local businesses.

The "leakage" is therefore 32 cents of every dollar spent by residents who can drive only 16 miles from home to Walgreen's, Food Lion, Roberts & Lyon, H&S No. 2, CB&S Bank, a Shell station and, nearby, half a dozen restaurants.

Some businesses have already taken steps to retain their customer base and reach out to others. Lewisburg Lanes, the bowling alley on West Commerce Street is an example, Wiles said.

Bowlers can eat supper there while enjoying a sport that's available elsewhere, he said.

Meanwhile, a well-known issue about the local market was raised during discussion before the TVA presentation.

There are 32 places to buy and eat a meal in this market, Wiles said, adding two more will open soon: Mildred's in what was a KFC on Ellington Parkway will be another location for the restaurant that started in Fayetteville, and the Corner Cafe is closer to opening at the northeast corner of Lewisburg's public square.