The Newser took an enthusiastic viewpoint on the governmental affairs of our town, along with those of many other burgs in this area. And none more so than when they wrote about the Buxton Downtown Retail Market Demand Study. Dated June 14, 2012, judging by this article you'd have thought it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. Or something as equally exciting and momentous.
Sierra Madre to Attract Downtown Business with Marketing Study (link): Sierra Madre, like most cities in this Post-Redevelopment Era, must go to creative lengths to attract new downtown business to fuel economic growth.
At its Tuesday meeting, the City Council gave staff direction to implement a downtown market demand study that would not only help recruit new business, but invigorate current businesses to help the city compete with neighboring market areas.
Prepared by Fort Worth, Texas marketing firm Buxton, the study identifies Sierra Madre’s retail strengths and weaknesses to assist the city in recruiting specific retailers that would best compliment the area’s consumers. The study was also intended to assist current businesses with making strategic merchandising and marketing decisions, according to City Manager Elaine Aguilar.
The first step in implementing the market demand study is to focus on business retention, said Aguilar. The idea is to inform local merchants with the study’s consumer propensity reports, which list retail items that local consumers purchase most frequently in Sierra Madre’s trade area.
“We could prepare these reports for current businesses to help them figure out if there is something they should be carrying in order to capture some of the sales that are being lost to our neighboring communities,” said Aguilar.
She told the council that staff would like to provide these study findings to local business owners by setting up two forums this month. Staff would then survey participants to know whether or not business owners find this information to be useful. Staff also proposed that members of the Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce help get the word out to local merchants, while also generating enthusiasm toward the market demand study.
Bill Coburn, Executive Director at the Sierra Madre Chamber of Commerce and editor of Sierra Madre News Net, told the council that the Chamber had discussed the Buxton study at previous meetings and was excited to make it work for Sierra Madre as it has for other communities.
“I have seen it implemented in other cities where businesses benefit directly from specific items that nobody in the town is carrying,” said Coburn. “Once they saw that, they started carrying them – now all of a sudden they’re selling them.”
According to Aguilar, the next phase for the study would be business recruitment. She said that staff has already been provided a list of specific retail businesses that match Sierra Madre’s market demand area.
“Once that list is narrowed down to two or three businesses, Buxton actually prepares what they call pursuit packages, and that is information tailored to that specific business showing why Sierra Madre has the customers that will support their businesses,” Aguilar reported.
As part of the recruitment plan, staff suggested that the city offer potential businesses special incentives to setup shop in Sierra Madre. Aguilar said that staff had brainstormed some ideas such as reduced building and safety permit fees, expediting permit processing at no extra cost, relaxed parking standards, or reduced business fees. She noted that the City Council would need to discuss this idea in greater detail at future meetings.
“We’re just throwing this at you as a way to generate ideas,” said Aguilar. “We could do none of these, or we could do one or two things that you might think are interesting.”
Mayor Pro-Tem Nancy Walsh did not hold back her enthusiasm for putting the study to use. She said local merchants would need to be inspired by the prospects of increased economic activity for the study forums to be truly productive.
“It’s going to take all of us talking to business owners,” she said. “And I think it’s going to be very interesting that we are going to have to sell it to the business owners because they have a lot on their hands, and they’re not going to want to go to these meetings if they think it’s going to be a waste of time.”
As you might recall, the Buxton people did not come cheap. The price of admission to their Downtown Retail Market Demand Study was a cool $30,000. A lot of dough at any given time, but especially so today when the constant demands being made by the City for ever larger amounts of the tax and ratepayer's dime has become controversial here in town.
So where did all of that money come from? According to the June 28, 2011 City Council Agenda (link), it was paid for out of Community Redevelopment Agency funds. A cash source we no longer have access to I'm afraid. It was all taken away by Jerry Brown to pay for things that he wants, like the state's public schools. Perhaps that is a good thing. This money may have been too much of a temptation for our people, and they didn't quite understand how it needed be handled.
Being curious about what exactly we ended up getting from Buxton for our $30,000 in CRA money, I turned to the June 12, 2012 Agenda Report for this item. It is titled "DOWNTOWN MARKET DEMAND STUDY – IMPLEMENTATION." Many bold claims are made there about Buxton and the sophisticated marketing methodology that they call "Psychographics." A word that might suggest to some the artwork of a madman, but in the Buxtonian worldview actually indicates how people might decide what consumer products to purchase, and where exactly they would go to do that.
According to verbiage found in this Agenda Report, all we would ever need do to bless our downtown shops with hitherto unseen levels of prosperity is identify these products, and then convince our reluctant retailers to bring them here to Sierra Madre to sell.
Our retailers apparently being a little too slow to figure any of this out on their own. Fortunately for Sierra Madre, Buxton's psychographics would make that just as easy as snap for them.
As an example, here is a portion of that Agenda Report, as authored by Sierra Madre's City Manager, Elaine I. Aguilar. There is some forward thinking to be found in this material.
Marketing and Branding: A possible implementation item pertains to the creation of a new, “Shop, Dine, Visit Sierra Madre program,” or a similar marketing program for Sierra Madre. The marketing program would be aimed at enhancing the experience of the City’s residents and visitors and the goal is bringing more residents and visitors downtown.
The development of a marketing program is a very involved process. It can involve branding, developing a slogan, logo, and marketing materials including digital information such as a website, and full use of the internet and social media. Most importantly it will involve making a decision regarding “how” Sierra Madre should be marketed – for example, is Sierra Madre:
A “day trip” destination – walking through the downtown shops and enjoying a meal
An outdoor person’s paradise, with hiking trails, bicycle riding, etc.
A “dog-friendly” place to visit
A family oriented town with parades and special events
And any other ideas.
Additionally, a decision will need to be made on “who” to market the City to, for instance:
People living in Sierra Madre
People coming into Sierra Madre for work or school
People inside or outside the City’s market trade area
People looking for daytime destinations or “staycation”
Making a decision regarding how and to whom Sierra Madre should market itself, will aid in the development of the rest of the marketing plan (or plans), including the development of a slogan and the marketing materials.
It is recommended that a “Shop, Dine, Visit Sierra Madre” committee be formed. The Committee can be assisted by City staff, but it is recommended that the committee members be one or two Council Members and interested community volunteers, with involvement of residents with a background in marketing and advertising. Staff would need Council direction regarding the formation of the committee. The committee could either be a committee formally appointed by the Council (and subject to the Brown Act.) Or, the committee can be an informal committee composed of any interested individuals and less than a quorum of Council Members.
A very involved process indeed. But at least it's dog friendly.
So here are my questions. It has now been about a year and a half since implementing the Downtown Retail Market Demand Study was discussed by the City Council. To date I have yet to hear of any meetings of the Shop, Dine, Visit Sierra Madre Committee. Did that not happen? Do we know who was appointed to serve on this committee yet? I happen to be an expert on menu use, and would be glad to help out.
And the flood of exciting new products and businesses that Buxton's acclaimed "psychographics" concept was to bring to our little portion of the western paradise, what's up with that? I personally will tell you that I still cannot seem to find superfoods like quinoa or goji berries in town. I was in the Bottle Shop just the other day and they didn't have either of them in stock. Though they did try to get me to taste some wine. I had to turn them down, however. Unless I am in church I rarely drink that early in the day.
Certainly there has to at least be a logo, marketing information or a slogan available by this late date. "Sierra Madre: We now stock toilet paper" would be a good one.
Can anyone supply me with information about how exactly this all turned out? I'd be curious to know.