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Retail Recruitment - Does it Always Follow Rooftops?

The adage “retail follows rooftops” sometimes leads small communities or those with stagnant growth to believe that retail recruitment efforts are pointless, but is that true?

While it is true that retailers may have certain minimum thresholds of customers in the store trade area that they would like to meet and that population growth can attract new development, there are still ways for communities to attract the retail development they seek.

Here are two alternative retail recruitment strategies for communities who have had trouble attracting retailers.

Attract Primary Job Generators

If rooftop growth is stagnant or your total rooftop count is perceived to be too small, think about other ways to bring customers into your trade area. One way to do this is by attracting industrial development or other primary job generators. Not only does adding new employers boost your community’s daytime population, but it also brings the possibility of new rooftops.

One rural community used analytics to help attract a call center to a vacant building in their downtown, which brought 300 jobs. The boost in downtown daytime population gave retailers a reason to talk with city leaders about the possibility of opening a location downtown.

Close-in suburbs of major cities, who maxed out their residential development potential years ago, are also turning to job growth as a way to boost daytime population numbers and kickstart retail development projects.

Focus on Your Trade Area Rather Than Political Boundaries

The population within your political boundaries may be too small to support retail development, but the population within your trade area may not be.

Shoppers think in terms of drive-times, so retailers do too. A drive-time trade area is a geographic region around the store where the majority of customers come from, based on how long it takes them to travel there.

When a retailer evaluates a site in your community, they need to look at the number of rooftops within the total trade area. If your population is small, lead with your trade area population instead.  

The City of Celina, Texas, is a great example of this retail strategy. The historically rural city north of Dallas wanted to attract development to lay a foundation for future growth, but its population was considered too small. By going beyond the city limits and studying the population within a 12-minute drive-time trade area, Celina was able to present a convincing case for new development and attracted several new retailers and restaurants.

The Bottom Line

While it’s important for communities to set appropriate expectations with stakeholders about retail development, it’s not impossible to attract new businesses. There are many paths in the retail recruitment process, even if that path requires a few detours before reaching the eventual goal.  

Journey Awareness Persona Economic Development/Elected Official City Government