By Lisa LaMere, Buxton Professional in Residence
A fair amount of time spent by economic development professionals is focused on selling their community as a choice location for business. For the recruitment of retailers and restauranteurs, this requires presenting data validating the city and trade area’s suitability for retail establishments. Available sites, demographics, psychographics and retail sales potential must be marketed to prospects to show why your town is a stand-out among the retailer’s many options.
At some point during the process of engaging retailers, whether attempting to schedule an appointment at a trade show or hoping to pique their interest enough for a site tour, you will have to cold-call prospects. And that means possibly being told that there is no interest in your town.
Nobody likes rejection, but especially not after you have invested so much time and effort on recruitment only to be rebuffed. At that point you might think it’s the end of the road.
However, before you accept no for an answer, take that opportunity to ask the site selector why your trade area isn’t considered a good fit for that particular retailer. Having that knowledge could benefit you in the long run, and you may be able to provide insights to overcome their misperceptions or present information they hadn’t previously known.
Is population density the issue? Let them know about the new housing developments on the horizon. Is daytime population the roadblock? Advise them, for example, of a new industry bringing jobs to town that will draw out-commuter workers back to the trade area.
Or do they have a misperception about local crime? Determine what they’ve heard and get updated crime statistics from your police department. The FBI also maintains annual stats that allow comparisons of your city, the neighboring towns and like communities where the retailer has other stores. If the data bolsters your case, provide them as follow-up material.
If their preferred site doesn’t have the infrastructure to support their project, inform them of the pending capital improvement project that will extend sewer and water to a site they found favorable. Or perhaps there are incentives they hadn’t known about that will assist in their construction efforts.
Nevertheless, if you can’t overcome their objections at that time, ask if you might periodically send them some relevant information. Short articles about any ground breakings are newsworthy – as are new residential construction permits, retailer grand openings, and major infrastructure plans.
Furnish the same content you might consider putting on your website and social media. Don’t forget the ever-important testimonials! You'll stay top-of-mind while adding value and building your relationship as a trusted economic development professional. There may even be an opportunity to turn that initial “no” into a “yes” in the future. It’s important to cultivate these relationships.
But what if all your attempts to contact a retailer don’t garner any response. What does it mean when you receive no call-back? Do you interpret your prospect’s silence as his “no”? Whatever you do, don’t cross this retailer off your prospect list yet.
Best practices recommend making four calls a month to each prospect and up to 12 emails per quarter. Phone contact is the most personal and should be the go-to channel of communication. And hand-written notes are always viewed in a positive light.
Polish your elevator pitch. Your pitch is useful as an introduction in a letter or email and even in marketing material. Put the most relevant information right up front. Customize your pitch with details of consumer buying habits that are significant for each retailer or restaurant concept.
If you don’t have contact management software, utilize simple calendar reminders for contacting prospects. Try different email subject lines, tailoring each email with additional information every time to pique their interest. Consider including leakage information for their specific retail category, or updated housing development stats.
Take the same approach when leaving voice mail messages. Offer your uncommunicative prospects the data that could motivate them to further investigate. Keep in mind, though, that before calling you they may explore your website first, so be sure it is “site selector ready.”
As you continue to learn from your dialog with retail prospects, your priorities will evolve based on changes in the market as well as the insights you’ve acquired. Then apply those insights to mitigate as many obstacles to retail development in your community as possible. And remember: retail recruitment is a marathon, not a sprint.
Need access to information to help overcome objections in your retail recruitment process? Learn how Buxton’s analytics can help.