Wednesday, April 30, 2014
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City of Lincoln hires Retail Strategies

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[April 30, 2014]  At the April 21 voting session of the Lincoln City Council, aldermen unanimously approved hiring a retail marketing firm. Retail Strategies was hired at a cost of approximately $100,000 over the next four years.

The company's mission is to assist the city in bringing new retail ventures to Lincoln through their marketing and recruitment program

On April 15, Chip Rodgers of Retail Strategies gave a presentation to the council regarding what the firm could do for the city.

Rodgers is not unknown to the city, as he came before the council in 2009, when he worked for Buxton. That was also a retail marketing firm, which offered some good information but did not actually fill the requirements for the city's needs.

Rodgers has since left Buxton and is now a part of Retail Strategies. He and Mayor Keith Snyder recently connected again when Snyder attended the International Council of Shopping Centers convention.

When presenting to the city, Rodgers said that Retail Strategies offers the complete package, so the city will have to do very little work. In contrast, he said that Buxton would have provided the city with the tools, but the actual recruitment of new business would have been on the city.

With these types of companies, there are a variety of steps that have to be taken in order to successfully bring new retailers into the area.

Retail Strategies will study the market area, do studies on what shoppers within a certain radius of Lincoln are shopping for, and will identify the gaps in retail offerings in Lincoln.

Rodgers said this is the foundation of a retail strategic plan for the city.

In addition, the firm will look at available space in the city, in the downtown area as well as on the edges of town, where larger retailers might be interested.

In many cases, this is where marketing firms stop. They provide the client with information and direct them to trade shows and prospects, but it becomes the work of the municipality to go to the shows, reach out to the prospects and hopefully bring new business to the town.

Rodgers said his firm will go beyond the norm and will do all of the legwork for the city. Retail Strategies will develop a list of prospective new businesses according to the gaps they identify. Then they will pursue those businesses with the intention of bringing them to Lincoln. He said they would also be the ones to attend the trade shows and sell the city to prospective developers.

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During the discussion period, Snyder asked what kind of timeline Rodgers had for the city. Rodgers replied that the research and analysis, along with developing marketing materials, would probably take a year. He noted that it is a four-year program he was presenting, so the following three years would be focused on bringing new businesses to the city.

Because Retail Strategies represents other cities in central Illinois, there were questions about towns competing against one another for new businesses. Rodgers said stores look at distance between businesses and also that his firm weighs which business is best suited to a town. The firm, he said, works to avoid putting cities in a position of competing against each other.

Rodgers was also asked about building business in the downtown area and if that would be included in his focus. He said it would. He noted that bringing businesses into a small downtown area offers its own challenges, in that it is more of the "local entrepreneur, small business" type that is interested in downtown areas. Larger retail chains often don't want to locate in downtown areas because there isn't enough available space.

In discussing the fee for Retail Strategies, Snyder reminded the council that they allowed for $25,000 in the current year budget, which had not yet been spent. In addition, there will be $25,000 in the new budget year. The two combined will pay the first half of the fee to Retail Strategies.

When the item came up for a vote last week, the council supported it unanimously with all eight council members present.

Rodgers had told the city that once hired, the firm would start right away and would expect to be back before the council within six to eight weeks with reports on the first of its research.


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