Location is everything

Any retailer knows that the more traffic a store has, the more likely the chance for a sale. Location is the key to retailing success.

Many retail operations are finding that some of the hottest locations aren’t in suburban malls or strip centers, but downtown.

Abandoned warehouses are becoming trendy apartment buildings filled with young professionals and empty nesters who have moved downtown to be close to entertainment, sports and shopping. They have money to spend and government planners and retailers are taking notice.

“You are seeing cities doing master planning that is trying to drive or create relevancy to downtown areas,” says Bill Chidley, chief creative officer at Design Forum, a Dayton, Ohio-based retail consulting company. “Retailers follow traffic, because that’s where the money is.”

But before you pack up shop and head downtown, be on the lookout for one of two keys to success:

  • Existing attractions. A high profile traffic generator, like a Nordstrom’s or other big name destination, can spur further development in an area. Their real estate and development people obviously saw potential in the area, and you can tap into that as well. Your product should be appealing to the same consumers that frequent the big name retailer, though. Trying to sell used auto parts to the Nordstrom’s customer is not a good plan.
  • Synergy retailing. This means there are many shops that are complementary to each other, such as antiques, crafts or collectibles that help generate traffic for each other. These “collectives” serve the same purpose as the big name retailer, and those selling to the same consumer will benefit most.

“For one guy to say, ‘I’m moving downtown’, would not be a good strategy,” says Chidley. “Even if there is a theater development or a restaurant community, that might not translate into retail sales.” The traffic might be there, but people going to a play may not stop to shop on their way to the show.

Being on Main Street, even if it’s Main Street suburbia, does have its advantages. Rent will tend to be less, especially if the area hasn’t completed (or started) its turnaround.

“There’s a sense of community you get at a Main Street location,” says Chidley. “You don’t get that in a regional mall. Also, in a mall, expectations are raised. If they see you next to Eddie Bauer, you have to compete with them visually and servicewise, or you run the risk of appearing ‘small time.’”

The small time look can actually be appealing at a Main Street location.

“Everything seems to be a franchise of something,” notes Chidley. “There is a lot of opportunity to develop unique stores. Malls are all full of the same things. People are hungry for unique products and services.”