Business Recruitment can often be one of those overlooked items on Main Street. Sure, we all have the packet for prospective businesses with information about the downtown, maybe some vacant units, and more. But how many downtown organizations have an active business recruitment strategy? Making sure that we are recruiting new businesses is a key to long-term success. So how do you get started?
In my experience, the first step to successful business recruiting is to put together a team – but perhaps not one that you are thinking of. You want to put together a team that can help a prospective entrepreneur get from concept to open. If your community has a SCORE branch, SBDC, or something similar, you may want to develop a partnership with them to carry out this function. Having this resource is vitally important to ensure that prospective business owners aren’t opening on a whim and closing six weeks later. Having that level of turnover is destructive to the image of the downtown, so we as downtown practitioners need to make sure we minimize the turnover by getting prospects with people that can help them develop a solid business plan, securing financing if necessary, and know that they have done their due diligence before they open.
Once you have your team, you need to be ready to sell the downtown. Just like a realtor has information about various properties, you need to be ready with the information about downtown that an entrepreneur may want to know. Of course you’ll want to have the list of vacant units (preferably the ones suited to their business), but there is more than just vacant units. Information such as average rent/sq ft will help an entrepreneur negotiate terms of a lease, and lists of different events that are held in the area are extremely beneficial. You can also take it a step further if you have the data and let people know what type of success businesses have on those weekends (i.e. – a 10% bump in sales compared to a normal weekend). If you’ve got statistics like the total tax revenue for the district and other metrics that show the strong economic impact of your downtown, those are powerful recruitment tools to help a business decide that downtown is the right place for them!
Now that you have your team and your tools, you’re ready to get out and actually recruit. This is where the work begins. Obviously you’ll want to have relationships with your local Economic Development agency, Chamber of Commerce, City and any other organization that may deal with entrepreneurs. You want them to know what you have to offer and how your district can be an ideal start for businesses. These can be great partners in filling your vacancies if you keep them updated on what’s going on in the district.
Certainly you want let people know through your website and newsletter about opportunities and resources that you have, but you also want to take the knowledge to them in other ways. Speaking at places like the Rotary or Kiwanis club is a great way to let people know what you do. Yes, most of your talks may focus on an upcoming event or project you’ve got going on, but why not take a few minutes to let them know you’re open for business? You never know who may be in the room and looking.
You can also get creative with your recruitment. An example of this is a Broker Tour. The organization (Batavia Main Street) invited realtors to spend a few hours on a tour of your district. In addition to viewing the available properties (and receiving a drive will all the details), you get to talk about everything your organization does to help property and business owners. They leave informed and excited about your organization, all for the price of lunch and a bus! The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. Find new and exciting ways to inform and attract entrepreneurs.
Lastly, I’ll offer a word of caution. Even with a great business recruitment strategy and a fantastic resource team, you will face more failure than success. You’ll encounter businesses without a plan that discover while working through the process that the concept isn’t ready. You’ll see businesses that stall due to lack of funding, and many, many other issues. Do not let these setbacks discourage you. Understanding that having 7 of the 10 potential businesses you worked with never open is actually a positive thing. If they aren’t ready to be successful, you don’t want them to open, struggle, and eventually close. Meanwhile, the 3 that do open and have done their homework are setup to thrive and help the entire downtown. This is what success in economic development will often look like.
When you’re looking at how to spend your time and resources as an organization, make sure that business recruitment gets the attention it deserved. It will help your downtown be successful for many years to come!