Business Retention on Main Street
One of the most important things I learned when I worked for the Boy Scouts was retention. Every Scout that I recruited was one more I didn’t need to recruit to attain my year-end goals. Every dollar I saved was one I didn’t need to raise to balance the budget. But truth be told, a strong retention program is the key to unlocking transformative growth for your organization.
There will always be turnover when talking businesses. Some will be due to poor planning, some will be due to changing trends, some to acquisition, some to a lack of succession plan, and a host of other reasons. The fact is that businesses will come and go, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do things to improve business retention in your district.
There are plenty of things that you can do to help keep your businesses thriving. There are some things that every district can do with minimal to no effort that may have a positive impact for businesses.
First, promote them! If you’re a Main Street or downtown in 2018, you’ve almost certainly got a website, a newsletter/email, and 2-3 social media outlets. Use these resources to help promote your businesses. Your website is a great way to highlight these businesses, perhaps have a description and links back to them. The email can be the same. I used to have a lot of success letting businesses insert blurbs into our newsletter. It showed how much was going on downtown, provided content for the newsletter, and helped keep our businesses as top of mind. Social media is another great way to share the news about your businesses. You should have a plan to make sure you’re giving all your members fair coverage and not just shining a spotlight on your favorite businesses, but this is another valuable resource that costs you nothing.
Second, you’ll want to make sure you’re pushing people into the stores. This doesn’t have to be done only through retail promotions. Whenever there is activity or events downtown, you want to make sure you’re promoting where people can go for various purchases or services. Even if that business isn’t open at that time (a subject we will cover in depth in a future blog), they want to get their information out. Encourage businesses to have a stack of business cards or some way to connect with potential customers who are right in front of their door.
Those seem like fairly easy ways to promote business, and truth be told they are. However, they are also overlooked far too often. There are other things we can do as downtown developers to help retain businesses as well. One thing that has worked very well for me in the past was to develop a business impact team. The name isn’t important, but their function is. This is a group of volunteers with expertise across many fields, from finance to real estate to marketing. If a business had an issue, they could ask the impact team to help them with their problem. Sometimes this was a simple display issue, other times it was trying to find new financing options, and even in some cases developing a business plan after 1-2 years in business. The information stays confidential, and the goal is to help businesses be as successful as possible. The impact team can help with business recruitment as well, and was often a key part to a businesses’ retention.
An organization can also bring in experts on various topics and offer trainings on subjects that will help strengthen businesses. A few examples are:
- Social Media usage
- Displaying your merchandise
- Customer Acquisition
- Succession Planning
- Human Resources/Staffing issues
These sessions can serve as a resource for the businesses, and position the organization as a leader in the community and create a lot of added value to the district.
Retention visits are another important tool for an organization. Meeting with the business owner (or key decision maker) on a scheduled basis is very important. Depending on the size of your district this may be an annual meeting, or every other year, but shouldn’t go longer than every two years. This is a great opportunity to find out about all the new things they’ve been up to, and where you may be able to help them. This can also be a time to tell them about all the things you can offer them, but let the business do the majority of the talking. This is our chance to learn about them and how we can help. It will build trust, help to identify problems before it’s too late, and increase your district’s retention.
Just like business recruitment needs to be a planned activity, so does business retention. Making sure you’ve prioritized this activity will allow you to take the time necessary to do it well, and reap the rewards.