By AMANDA KIMBLE
STEPHENVILLE (April 20, 2017) – Taking another step toward attracting the right businesses to the city, Stephenville Economic Development Authority (SEDA) board of directors is preparing to sign a contract with The Retail Coach.
The nationwide retail recruitment and development consulting firm assists communities with gathering and analyzing data to attract the right retail businesses to client communities.
Aaron Farmer, the company’s senior vice president, said The Retail Coach has been working with Texas communities for more than 17 years. He also said 90-percent of the firm’s more than 450 clients are located within the state and served by the Austin office.
This isn’t the first time The Retail Coach has met with area officials. Representatives of the firm addressed a gathering of local community members and business leaders in 2013, when the chamber of commerce and Stephenville Economic Development Foundation (STEDCO) requested a presentation of data collection options, according to July Danley, ex-officio SEDA board member.
The cost of providing retail development analysis and coaching was much higher in 2013. The company proposed a full package of services at cost-prohibitive rate of $45,000.
This time, the board voted to approve an agreement at a rate of $5,500 pending review of the stipulations in the contract – per the request of director Shelby Slawson to first review the legal document, which was not presented at the meeting.
Prior to approval, Farmer explained the service, saying The Retail Coach will perform a factual community analysis that will answer questions from developers and retailers looking to move to Stephenville.
The purpose of the analysis is to define the city’s retail trade area, which SEDA Executive Director John Hubbard said is the geographic area from where 80-85 percent consumers travel to spend money in the community.
“Communities are now bout to determine shopper traffic throughout their city and at specific shopping and dining destinations,” Hubbard said. “This is the most precise approach to determining consumer shopping patterns and retail trade area boundaries and is the most successful way to capture retail potential to site selectors.”
Farmer, speaking to the group via conference call, said data is collected by consumer cell phones, pinpointing the location of their residences and tracking a path to their purchases. He said the data would also determine future retail development opportunities, helping determine why local residents leave the local area to shop elsewhere.
The retail leakage data can then be used to provide site selectors and competing retailers with information that proves there is a need for particular goods and services.
Farmer said The Retail Coach will also assist business and community leaders by providing marketing materials targeted at attracting new development.
He also said the firm has already collected a year of consumer data dating back to April 2016, that was derived from 13 different data collectors and working with a proprietary gap analysis model specific to The Retail Coach.
Following a question from Danley, Farmer said a number of collection tools would prevent data from being drastically skewed by Tarleton State University students whose permanent residences are in some cases outside of the local area. He also said the firm has worked with a lot of college communities, citing the 2015 opening of a United Supermarket in Brownwood where data was collected to attract the grocer.
Meanwhile, Director Wendell Hollingsworth asked about internet shoppers, to which Farmer said an estimated 10 to 12 percent of consumers purchase goods online and the data analysis would allow local officials to determine how much money being lost to online sales.
“The retail industry remains strong in Texas and not as greatly impacted by online sales as other states,” Farmer added.
He also said a recent trend that has led retailers like Academy Sports + Outdoors to steer away from larger floor plans and shrink their stores bodes well for communities like Stephenville.
Following a question from Gerald Cook, SEDA vice president, Farmer said the analysis would provide detailed, specific information. He said it would show if local consumers who dine out-of-town leave the area for fine dining opportunities or fast food and the study would also include an entertainment analysis to examine establishments like bowling alleys and movie theaters.
Once SEDA officials review and approve a contract for service, Farmer said they can expect to receive the data analysis in about 30 days. The presentation will include information on future opportunities for utilizing the data to promote development.
The complete package of services related to the $5,500 contract will include cell phone analysis of three retail locations in Stephenville; retail trade area mapping and demographics; community demographics; retail gap (leakage) analysis; and a customer retail marketing flier.
Hubbard said the SEDA board will meet in early May to review the contract, as well as façade improvement applications from Silver Wings Boutique and Bull Nettle.
The façade matching grant applications were tabled since a quorum could not be met. Director Shelby Slawson said she would abstain from the Silver Wings vote due to her family’s business being a bidding contractor and Director Marion Cole said she could not vote on the Bull Nettle issue due to family connections.
Matt Harpole, SEDA president; Nathan Heller, treasurer; and Michelle Dunkerly, director, were not present at the meeting.