Business, Local News

Flossmoor hires consultant to help drive retail, restaurant development over the next year

Flossmoor is bringing in some outside help for at least the next year in hopes of attracting more retail and restaurant development.

The Flossmoor Village Board voted unanimously on Monday, March 6, to approve an agreement to pay Retail Coach $35,000 to analyze Flossmoor’s retail market, identify opportunities and more over the next 12 months.

Retail Coach’s services also include site marketing, identifying retailers and developers for recruitment, marketing and branding, recruiting retailers and developers, and ongoing coaching, according to a report from Village Manager Bridget Wachtel. The company has worked with more than 650 communities across 40 states, and national brands such as Costco and At Home, Wachtel said.

“As we all know, economic development is a long game, and we work very hard to promote all aspects of Flossmoor,” Mayor Michelle Nelson said. “We work hard to build relationships with nearly a dozen brokers, developers and end users.”

But the village has no true “economic development arm” as an organization, Nelson said. And so Flossmoor is turning to Retail Coach to serve in that role and hopefully drum up business beyond the warehouses, auto parts stores and car washes that have already shown interest.

“I don’t think those are things that fall in line with what Flossmoor residents are looking for,” she said. “We’re looking for entertainment and additional dining options.”

Aaron Farmer, president of Retail Coach, presented a retail recruitment and development strategy to the board via Zoom during the meeting. Farmer boasted more than 5 million square feet of new retail space recruitment and $600 million in additional sales tax revenue in client communities for Retail Coach. He said he thinks the company’s approach could benefit Flossmoor.

“I think the community has some opportunities in a number of retail and restaurant sectors there,” Farmer said.

Retail Coach is not a broker but a consultant, making its money from the municipalities rather than any commissions or fees from anyone else, as Farmer explained to the board. Wachtel said that allows the company to work directly for the municipality to help build a long-term retail development plan.

“I learned a long time ago it’s not only about what you know in this industry but it’s about who you know,” Farmer said. “What we try to do with Retail Coach is leverage those relationships so we can get more retail, get more restaurants, more entertainment options to Flossmoor.”

Farmer outlined Retail Coach’s process in eight phases, focused on proactive recruitment of retailers, restaurants and developers. He highlighted the company’s use of cell phone analysis to better understand an area’s customer base.

“Our focus is getting retailers, getting developers, getting site selectors to Flossmoor,” Farmer said. “If we can get them to the community, it almost sells itself.”

Nelson said the last market analysis Flossmoor conducted was in 2009 and did not include cell data.

“I think this is a pretty important thing to do for the area that we have to develop,” Nelson said.

Trustee Gary Daggett noted the village has “exhausted” what it is able to accomplish with in-house resources and has a limited budget for hiring when it comes to economic development. Outside help with good connections such as Retail Coach could be a solution to that problem.

“Any time something like this comes up, you go: OK, how do I justify spending the money?” Daggett said. “And then I look at your numbers and … you do some simple math on that, and if we just hit the average or even below the average, that money’s going to recoup.”

Daggett asked Farmer how many other communities Retail Coach serves in the area. Farmer said four, but none are directly competing — which he added Retail Coach defines as bordering towns.

Wachtel noted staff contacted references for Retail Coach and got great responses about how the company opened doors while being responsive and hands-on. Staff ultimately recommended approval of the resolution, noting it would be a great extension of the in-house capabilities.

“They have been a great connection for smaller communities like Flossmoor,” Wachtel said.

Data analysis is expected to take roughly 30 days. Farmer added that as project lead he would personally be on the ground in the area during that time. Marketing as well as retail and developer recruitment would follow as an 11-month effort, but Farmer said the hope is that Retail Coach impresses Flossmoor with its work and the contract is extended for another year.

“I will tell you this: We never come into a community expecting to work just one year,” he added. “Retail recruitment is a process. The average retail or restaurant can take anywhere from 12-18 months once initial contact happens to open.” 

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