What does a city, mall look for in a retail business?

Gabe Semenza

July 8, 2010 at 2:08 a.m.
Updated July 10, 2010 at 2:10 a.m.

Most city and county leaders greet prospective retailers with open arms and minimal resistance.

Mall managers, who operate town-like commerce hubs, are hardly different.

While efforts from business leaders on occasion target a particular retailer, most agree: They'll take what they can get. This is especially true during sluggish economic times.

"We have not been concentrating on retail because, with the recession, it's not the environment for that right now," said Randy Vivian, president of the Greater Victoria Area Chamber of Commerce. "I think we're close, though, to seeing retail move in, especially with the expansion of the university."

Strategies for luring retailers - or those who sell goods and merchandise - waver with the economy. During better times, the city courts companies that fill noticeable gaps.

Picture Academy Sports & Outdoors, which opened in summer 2006 on North Navarro Street in Victoria.

"Academy is a great example," Vivian said. "We had different sporting goods stores in town, but not a dedicated sporting goods store. The approach is to go after a large target or find a sector of the retail market that isn't being served by the community. It's a win-win for everyone."

Like its government counterpart, mall management seeks successful companies that can remain put - and pay rent - long-term. John Gibson is a manager with Hull Storey Gibson Companies, the Victoria Mall's Georgia-based owner.

"Our strategy is to identify the most successful retailers, the retailers that have the best understanding of customers and deliver to the customer what they want," Gibson said. "That's why we sought and were able to bring Best Buy to the Victoria market."

Because retail competition is so great, Gibson and other mall managers review retailers' business plans, credit reports and motivation levels.

"What we have to do as a landlord is realize certain tenants who can't compete won't survive," he said.

Achieving, or even defining what is, a nice retail mix in the mall or within a city can be difficult, and the formula changes from market to market.

Kurt Overmeyer, the economic development manager in Watsonville, Calif., said most retailers know exactly who their customers are and how many they need to succeed.

Overmeyer's view lends itself to the idea a city can do little to lure retailers but present demographic and infrastructure information.

"Unless a potential location can deliver those customers, the business is unlikely to open," Overmeyer said in a June column published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

"Even when a city is a good fit for a retailer, they may not locate there because the right real estate isn't available. Something as small as an intersection configuration can play into the decision-making process."

Tripp Muldrow, an urban planner with South Carolina-based Arnett Muldrow, said a city's population plays a major role.

If and when Victoria grows to 100,000 people - or the Crossroads bulges to one million residents - a new wave of retailers will relocate here, Muldrow said.

You might then see Apple computer stores, Barnes and Noble and Macy's in Victoria, he said.

"Frequently in communities like yours - cities that grow to include four-year universities - you get more resident students," Muldrow said. "You'll have more demand for restaurants, more demand for the kind of shopping young people look for. That's a stabilizer of the economy and it boosts your city as a retail destination."

Until then, Muldrow said, the University of Houston-Victoria's expansion will help to stop retail loss.

Looking to the future, Vivian agrees such expansion will spur new retail growth.

"Our retail sector is actually doing fairly well," Vivian said. "Sales tax revenues are getting back to where they were before. As the university grows, we're going to have to look at the retail market, those outlets that cater to a college-aged group: Clothing and electronics retailers, for starters."



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