News and rumors alike on what is the next big retailer coming to town tend to spread like wildfire from a news outlet’s website and social media channels these days.
In a couple recent local retail announcements published this month by The Sumter Item and shared on Facebook, hundreds of online readers have liked, shared and/or commented on the posts.
Many comments go along the lines of, “We already have this. Why can’t we get a [fill in the blank with your favorite restaurant, grocery store or big-box retailer] here in Sumter?’
The Sumter Item got answers on the topic by talking with a leading area commercial real estate broker and local public officials.
Jay Davis, president and broker-in-charge of Coldwell Banker Commercial Cornerstone, 2 N. Main St., and Sumter Mayor Joe McElveen spoke on misconceptions and how retailers conduct their site selection processes.
MISCONCEPTIONS VS. REALITY
Davis said one of the top misconceptions in the general public is that a local city or county public official can pick up the phone and call a retailer and try to woo it here.
Instead, retailers – such as Target, Publix, Olive Garden, Walmart, Ross, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Costco, Panera Bread, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Hobby Lobby, etc. – generally have a real estate committee that studies cities’ demographics data and makes final decisions on future location sites, he said.
Key indicator statistics that drive the selection process might be median household income, overall population or population growth percentages, among others.
Every company has a particular market profile it’s targeting and looks at how communities fit that profile, according to Davis.
“Some companies cater to more high-end markets with higher household incomes,” Davis said. “Some might cater to middle-income households. So, it’s not up to the city or county. Companies decide based on the market, and it’s their decision.”
McElveen, mayor of the City of Sumter since 2000, agreed that retailers’ decisions boil down to demographics.
“The bottom line is companies choose where they want to locate,” McElveen said.
He said Sumter’s income levels are going up, and that can bode well for the future.
Another big misconception, Davis said, is that industry-sector employment and service-sector employment are the same.
He said they are not apples to oranges, and that’s important for the general public to understand.
Industrial employment, sometimes called “basic” employment, locally such as Continental Tire or BD, focuses on selling its products all over the world, and that money comes into this community and creates service jobs, he said. In contrast, service jobs circulate the same money within one community.
“Every person who works at Continental Tire, he or she goes and spends money at local stores and shops,” Davis said, “and they are creating those service jobs with that basic job. And those basic employment workers are getting paid essentially by people who buy tires all over the world. Whereas, a local service is just circulating the dollars that are already in the community.”
Established economic research shows that basic jobs have relatively high “multiplier” effects on creating service jobs, and, he said, that’s why tax incentives can be offered to recruit basic employment as opposed to retail or service employment.
“When our tax dollars go to draw basic employment, such as Continental Tire, that makes sense because we all do better when that happens,” he added. “But taking local tax dollars and giving them to a business that will come in and compete on the service side – for example, a Hibbett Sports competing with Simpson or a Publix competing with Piggly Wiggly – wouldn’t be right. You can’t take tax dollars from Carl Simpson [of Simpson Hardware] or Billy McLeod [of Piggly Wiggly] and give them to another company to come into Sumter and compete with them.”
Therefore, when local industries can expand, Davis said, that translates into the possibility of getting a new retailer here that everybody wants.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP?
Davis, whose commercial portfolio includes managing Gateway Plaza that is currently adding Ross, Ulta Beauty and Five Below, said there are some things Sumterites can do to assist other retailers in selecting Sumter as a future site.
One, he said, is that Sumter County needs a high response rate in its upcoming U.S. Census count this spring. Census totals drive the demographics data that companies study in the site selection process, he said.
“If we want various different companies to come here, then filling out that Census form accurately is really important for us,” Davis said.
McElveen agreed and said the Sumter City-County Planning Commission is working now to educate the public to get a complete count.
With close to 30 years of experience in commercial real estate, Davis added that keeping local business property taxes at a reasonable level is also important if Sumter wants to continue to see development.
RETAIL DEVELOPMENT NOW. AND MILLENNIALS.
With the continued growth of online sales, Davis said, the retail landscape is changing quickly.
He said he thinks that for stores to continue to succeed, they must have both an online and brick-and-mortar presence.
From everything he reads, Davis said, the millennial shopper – those generally born between 1981 and 1996 – is more interested in the experience they have in a business rather than simply just the product or service.
“So, you are seeing restaurants and stores start to be more about that experience,” Davis said. “Millennials might go in and touch it and feel it in the store and take a selfie beside something that kind of made them come in, and then they might go home and order it online.”