Buxton: Millsboro looking at consumer analytics for retail match-making

MILLSBORO – Retail business growth is booming in Millsboro.

Chick-fil-A, Millsboro Chrysler, Lewes Dairy, Past & Present collectible store, Farmers Bank of Willards and Royal Farms are on the list.

Others are in the works, including Starbucks, Sherwin Williams, Mid-Atlantic Animal Hospital and possibly Tractor Supply.

Annexation process launched at town council’s Jan. 2 meeting could someday add an Ashley Furniture HomeStore to business growth along southbound DuPont Boulevard/US 113, next to the Delmarva Health Pavilion.

Seeking more, town leaders are exploring a potential partnership with a consumer analytics/retail match-maker based in Fort Worth, Texas.

It’s Buxton, which for the past 25 years has worked in the retail industry and 15 years ago began offering its analytic service to municipalities.

Buxton’s service would come at a rather hefty price: $50,000 annually.

During a presentation at town council’s Jan. 2 meeting, Buxton director of sales Robb Miller said the company utilizes “the power of consumer analytics, using our background and expertise of having worked in the retail industry for the past 25 years.”

This slide entitled Great Brands Grow with Buxton, shows some of the many retail clients.

“We’ve worked all across the retail landscape, helping retailers to identify who are their most valuable customers and where can they find locations that have enough of those type of customers,” Mr. Miller added. “We are actually the firm that retailers turn to, to help them make a site selection, to help them decide: ‘Is this a good location or is this going to be a poor location for my brand?’”

The company has worked with Fortune 500 companies like FedEx, all sway down to emerging concepts, Mr. Miller said. Marriott Hotels, Lowe’s, Trader Joe’s, Pier I Imports, Bojangles, Foot Locker, Regis and Aaron’s are among their approximate 3,000 clients.

Buxton’s mission is to help communities create and implement economic development strategies that are geared toward retail recruitment and retail retention as well as improving quality of life, generating new tax revenue and keeping local dollars local, Mr. Miller said.

Discussion seeds were initially planted in San Antonio last October at the International City/County Management Association Conference, attended by Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson.

“Attracting more businesses to town was something that you guys had talked about,” said Mr. Miller, who flew in from Texas for the Jan. 2 presentation with Buxton sales partner Chris Gracela. “It was something that council saw as important for the future development of your community.”

“And I think to Buxton’s credit, they even made this point that it is not just about getting new businesses in town, it’s also the quality of life,” said Mr. Hudson. “That is certainly one of my goals. I want people that live in the town to have a more fulfilling experience living there. Having new establishments can be a big part of that.”

Times have changed since Buxton’s inception.

Robb Miller, a director of sales with Buxton shares information with the audience during a presentation at Millsboro’s town council meeting. Seated at left is Chris Gracela, another Buxton sales director.

“We started 25 years ago, working directly with retailers. For the past 25 years we have been an entrusted advisor to over 3,000 different brands, helping them to understand who their best customers are, where they can find more of these types of individuals, and what value they bring to their brand,” said Mr. Miller. “Retailers back when we entered this industry used to make a site selection decision based on location and demographics. So, find me a corner intersection, high traffic counts, good median household income, good population density and that was going to be a successful store for their brand. Then they started to learn there were a lot of other variables that dictated a successful location. First and foremost, customers. We help retailers to focus on customer, customer, customer. Because of this customer-centered approach, it is because of the work that we have done with retailers 15 years ago we started working with municipalities.”

“We’ve done this all across the country for the last 15 years with municipalities – 850 of them – from communities that are focused on getting their first McDonald’s, getting their first national-recognized retailer to communities that are looking for very unique concepts, whether that is an entrepreneur looking to come in and open a yoga studio all the way to a fine-dining establishment,” said Mr. Miller.

Buxton tackles uncertainty in retail recruitment, Mr. Miller said.

“A lot of communities, when they start thinking about strategies for finding new business, maybe it’s bringing in a grocery store, department store or restaurant, communities find themselves with a lot of uncertainty. Local leaders find themselves in a position that they can’t do much more than speculate. When somebody says, ‘Why isn’t that specialty grocery store here?’ You don’t have a good answer to spit back to them,” said Mr. Miller. “We leverage our expertise of having worked with folks like a Trader Joe’s or Marriott Hotels, to help communities remove the uncertainty from understanding how do retailers view our market, how do retailers view Millsboro and how do we develop a strategy that is going to put us in the best position possible to be talking to the right type of retailers. What we are trying to do is create a thumbprint for your community that we are going to use to take the guesswork out of recruitment: who is a fit and who is not, and if not, why?”

Smaller, locally-rooted businesses fall under Buxton’s umbrella, Mr. Miller said.

“You’ve got your ‘mom and pop’ shops, we don’t want to forget about those businesses,” said Mr. Miller. “We want to arm those businesses with the exact, same type of information that folks like a Lowe’s or Anthropologie or Pier I use to understand their customers. We want to put your local businesses on the same even playing field as everybody else in your market, so that the rising tide of development is going to lift all boats in your market.”

Analytics go beyond basic demographics

“Everybody is reaching out with the same age, income, marital status,” said Mr. Miller. “We help you to cut through that to understand who your citizens are as consumers. Now, instead of having two individuals that look the same demographically, we’ve got Ben and we’ve got Tom. Ben, he’s a Sam’s Club customer. Tom, he prefers to shop at Costco. Ben drives a GMC truck; Tom drives a Volvo sedan. On a Friday night Ben is going out to Chili’s getting some chicken crispers whereas Tom, he prefers to eat at P.F. Chang’s.”

“We know down to the household level in 115 million households across the country how people live their lives and spend their money as consumers,” said Mr. Miller. “We have the ability to go down to the household level, peel back the rooftop and actually tell you: ‘You prefer Nike shoes and your neighbor prefers New Balance shoes’ We are the largest aggregator of consumer data in the nation. We’ve got about 350 different data sets that we draw from. Every single day as a consumer who willingly leave behind a trail of information about how you live your lives and how you spend your money.”

Buxton can also provide assistance attracting non-retail establishments through the service sector such as doctor’s offices and dentists. The company helped bring a waterpark to one its municipal clients, and an inbound call center to Caribou, Maine, Mr. Miller said.

Contractual agreement

Millsboro Mayor John Thoroughgood asked about the contractual parameters, such as length: year by year or on a multi-year commitment basis.

“We want to lay out a partnership over multiple years. It’s a process. You can’t expect to partner with us and in two months’ time have a retailer that is knocking at your door. Conversations evolve over many months. Typically, retailers look eight to 18 months out in advance. In an ideal world we’d love to work with you guys over a multiple-year period,” said Mr. Miller. “Having been in this industry working with municipalities for the past 15 years, we know things change from a budgeting standpoint. So, we do allow communities to evaluate the partnership on a year-over-year basis. We do try to lay it out over a multi-year period, but we do give you the option to look at it on that year-over-year basis.”

Funding, with council’s formal blessing could be included in the town’s fiscal year 2019 budget, which takes effect July 1.

Mr. Hudson said he and Mathew Hall, Millsboro’s finance officer, looked at the numbers.

“This is a little bit subjective, I guess, but if you look at the average-size retail establishment, if we were to land even just one of those, it would more than pay for itself based on our calculations,” said Mr. Hudson. “So, $50,000 sounds a little daunting but it would pay for itself with even just one recruitment. I think it is a win-win.”

“Certainly, for any community we work with, ($50,000) not a drop in the bucket. It is an investment,” said Mr. Miller. “But if you think about it, whether it’s a return on an investment standpoint from tax revenues or property taxes or whether it’s a quality of life play and getting more people to want to live and work in your community.”

Any guarantees?

Councilman Tim Hudson asked if Buxton provides any guarantees.

“There are absolutely a few different things I can guarantee. Unfortunately, success is not one of those,” Mr. Miller said. “What I can guarantee is that you are going to get an industry-leading partner that is going to be sitting with you … with access to industry-leading information. We’re going to do everything possible to execute your vision. Unfortunately, I can’t sit up here and tell you that if you partner with us we are going to land you ‘x, y, z’ retailer that you have in mind. There are too many other variables that are involved … from a retailer finding land, from a retailer negotiating with a land-owner …”

Clientele

Buxton, a family-owned company with about 150 employees, has clients ranging from major metropolitan areas such as downtown Dallas, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Sacramento down to municipalities with populations of 1,500.

“The bulk of our work is absolutely with people anywhere from 3,000, 4,000, 5,000 all the way up to 20,000,” said Mr. Miller. “If you had to pin me down I would absolutely say that the smaller communities is where the bulk of our clients fall into.”

Over a one-year period, Buxton’s retail clients evaluated over 80,000 sites across the country. From that, 7,500 became brick and mortar business locations. “During that same 12-month period, there were 30,000 brick and mortar locations of retail opening across the country,” said Mr. Miller. “So, we had a direct hand in roughly 25 percent of all store locations that retailers opened across the entire United States.”

Beyond the boundary

The idea, Mr. Miller said, is to think beyond Millsboro’s current population boundary, which is around 5,000, according to Mr. Hall.

“We ran a 15-minute drive time around Millsboro. We got a 57,000 population,” said Mr. Gracela.

“You’ve got 57,000 people within 15 minutes,” said Mr. Miller. “I think you guys are absolutely positioned to be a very successful partner, if we are given the opportunity to work with you guys.”

Retail market conditions

Mr. Miller said Buxton incorporates analysis of retail market conditions. “We’re going to look at things like competition,” he said. “We also know who they want to co-locate next to. Certain brands want to be next to other types of retail.”

Looking ahead

Should town council approve funding, Buxton’s staff would begin its analytical/match-making service. The initial process takes anywhere from 30 to 45 days.

“We’re going to sit directly with you and do everything possible in conversations with retailers to get them to look at your market, and get them to look at specific locations within your market,” Mr. Miller said. “That involves us coming in and studying your community, creating that playbook of retail and then being part of the process of you reaching out to retailers, whether it’s coming out for an in-person meeting with a retailer or whether it is out at a trade show meeting with retailers. We’ve got a full team of dedicated account managers. There is obviously a lot more details to what we do and how we do it.”

“Another thing we do frequently is we actually hold a local business night,” Mr. Miller added. “We will share information with local businesses. Really, it is from an awareness standpoint. It’s to let local business owners know that this relationship is out here. It’s a tool at their disposal. We want to make that available to the broader community.”

Mr. Hudson likes the initiative and hopes council does, too.

“My sense is council certainly seemed very receptive to the idea,” said Mr. Hudson. “I think it will enhance the town’s efforts to recruit new businesses to the town. Certainly, the mayor and I do letter-writing campaigns quite often trying to encourage different establishments to come to the town. But having a partner like Buxton should really help us to achieve more of the town’s goals as far as economic development is concerned.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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