Funding for analytic retail match-making packaged in Millsboro budget

MILLSBORO – As Millsboro grows residentially and commercially, so have requests for specific retail.

“We’ve had some gains as far as hotels but there are some other areas where we’d like to see more activity – sit-down restaurants, indoor/outdoor recreation, department stores like Target and Kohl’s, grocery stores,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson. “Those were the common themes in terms of what people, what residents wanted to see. Those were some of the categories we saw in the survey that we did back in the spring. We got over 300 responses to that.”

A budgeted item in the town of Millsboro’s approximate $8.5 million fiscal year 2018-19 operating budget adopted Monday night by town council may help in retail match-making.

Town leaders have allocated $50,000 for a one-year contractual partnership with Buxton, a Texas-based analytics/retail match-making firm.

“We would be the first municipality in the entire state of Delaware to partner with them for retail recruitment,” said Mr. Hudson. “They go beyond demographics and really drill down to the address level. They do an analysis of your town’s residents and come back say, ‘OK, these are the 20 or so retailers that we think would be the best fit for the town of Millsboro.’”

Buxton basically will submit an introductory letter to the retailer, and basically “play the role of match-maker,” Mr. Hudson said. “They try to set up an initial meeting. At some point they pass the torch completely to the town, but their objective basically is to arrange that initial meeting and arm you as a town with the data, the analytics, that are going to allow you to make the town’s case for why that retailer should come to Millsboro.”

Seeds with Buxton were initially planted last October in San Antonio at the International City/County Management Association Conference, attended by Mr. Hudson on behalf of the town.

In a Jan. 2, 2018 presentation, Buxton director of sales Robb Miller and sales partner Chris Gracela shared with town council “the power of consumer analytics,” utilizing Buxton’s background and expertise in the retail industry for the past 25 years.

Fifteen years ago, Buxton began offering its analytic service to municipalities.

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 in his presentation at the January 2018 council meeting.

“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 told council. “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?’”

Buxton 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.

Within the past few months, a Royal Farms and a Chick-fil-A have joined the fast-food staples Burger King, McDonald’s and Popeye’s along growing DuPont Boulevard commercial district. Plans for a possible Taco Bell are also in the works.

Results of a town survey this spring focusing retailers and employers produced a wide variety of responses. Popular responses included coffeehouses, department stores such as Target and Kohl’s, and sit-down restaurants, preferably steakhouses and sports bars.

“That’s part of where we are hoping Buxton can help us because my understanding is that the so-called quick-service restaurant, or better known as fast-food restaurant, is normally kind of your Phase 1. Then, the sit-downs are kind of your Phase 2,” said Mr. Hudson. “I think we’ve laid a pretty nice foundation as far as the quick-service restaurant category. We’re hoping to recruit sit-down restaurants. A lot of those are either steakhouses or sports bars. Those seem to be the subcategories that people are most interested in.”

“That has been a missing link,” said Mr. Hudson, noting that he Millsboro Mayor John Thoroughgood have worked hard to reach out retailers. “I think we’ve had a lot of gains and seen a lot of positive results. The reality is that we kind of want to shift this thing. We want to take it to the next level.”

Mr. Hudson said his understanding is Buxton’s commitment will entail analysis and a list of 20 retailers within 60 days. “Once we have that list, basically as a town we choose which of these 20 we want to focus on,” he said.

Financially, even landing just one decent-sized retailer through Buxton partnership “would more than pay for itself,” said Mr. Hudson.

In addition to providing data and analytics, Buxton also supplies marketing material, including glossy pamphlets given to targeted retailers.

“I really appreciate council being willing to be innovative,” said Mr. Hudson. “My view is it’s important for a city to be proactive as opposed to being reactive. It allows the town to have more say in its destiny in terms of what its future will look like. As opposed to just waiting for a retailer to come to you, you are actually going out and not just promoting yourself, but you are promoting yourself in a way that is going to appeal to decision makers that obviously need to see the numbers that demonstrate it makes good business sense for them to come to your town. That’s really what you are trying do is sell yourself, and put your best foot forward.”

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

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