Main Street Action Week: Operational Trends and Actions for Retail Recovery

Joining CUI host Lisa Cavicchia for our first session of Main Street Action Week: Operational Trends and Actions for Retail Recovery – are presenter Lisa Hutcheson, Managing Partner at J.C. Williams Group along with Louroz Mercader, Manager at York-Eglinton BIA in Toronto; Dane Williams, Co-founder of Black Urbanism TO in Toronto; Darryl Julott, Managing Lead at Digital Main Street; and Judith Veresuk, Executive Director of the Downtown Regina BIA. This event is co-presented with JC Williams Group.

5 Key
Takeaways

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. New roles for Business Improvement Areas & other supporting organizations.

BIAs are helping their members understand policies, protocols and how to access government support programs. Beyond providing information, BIAs are tracking and publicizing retailers in their areas, making sure they’re complying with the government regulations. Safety is a new key pillar of customer service and attracting customers and making them feel good about supporting the local businesses. In York Eglinton, Louroz Mercader was approached by his barbershop members asking how to do beard trimmings safely, and bar owners on whether their patrons can use pool tables. The BIA figured out this information and relayed it to members. In Downtown Regina, Executive Director Judith Veresuk created videos and informational posts and would point members to resources to help them ensure they were safe and in compliance with health protocols. Black Urbanism TO is focused on the long-term sustainability of “Little Jamaica” and the erosion of that culture and heritage in that community. Co-founder Dane Williams speaks to focusing on the needs of Black-owned businesses and developing creative strategies for working with the BIA, the City of Toronto’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Initiative and other resources to help maintain the businesses in the area and help them thrive.

2. Communications, digital & OMNI channel.

JCWG’s Lisa Hutcheson supports businesses embracing OMNI channel retail. Lisa describes OMNI by describing some of the channels: E-commerce is a channel. Social media is a channel. Email marketing and so on. Being able to communicate and interact with your customer across all these different kinds of platforms and creating this the customer doesn’t just have to find you in one place. They can reach you in multiple other channels. Business Improvement Areas and other main street supports can help by creating business directories (see https://quinpool.shop/), social media experiences and helping businesses to get online. Digital Main Street provides great capacity building approaches to supporting the digital transformation of small business. Lisa Hutcheson points out the high cost of delivery services being problematic and recommends supporting ethical takeout and delivery options such as Montreal’s bike delivery service, Radish and Ottawa’s Love Local.

3. Going online is more than websites & social media.

Supporting businesses is about supporting the people behind the businesses. Digital Main Street’s Darryl Julott speaks to the importance of focusing on the people behind the business and not just the business itself. Business owners are dealing with personal issues related to the pandemic on top of trying to run a business. Darryl & his team work closely with business owners not just to create a website and ecommerce, but to show them how they can streamline operations, make their staff more efficient, use the digital tools and tech to really grow and manage every aspect of their business. But getting them to buy in can be challenging. Dane Williams speaks to working with business owners about using digital tools to help them focus on understanding and managing their business more efficiently so they can spend more time with customers and increasing revenues.

4. Thinking about vacancies strategically & creatively.

Lisa Hutcheson recommends using CUI’s vacancy tool to create an inventory of vacant spaces and then develop a plan for new kinds of businesses that could be new business models and work with those landlords to save businesses or find replacements. Lisa points to the examples of Artscape and the Center for Social Innovation, organizations that have taken historic properties and turned them into community assets with retail components and live/work spaces. In Montreal a church is being repurposed to have a community coffee shop available. Regina has begun documenting vacancies and are identifying what are the good fits for future use of these spaces. There is some exploration of using some of these vacant spaces for overflow of existing restaurants.

5. Building consumer confidence to bring people back to main street.

BIAs and businesses are focusing on: a) supporting their businesses to be safe and b) communicating to consumers that main street is a safe place to do business.