Springfield touts collaboration as a major blue ribbon in its biannual community report card. In order to compete with digital behemoth Amazon and retail juggernaut Walmart, as well as new choices emerging every day, local retailers and restaurants must band together to offer viable alternatives.
Research company eMarketer forecasts “retail e-commerce will account for 10.9% of total retail spending across all merchants in 2019 – about one-eighth the size of brick-and-mortar retail. Online sales will increase 14.8% year over year, compared with brick-and-mortar growth of 1.9%.”
Comparable numbers for Springfield’s adaptation of retail e-commerce are difficult to obtain, but just the rapid increase in the number of deliveries to homes and offices reinforces those national trends are well on their way to the Ozarks.
Local entrepreneurs cannot act as an island unto themselves. They must explore new ways to create authentic experiences, cultivate a spirit of empathy to connect to customers and examine their processes to make purchasing as easy as possible.
The ability to offer authentic experiences is critical to stand out in a universe of many options. Downtown retailers can achieve that through a variety of means including historic architecture, community events and partnering with neighboring businesses. The Merry Moore boutique benefits when Aviary Cafe’s customers peruse the shop while they’re waiting for a table. Crystalline Velvet jewelry store gains product exposure when customers are on Walnut after brunch at Gailey’s or on their way to meet friends at Black Sheep restaurant. Joe Gidman’s Cafe Cusco and Van Gogh’s Eeterie are magnets for Commercial Street to attract customers who appreciate ethnic foods and eclectic tastes.
Taste of SoMo brought 25 restaurants and five food trucks to Park Central Square in June. The Birthplace of Route 66 Festival drew 65,000 patrons over its two days. First Friday Art Walk has encouraged the community to venture out for a monthly stroll for almost two decades. These regional street festivals create a unique community experience that is impossible for a single business to generate.
The expansion of Hotel Vandivort and the opening of the Tru by Hilton Hotel will bring thousands of new overnight guests, many of whom are deliberately choosing to stay downtown to check out what the Queen City has to offer.
Businesses must find creative new ways to beckon these guests from the sidewalks to venture inside and then secure the sale.
The ability to actively listen to customers has resulted in an ongoing reinvention of A Cricket in the House. The store on East Walnut Street opened in 2011. It regularly changes its product mix of furniture, home decor, cards and gifts to respond to the needs of the market. Owner Cricket Fries altered her product mix to be sure to have items available at multiple price points. She knows her customer base will shift again this fall with the addition of new neighbors – the 300 college students moving into The Vue on Walnut and guests from the new hotels.
Brina Thomas, owner of Five Pound Apparel, closely monitors demand at her two locations to find fun new T-shirt designs (from Missouri is Awesome to the Springfield flag to “Mahomeboy”) and regional partnerships, such as with Fayettechill, to keep her stores fresh and inviting. Part of the fun of going into Five Pound Apparel is to find the latest gift with a clever Springfield touch.
Cellphones and the web are changing the act of shopping. More and more people are comfortable with digital purchases. Businesses are carrying less inventory and opting for more just-in-time fulfillment.
Alexandra Sheehan, a retail consultant for Shopify, noted in her Jan. 18 article on Retail Trends for 2019: “Consumers are demanding more of retailers. When it comes to fulfillment, they’re looking for two key characteristics: fast and free. Two-thirds of small- and medium-sized businesses offer some type of free shipping. This is a strategic move, considering 34% of consumers would consider taking their business elsewhere if a brand doesn’t offer free shipping.”
How can local businesses with limited funding compete in this new age? Some options could include partnering with Hotel Vandivort to provide valet parking for customers and working with carGo, a local ride-share company, for small-package delivery.
The bottom line is responding proactively to a marketplace driven by the whims of Twitter and Instagram is far from easy. Customers are king with more alternatives than ever for their shopping dollar. Local competition in the 21st century requires restaurants, retailers and their loyal customers to tap into Springfield’s collaborative spirit more than ever to support our entrepreneurs and those who are nurturing the next great idea.
Rusty Worley, executive director of Downtown Springfield Association, can be reached at email@example.com.
The Gochu LLC opened at Nixa food hall 14 Mill Market; HOA Management Specialists changed hands; and Chick-fil-A launched on the north side of Springfield.