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Consultant gives city advice on marketing itself

August 20, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

A consultant hired by the City of Hagerstown to analyze the downtown commercial district and recommend strategies for improvements made suggestions to the City Council on Tuesday, including finding ways to get Prime Outlets customers to check out downtown businesses.

Chris Johansen, president of Market Knowledge Inc., a Wilmington, Del., marketing firm, is being paid up to $10,000 in Community Development Block Grant money for his work, which resulted in an oral report he gave at Tuesday's meeting and a written report, city officials said.

A Prime Outlets shopper generally shops for about four hours and spends about $80 to $120, Johansen said.

"You have these customers in the region. The challenge is to get them to come downtown," he said.

Johansen told the council about ideas that have worked in other downtowns.

In Grove City, Pa., visitors went to the local outlet mall but were unaware of the existence of the downtown, let alone the quality of some of its restaurants, he said.

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Officials there tackled that problem by having businesses sell some of their products, including food, at a tent at the outlet mall, Johansen said. Another option is to provide transportation, such as a trolley, from the outlet mall to the downtown, he said.

Hagerstown has a potential market of $935 million just among local residents, Johansen said. And 1.5 million tourists visit Washington County's historical and cultural attractions, representing a potential market of $364 million.

Prime Outlets draws another 2.7 million out-of-town visitors per year, a $121 million market, Johansen said.

"You have a great customer base out there that has no bias against downtown," he said.

Hagerstown has a number of logistical challenges to overcome, Johansen said. One is that some businesses are incongruent in the areas where they're located. Another is a lack of density in retail areas.

"The lack of density causes gaps that discourage shopping," he said. And shopping downtown is more difficult because of a lack of signs, he said.

"You've got some big buildings and great businesses," Johansen added. "You should begin to work on your assets."

A first step is to market businesses to persuade the approximately 3,000 people who work downtown to shop there, too, he said.

He suggested the city create an organization with five working committees - one each for economic restructuring, design, promotion, organization and "safe and clean."

Johansen suggested the organization be funded, at least initially, through voluntary membership and grants.

The downtown organization should encourage similar businesses to locate in clusters - clothing and personal services in one area, home furnishings and fixtures in another, he said.

Johansen asked that the written report not be made public yet.

Staff writer Tamela Baker contributed to this story.

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