Businesses need to take lead in branding Edmonds, destination expert advises

Main Street Square in Rapid City, S.D. transformed the city’s downtown into a gathering place.

Jettison the generic.

Narrow your focus.

Be different.

Any community that wants to better market itself as a destination and increase economic development needs to stop “trying to be all things to all people,” an expert in destination development and marketing told a group of about 125 Edmonds business owners, city officials and citizens gathered in the Wade James Theatre Thursday night.

Roger Brooks, founder of Seattle-based Destination Development International, was invited by the city’s Economic Development Department to speak, and he brought with him inspiring case studies from more than 400 communities, downtowns, and downtown districts in North America that his company considers to be well-branded and dynamic. Among them: St. Albert, outside of Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada, (population 60,000) which transformed itself from a bedroom community to a thriving “botanic arts” city, complete with a $100 million garden center that also doubles as a conference and education center, and Jefferson, Texas (population 2,500) now known as the antique center of Texas with 125 antique dealers.

St. Albert logo reflects its “botanic arts” branding.

During his two-and-a-half-hour presentation, Brooks talked about the “20 ingredients of an outstanding downtown.” He started by focusing on some of the “deadly sins of community marketing.” Among them: the temptation to fall back on the generic buzzwords — “explore,” discover,” historic downtown,” “best-kept secret” and “gateway” — that “could fit any community in Washington.”

“There are 546 cities and towns and villages in this state,” Brooks said. “Competition has never been more fierce.”

He encouraged local businesses to take the lead in branding and marketing their communities, and not rely on either the city or citizen-based focus groups to lead the way. “You cannot narrow your focus by public consent,” Brooks said. “It needs to come from the business community.”

Roger Brooks

He also talked about the importance of preventing “leakage” — essentially residents spending their money outside of town — and offered tips for encouraging both residents and visitors to spend more money and time in Edmonds.

Downtown is “the heart and soul of every community besides its people,” Brooks said. “If locals won’t hang out in your downtown, neither will visitors.” That doesn’t mean that other neighborhoods should be ignored, he added, but downtown needs to be the main focus. When suburban shopping malls arrived in the 1960s, everyone left downtown to shop in malls and strip malls. Now Americans are starting to move toward what Brooks described as “the European standard” of pedestrian-focused, tree-lined streets with plazas that become community gathering places.

Among Brooks’  20 ingredients for a successful downtown:

- Start with a plan. And Brooks stressed that it should not be a strategic plan, which he believes is a waste of time, but an action plan with a to-do list. (He was quick to note that while the City of Edmonds is just finishing up its own strategic plan, next steps call for that plan to be transformed into action steps, which is a good sign.)

- Describe a strong brand and a retail focus. Examples include the arts, sports tourism, horticulture and antiques. “When you stand for something, all of a sudden there’s a business opportunity,” he said.

- Group like businesses together, following the 10/10/10 rule. Within three linear blocks, downtowns should have 10 restaurants, three “destination” (non-chain or franchise) retail shops and “at least 10 places open after 6 p.m.,” he said. “How you doing Edmonds?” Brooks asked, referring to the fact that most city businesses are not open late into the evening, even though customers are now “shopping later at night.” To draw shoppers, downtown businesses need to “think and act like a mall” with consistent days and hours of operation, he said.

- Parking limits — especially those of less than four hours — are bad. Set aside parking lots or garages with all-day parking and let customers know where they are, Brooks advised. Angle parking increases retail spending by more than 20 percent because people hate to parallel park, and also gives you a third more parking spaces, he added.

- Ensure that public restrooms are available. “Relieved visitors spend more.”

- Develop “gathering places.” Brooks described this as “the age of third places” — referring to three places where people spend time — work, home and “where we go to hang out.” To attract “a creative class you need to create third places,” he said. “That is the future of the United States and every successful community will be built around gathering places.” Wider sidewalks and more street trees encourage retail activity, he added.

- Create a community gateway that creates a good first impression of your community. For example, he said that the “Welcome to Edmonds” sign should be strategically placed where it will make the best impression, and that shouldn’t be next to a strip mall.

- Ensure you have good directional signage, which Brooks called a “wayfinding system,” so that people can find their way around town.

- Make a good first impression with sidewalk cafes and outdoor dining, retail beautification and signage that describes what a business is selling rather than the business name, if it isn’t clear. “Curb appeal can account for 70 percent of first-time sales,” Brooks said.

- Offer activities and entertainment that “bring downtown to life.”

Brooks’ presentation was videotaped and will be aired on Channel 21 in the next few days, according to Stephen Clifton, Edmonds’ Director of Community Services and Economic Development. “Many people spoke to me as they left the event and they are excited to work on enhancing our community and making it a more interesting/lively place to work, visit and live,” Clifton said.

Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling said Clifton deserves credit for bringing Brooks to Edmonds, calling the presentation “just plain fun” and “a terrific energy boost to the community.” Many of the elements that Brooks described are being put into place as part of the Main Street construction project between 5th and 6th Avenues, Earling added.

As for what’s next, the mayor said it should involve “pulling together business, city and community folks who were there to see the level of interest in proceeding. I was impressed six of our council members were in attendance and those that I have spoken to liked his approach.”

While Earling was hopeful the city would be involved in such a project, he reiterated Brooks’ assertion that “the business community should lead. Personally I would be happy to be involved,  but property owners and store front leaders need to be out front.”

If you like what you are reading, please consider a weekly, monthly or one-time voluntary donation of any amount to support our work. You can donate via this link.

16 Comments

  1. The foto also looks like the Pearl District in Portland. Another example of revitalizing a run-down warehouse district and making good of it for the enjoyment of many.

  2. This past summer I spent two months in Budapest, Hungary and visited Vienna, Prague, Bratislava and several Hungarian larger cities. All had delightful pedestrian only areas in the downtown center, with restaurants, coffee shops, ice cream establishments, retail, art and sculpture. I wonder if Edmonds would consider converting the downtown area to pedestrian only – perhaps along 5th from City Hall to Dayton or Walnut, and on Main Street from 3rd or 4th to 6th.

  3. Notice that the “meeting areas” of Edmonds are the roundabout at Starbucks, or The Walnut Cafe on Walnut Street. In any community people congregate where there is room to gather. A great example is Traffalgar Square in London, or the Spanish Steps in Rome (along with many other locations of course). But also by providing areas to buy food and comfortable locations with space or trees, people feel a necessity to socialize. by providing these arenas, people will come and spend time in Edmonds.
    Shame Main Street was not the first re-developed road to be a pedestrian thoroughfare.

  4. I find it interesting that there was not one mention in this story about the efforts of local businesses to form the Edmonds Business Improvement District. The committee members and supporters are near the end of their long journey to bring the BID to life, and its creation will give the city a strong base to market its downtown area and brand the city.

    • Would be great to have an update on status of BID — can someone provide?

  5. Can anyone explain why we have not done angle parking in downtown? A third more spaces is significant. Brooks also recommended signs which are perpendicular to the shops. These have also increased business. Some businesses seem to want us to guess what they are selling. The outside dining at Las Brisas and Cheesemonger in the Hazel Miller Plaza area are good examples of what Brooks recommended-outdoor gathering places. He also showed many examples of plants and flowers as good economic drivers. The city’s flower program is not just a fluffy program for garden lovers.
    By the way, the BID program was part of the last mayor’s citizen group meeting. Stephen Clifton is a good resource.

  6. Hi David (coment 4),

    Go to EdmondsWa.gov and click on Meeting Agendas. Next, click on the November 13, 2012 City Council Committee Meetings, then Finance Committee Agenda Item D, Resolution to Initiate a Proposal for a Business Improvement District within a Portion of the City of Edmonds. An Edmonds Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) Committee Report is one attachment of the agenda and provides a good overview of the current status of the proposed BID.

    Stephen

  7. Rodger Brooks made a great presentation. Here is a guy that knows his stuff. It seems to me that we as a business community are at critical mass. We have an opportunity to do something really terrific here. I don’t believe I am qualified to pull this thing together but I will sure pitch in. We need some leadership to come together and tackle
    some of the situations Rodger Brooks discussed.Over the years have hired consultants with mixed results. Here is a person that we should invest in. My opinion.

  8. How much did the City pay for Mr. Brook’s presentation?

    • I think he did it for free — but perhaps someone from the city could weigh in on that?

    • Just heard back from Stephen Clifton in the City. Roger Brooks was paid $2,500 using “professional services” funds within the Economic Development Department budget. A video of the event will soon be aired on the City’s Government Channel.

  9. Is there a group that helps define and approve what signage should be in the dt area? A revamping and a requirement for a certain level of professionalism would be a great first step – Milltowns update is a great example of what a refresh can do, as well as the work we have done at Walnut Street Coffee by bringing outdoor seating, plantings etc. I am excited to see the continuing changes to dt Edmonds.

  10. To have businesses “take the lead” to make Edmonds more attractive to visitors is a great idea, however such initial steps are not exactly new and novel to Edmonds.

    There have been successful ventures in that direction in our state, for example Leavenworth, Winthrop, and a bit closer and more like us, Friday Harbor. In all three businesses certainly led. However the general citizenry was also heavily supportively involved

    In my 43 years of Edmonds, several syuh efforts have occurred, yet failed, Unfortunately, in each instamce, property owners and builders have successfully twisted the efforts into one after another divisive building heights craze. Progress then failed due to not just a lack of citizen involvement, but rather to a wave of stronger and stredfast citizen opposition

    Check the three examples I mentioned as successful ventures to promote small towns.
    Building heights clearly did not becomes the major and divisive issue in any of them.

    Success therefore can occur WITHOUT first enriching property owners and builders and destroying our small town values ans assets in a false name of “progress”.

  11. Ray makes some interesting points. One thing the downtown businesses want to do is form a BID. This would give them the necessary funding to “take the lead” in moving forward with ideas and programs. Council did not approve the plan yet and will be holding a public hearing sometime to gather more input. The questions of not moving forward seem to be should all businesses in the proposed area contribute and at what rate.

    The presentation by Roger Brooks is not being broadcast on Channels 39 and 21 depending on your TV provider. There were some really good ideas in the presentation that should be viewed by all. The basic 20 things to do for a city fall into 3 categories. What business should do. What building owners should do. And what the City should do. While we have done some of the things mentioned there is more to do.

  12. Although the City started broadcasting the November 8, 2012 Roger Brooks last week, there is currently an interuption due to the length of City Council meeting(s) currently being aired. There are three DVD slots in the City’s recording/broadcasting system and all three are in being used for City Council meeting purposes. The City plans to begin broacasting Mr. Brooks’ presentation again on December 19, 2012.

  13. Due to the length of the December 11, 2012 City Council meeting, we are able to air Roger Brooks’ November 8, 2012 presentation earlier than December 19. The program can be seen on City of Edmonds Government TV – Channels 39 (Frontier) and 21 (Comcast) daily at 9 a.m., 4 p.m. and 11 p.m.

Leave a Reply