Company aims to help existing Rantoul firms
RANTOUL — The vice president of a retail recruitment company hired to bring more business to Rantoul said the company's goal is not limited to bringing additional retail businesses to the community. It's also to aid existing businesses.
Aaron Farmer of The Retail Coach of Austin, Texas, outlined the company's goals and focus at a recent gathering of local residents at The Rantoul Business Center.
"A large part of our process is going to be focusing on local businesses and helping those local businesses (to compete and expand)," Farmer said. "Our first and foremost goal is if we can get somebody that's already in the community to expand or to start carrying other items."
Farmer said bringing more large retail businesses to town can also benefit existing businesses.
"A larger retailer that will have more of a regional draw is going to benefit your local businesses because that will have more people showing up here than in the past," he said. "If you look at the communities that are the most successful, they have a healthy mix between national retail and local retail."
The village of Rantoul entered into a three-year $100,000 contract with The Retail Coach to bring additional retail business to the community.
The company maintains a database of about 3,200 companies that have three or more stores. Farmer said The Retail Coach employs staff whose sole job is to survey companies on whether they are planning to start additional stores.
He said the recruitment job is a three-year process.
One of the earliest recruitment forays on Rantoul's behalf will be at the International Council of Shopping Centers Convention in Chicago the second week of September. The company will have a large booth and will meet with prospective businesses wishing to expand.
New tool: 'psychographics'
Rantoul's recruitment strategy has been broken into four retail submarkets — downtown, the freeway area, the former Chanute Air Force Base and the eastern part of town.
Prospective businesses will be shown the "five or so" best sites for them to locate in Rantoul. The Retail Coach, through its studies, will play matchmaker.
A retail trade area is the farthest distance consumers are willing to travel to buy goods and services. Different companies have a better chance of fitting in Rantoul's trade area. The Chili's restaurant chain, for instance, requires that at least 50,000 people live within a trade area where they locate. Other restaurant chains require higher numbers. For Red Lobster, it's 80,000, and for Long Horn Steak House, it's 100,000.
Farmer said his company will look at not only the area's demographics, but also its "psychographics." The newest analytical data in the retail industry, it breaks down information even further to also include what brands people are buying, how much business is leaving town and for what products, and lifestyles.
Chad Smith, chairman of the Rantoul Economic Development Board and a village board trustee, said one goal is not only to draw more business to west Rantoul, it's to get more people to come into the community to visit and shop.
"We want to make Rantoul a place to have an attraction," Smith said.
He cited the recently completed Community Experience Plan spearheaded by Taylor Studios as an example of how to draw people in to shop or visit.
"How many of the people who travel up and down the interstate don't realize we had that Air Force Base here for many years?" Smith said.
That's why a marketing strategy is important, he said.
"You see a Steak 'n Shake in town, you know you can get a good meal," Smith said. "Once off the interstate, now they go to downtown Rantoul. We market the east side; we market Chanute Air Force Base, everything we have to offer. This is just one tool to help with that."
Mike Royse, Rantoul's newly hired economic development director, inquired of the possibility of developing the village into a niche market.
Farmer said some communities have implemented that approach to become successful.
One is Roanoke, Texas, which has been designated "The Unique Dining Capital of Texas." By implementing that branding approach, the community, which has a population of about 6,500 (about half of Rantoul's population), now is home to 27 restaurants.
"Branding plays a huge role" in the recruitment process, Farmer said.
Rantoul has the disadvantage of being so close to Champaign-Urbana (Smith said $17 million "walked out of Rantoul" in people eating at casual sitdown restaurants), but it also has the advantage of being the largest community on I-57 on a 63-mile route south of Kankakee.
Dave Hinton is editor of the Rantoul Press, a News-Gazette community newspaper. For more, visit rantoulpress.com.