$94K investment is building Bartlett’s retail presence


Bartlett just paid $24,000 to kick off the city’s third year of a consulting contract designed to rev up the city’s retail growth. The aldermen approved the payment at their Nov. 10 meeting.

Birmingham-based Retail Strategies has charged the city a total of $94,000 to date for the three-year project, designed to increase the city’s revenues without increasing property taxes, particularly to sustain and grow the Bartlett City Schools district.

“I think it’s panned out just the way they described it,” said Mayor A. Keith McDonald.

He named Krispy Kreme, the L.A. Fitness that will be opening behind McDonalds, and Marco’s Pizza as some of the direct results of the work. Other ventures are in progress, but the city is currently bound by nondisclosure agreements and cannot discuss them at this stage.

It’s hard to be patient and silent when you’re just brimming with good news, but administrators know how to be prudent and support retailers who are considering a Bartlett investment.

“You just want to shout it out and tell everybody,” he said. “But they’ve got they way they want to do it.”

Enough time is required to build relationships, talk to different retailers, and reach out to the contractors who build shopping centers, and Retail Strategies has done that as they work on Bartlett’s behalf, he said.

The consultants also have talked to some owners about buying some of Bartlett’s existing shopping centers, but so far they have not been interested in selling, McDonald said. Retail Strategies is also evaluating some land and whether the zoning is right for developers who have their own contacts and bring in their preferred retailers. Those growth opportunities for Bartlett will take a little longer.

“It’s fine to have an interested buyer, but you’ve got to have an interested seller,” he said. “They are working with both parties.”

He believes the consulting company has sharpened Bartlett’s competitive edge. City leaders have traveled to shopping center conferences in Las Vegas, Nashville and Atlanta. Retail Strategies is the known and constant presence for possible investors, and the city leaders’ attendance also shows Bartlett’s strong interest in working with them.

Bartlett has plenty to offer, he said, including excellent property values and its own police and fire departments with great response times. It’s everyone’s job to get that word out.

“You’ve got to have somebody out there kind of tooting the horn of the city on a regular basis,” McDonald said.

One of the greatest retail challenges facing Bartlett and other municipalities is the explosive growth of the Internet and its drain on tax revenue.

“The thing that hurts some of our retailers, as well as the city, is when people are buying on the Internet and it’s not coming back to the local government like it would if you were going to one of the local stores,” he said. “Our sales tax is not growing equal to the amount of merchandise being purchased.”

Even big-box retailers are not building stores as large as they previously did, McDonald said. So savvy cities are courting companies that build pickup stations locally where customers can pick up their items ordered online.

He said the city has also benefited from the buying trends data that Retail Strategies provides from their research online and with credit card companies. They have strong evidence of what local citizens are buying elsewhere instead of locally, and that gives Bartlett good ideas of what retailers to woo.

McDonald said when the Retail Strategies contract is up, the board may consider continuing the relationship on a year-to-year basis. The relationship to date has been helpful and also has been a good learning experience.

“I just know that it does take a lot of constant effort,” he said. “So if we are not using somebody like them and we are serious about trying to encourage the marketplace to look at us versus going next door to Wolfchase or Lakeland or someplace, we’ve got to be out there in front of them, showing the reasons they ought to consider us.”

Written by Carolyn Bahm, Express editor. Contact her at (901) 433-9138 or via email to bartlett.editor@journalinc.com.