Firm recruits retailers, investors for Washington

Published 8:05 pm Friday, August 1, 2014

Waffle House, Zaxby’s, Little Caesers Pizza — all national chains that have recently made their way to Washington. It’s no accident the three restaurants have opened for business in the last several months. Instead, it’s the result of a contract between the City of Washington and retail recruitment firm Retail Strategies.

Currently, over 100 retailer prospects have expressed interest in coming to town, according to Scott vonCannon, who works in Retail Strategies’ business development and client management.

The company doesn’t just recruit retailers from out of town, they facilitate relationships, vonCannon said. A major part of what Retail Strategies does is to connect retailers expressing a preliminary interest in coming to Washington with local investors who are interested in a franchisee, or operator, opportunity — thus, Waffle House, Zaxby’s and Little Caesers.

At the suggestion of former Washington City Manager Josh Kay, Retail Strategies was hired in 2012 to take an economic bird’s eye view of the city, identifying trade areas, retail strengths and weaknesses and presenting findings to the town. Part lobbyist organization, part economic development facilitator, as well as a spin-off of a national retail real estate firm, Retail Strategies representatives take a hard look at a given town: at existing businesses, the gaps in retail services, where retail dollars are being spent and where they are seeping out of the city. They find the commercial properties available for sale or rent and renovations necessary. The end result is an in-depth survey, a retail prospect list and marketing materials Retail Strategies shares at a national level on behalf of the town, vonCannon said.

“I think it’s worked out well. It provides for us the opportunity to get our face out at trade shows — places we would normally not have the ability to do, because we just don’t have the resources,” said Brian Alligood, Washington’s city manager.

VonCannon said the company strives to create economic opportunities, not only by recruiting national chains, but by pointing out ways local businesses can expand services to fill retail gaps and reaching out to regional businesses that might be interested in expanding to Washington.

Retail Stategies’ research has identified the following categories representing gaps in Washington’s retail services: restaurants (sit down, fast casual and fast food), department stores, clothing and accessories and appliances/electronics.

“Grocery is up there as well, which may come as a surprise to some residents in Washington. You’ve got five or six grocery stores. But some of that ties back in with leaving the area,” vonCannon said. “The problem is when people are leaving Washington to do shopping not offered here, they pick up other services outside — it’s a negative double-dip factor.”

VonCannon said Greenville and, to a lesser extent, Raleigh, are the main recipients of Washington residents’ retail dollars.

“At the end of the day, what we want to do is identify sustainable growth in Washington,” vonCannon said. “By no means are we going to cannibalize existing businesses in town. … We want to drive the sales tax for the area and keep the money in Washington, as opposed to leaking into nearby cities.”

For those interested in learning about the retail franchisee/operator opportunities in Washington, contact Washington City Manager Brian Alligood at 252-975-9139.