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The Paris City Council has contracted with a national retail recruitment company whose specialty is helping “those small and medium-size communities” – like Paris – “that need help getting the word out.”
After a 35-minute presentation by Aaron Farmer, vice president of The Retail Coach, the council voted unanimously Monday night to enter into a one-year agreement for $29,995, with an option to renew for a second year at half that price since much of the necessary research will have been competed.
Paris was left without retail recruitment when the council, led by Mayor AJ Hashmi and mayor pro-tem John Wright, last year ordered the Paris Economic Development Corporation out of its $33,000-a-year relationship with Retail Attractions, saying retail is outside the PEDC’s realm.
The council was visibly impressed by the presentation. Hashmi said it was one of the better presentations the council has seen.
Farmer, a native of Keller, said he has been with the company for more than seven years. “I have worked in more than 225 communities in the United States, and let me say this: About 90 to 95 percent of those communities are in the state of Texas.”
The company’s corporate office is in Tupelo, Miss., but it has an office in Austin, Texas.
“I graduated from Texas A&M, and I learned there that it’s not just what you know, it’s also about who you know, and that’s very true in the retail real estate business,” he said.
The president and chief executive officer of the company is Kelly Cofer, also a Texas A&M graduate, and Farmer said he and Cofer would be the two point men in attracting new retail and restaurant development to Paris.
Two of the company’s recent successes, he said, are in Wylie, 30 miles northeast of Dallas, and Bastrop, 20 miles southeast of Austin.
“We were successful at recruiting that very large Target shopping center to Wylie – also a Kohl’s and a number of other retailers to go along with it,” Farmer said.
“We’ve had big success recently in Bastrop, a community I compare to Paris in a lot of ways – as far as where you’re located, how far you are from the closest other retail. We’ve actually been successful in recruiting 13 retailers and restaurants to Bastrop in the past two years,” he said.
“And let me tell you this: Bastrop is a town of 6,500,” he said, about one-fourth the size of Paris.
“We got an Academy Sports and Outdoors, that just signed up. Chick Filet is another on we’ve had success recruiting, and Dunkin Donuts, and a movie theater. We’ve also had success with Fedex, Kinkos, Sally’s Beauty Supply, Adidas – helping them decide where they’re going to locate. Is Paris the place for them to locate?”
Finding a developer to come into a community is key, Farmer said.
“I actually made a call this afternoon to the developer in Bastrop that we’ve had so much success with in getting these retailers, and he’s already agreed to come out and look at Paris. He was honest with me and said, ‘I have heard of Paris before, but I honestly don’t know where in the state Paris is.’ That is going to be a challenge, something we’re going to have to get over.”
Farmer was asked about the reported reluctance of major companies to locate in a city of less than 150,000 population.
“Actually, no, that’s not true. Most retailers and restaurants require 50,000 people in your trade area. From my experience, you forget about city limit signs. You’ve got people coming from long distances to shop and eat here because you’re their closest retail center. Your trade area extends out into Oklahoma a good way, and also to the south, east and west.”
Paris’ Walmart store “has one of the biggest draws, in terms of service area, in the state of Texas,” he said. “And anytime you can go to a retailer and say Paris has the No. 1 Chili’s franchise for this size trade area in the state of Texas, that’s going to pique their interest.”
As he went around Paris, interviewing citizens about what things are missing, that they’re leaving town for on a regular basis, at the top of the list was casual, sit-down, national brand restaurants, he said.
“And that was the first thing I noticed when driving around the loop, driving into town. Where are some of those national restaurants? We’re seeing retailers move to Texas more than any other state. You hear about it all the time on the news – retailers and restaurants want to be here,” he said.
“The No. 1 request I got from citizens was additional restaurants, casual national brand restaurants – Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Longhorn Steak House. I’m surprised some of those are not already in this market.”
In the past, he told the council, “we were told that Target will not consider coming to someplace like this. But now they have a Target Express store, and you kind of fit the mold for what they’re looking for. Used to, everything was between 60,000 to 100,000 square feet. Smaller stores that they’re coming in with now are about half that. Walmart is doing the same thing. They have plans to open 15 Walmart express stores within the year.”
The mayor asked Farmer how his company compares with Retail Attractions, which is based in Tulsa, Okla., and headed by a Paris native.
“I’m familiar with Retail Attractions, and I never want to say anything bad about my competitors,” Farmer replied.
“But suppose we were to make a choice between them and you. Why should we select you?” Hashmi asked.
“Our experience level – much more experience in the state of Texas,” Farmer said. “We have a targeted approach. We’re familiar with a company. We’ve come behind it a number of times, and my contacts are second to none.”
Hashmi asked, “You have better contacts and better access to retail?”
“Undeniably,” Farmer answered.
The mayor continued: “You’re in a similar kind of business. Do you think you have been more successful than they have been in bringing businesses to town?”
“Without a doubt,” Farmer replied.
His company’s job will be to convince retailers and restaurants that if they come to Paris, they will be successful, Farmer said. Because of his company’s targeted approach, he is confident the results will be good, he said.
“As I said before, it’s not just what you know, but who you know. If you have helped them locate successful stores time after time, they are going to listen to you.”
His observation about Paris’ past retail recruitment, he said, “is really a kind of shotgun approach – you know, ‘Come to Paris. Paris is where it’s happening.’ To be successful, you have to take retailers to specific sub-markets and take them to specific sites. Our approach is very, very targeted, and that needs to be the case going forward.”
Also, Farmer said, “A lot of the demographics of retailers and restaurants, a lot of the information I’ve seen has been old, using 2010 data. If I’m a retailer or restaurant, I have to have 2014 data. If you’re operating on 2010 data, you’re way behind the curve.”
Paris is competing not against other cities in Northeast Texas or North Texas, he said. “You’re competing against Bastrop. You’re competing against McAllen, because if a company is going to open only 10 stores in Texas, you have to make sure that Paris is at the top of that list. That’s what our company does.”
Farmer said he specializes in research, and early on, in looking at Paris’ website, he discovered that not all of the city’s sites available for development are on the Internet.
“So if I’m a developer, if I’m a restaurant, somebody looking to open a store here, I can’t find all the sites available,” he said
“What our firm does, we come in and we help pinpoint to specific retailers our specific retail sites that could be successful. We really work closely with your local businesses, retailers and restaurants, but we also talk to brokers. If we know a company is looking to do a 20,000 to 30,000 square foot store, what we need to do is have three to five sites available to them, and we need to get that information to them as quickly as possible.”
As more retailers and restaurants come into Paris, its trade area will expand, Farmer said.
His company’s license plate analysis in both Paris and Sherman of where customers are coming from, he said, shows Paris to be “about at the halfway point” of whether someone living between Paris and Sherman will go to Paris or to Sherman.
“Actually, right now, it’s closer to people are going to Sherman. If we’re successful in recruiting more restaurants – two or three of these restaurants – it’s going to increase the trade area. Instead of going to Sherman, they’ll come to Paris,” Farmer said.
“A lot of stores are really going to benefit from being in a town the size of yours.”
Charles Richards, eParisExtra