Danville's retail trade draws from 20 counties

April 29, 2004|GARY MOYERS

Julie Wagner threw a rock through the window of traditional business recruitment thinking two weeks ago when she made the startling announcement that Danville's retail trade area draws from 20 counties encompassing 700,000 people.

That's a population comparable to Knoxville, Tenn., or Santa Barbara, Calif., and includes counties ranging from Nelson in the west to Madison in the east, and Fayette in the north to Pulaski in the south. Even Wagner shakes her head when she says that.

"I took these numbers to a downtown business committee meeting recently, and all I saw were raised eyebrows," she said. "It certainly goes against the old five-county area we've based our figures on for so many years."

She backs up those new numbers with a soon-to-be released market study funded by a Renaissance Kentucky grant.

"It surprised me, certainly, so I'm not surprised that people have been skeptical," said the director of Heart of Danville. "These numbers certainly go against the traditional view that we draw shoppers from five counties. It's making us take a hard look at the way we plan for future growth."


Zip code tracking information used

Heart of Danville's numbers were compiled through a market study conducted in the spring of 2003, Wagner said, coupled with customer zip code tracking information obtained earlier this year.

"The key component was the zip code tracking," she said. "We had not used that information before in our studies. Our businesses were canvassed with regard to who shops there and where they come from, and we added data in provided by Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, and these are the results."

Katie Jo Kirkpatrick, executive director of the Community Development Council, may be one of the few people in town who didn't blink at Wagner's pronouncement.

"The CDC did a similar study in 2001 that pretty much backs up Julie's study," said Kirkpatrick. "It's really not a shock to me. Danville and Boyle County draw shoppers from quite a large area."

Carol Senn, owner of Carol's Bridal and Gifts Boutique on 309 W. Main St., said the study confirmed what she knew from personal experience.

"We keep detailed records of where our customers come from, and it's always been much more than five counties," said Senn. "For example, this year alone we've had prom dress customers from 19 counties, and that's something that happens every year with us. People keep coming back every year, some from as far as McCreary County."

Wagner said she believes Danville's attraction to shoppers stems from a combination of the right kinds of retail coupled with dining and sightseeing destinations.

"People who shop here, particularly in the downtown area, have told us they like to travel here and make a shopping day of it," she said. "They may come with a particular store or item in mind, but they stay long enough to eat, visit other stores and maybe visit one of the tourist attractions."

Next step is developing plan of action

The next step, Wagner said, is to break down the number and develop a plan of action.

"Obviously, our traditional thinking with regard to attracting downtown business will have to be rethought," she said. "It's exciting, because now, when we talk to interested businesses and commercial interests, we can tell them they have a much greater potential customer draw than we previously thought. We have to think about what we can do to better tap into that market."

Wagner said the new numbers will be useful when local organizations approach state and federal entities for potential grant money.

"There are sources out there for potential projects," she said.

One project already under way is a new downtown recruitment brochure.

"We awarded a contract to The Idea Farm to develop a recruitment piece highlighting the results of this study and some other information, such as downtown occupancy rates, etc.," said Wagner. "I think the way to take advantage of this information is through marketing. We have to want to make people want to come here, whether to live or shop."

Wagner said the impact of the new information is still being examined. "It's big, very big, and it's exciting," she said. "Now we just have to figure out how to get our arms around it and use it."

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