With no measurables or program milestones attached, assessing any outcome for a Town of Grimsby/Grimsby Chamber of Commerce shop local campaign is impossible, says Richard Dunda.
Dunda, a member of Grimsby Economic Development Advisory Committee (GEDAC) made the comments during a presentation of the Grimsby Got It campaign at the group’s Sept 22 meeting after it was noted a $50,000 Chamber grant would be spent to extend the program.
In the presentation, Grimsby CAO (chief administrative officer) Harry Schlange told the committee the progam was very successful.
“Given the enormous success of the buy local campaign, staff welcome the continuation of GGI for the remainder of 2021 and look forward to working with the COC in early 2022 to determine the best way to continue the momentum gained through this campaign,” according to Schlange’s report.
In the report, Schlange noted the success of the program could be measured by improved communication between the Town and the business community and a portable sign was set on Hwy. 8 at the east edge of town.
He also cited having a facebook page for Grimsby Got It (GGI) having 281 followers, an Instagram with 339 followers and 1,600 visits to the GGI website as examples of success, along with 47 businesses joining an online directory.
Schlange noted that $49,000 in retail sales were attributed to the program, with $2,300 in gift cards and gift baskets being given away as incentives to get shoppers to go onine and enter receipts for draws.
About $40,000 in cash and in-kind resources went into achieving that result from the four-month campaign with $10,000 of that coming from a Niagara Region grant, $5,000 from Town of Grimsby and the remainder through in-kind support.
“To refresh on what the objectives were, it was to get some traffic and support our local businesses and get some buying done in the short term.”
“In the long term is how do we sustain this?”
Now, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has confirmed an additional $50,000 grant “to continue beyond September to the end of the year,” said Schlange.
Mike Williscraft, president of the Grimsby Downtown Improvement Area board and GEDAC member, told the committee feedback he had received from retailers showed next to zero impact in terms of either buzz among consumers or sales activity.
“I note the amount that was spent downtown, I canvassed about 14 or 15 retailers in the core – and I recognize it’s (the program) town-wide but I don’t know why it would be any different – but they didn’t see any bump or people talking about the program in particular,” said Williscraft.
“I value the money that was spent downtown but, in terms of generating or creating anything, I don’t know that the program actually achieved that.”
Williscraft noted that shop local campaigns in the past were geared to getting shoppers downtown.
“We put a lot of pop into the traffic end of it – bodies downtown, people on the sidewalk. That’s what businesses are measuring,” he said.
“So with $50,000 more coming, I’m just wondering to what end?”
Schlange said he would “take that back to the project team” and review objectives to be set.
GEDAC member Richard Dunda said a program such as GGI must have measurables to determine if it worked for its intended purpose or not.
“In regards to an item like this, having a scorecard with key KPIs (key performance indicators) and tracking performance over time per money spent should be a key going in proposition as well as a summary as a way to report results,” said Dunda.
“What are those specifics? That should be an outcome we are targeting and then this committee can be informed. As can the people of the town be informed about how well that money went toward driving its objectives. Lack of scorecarding is a concern that I think this group, we can do something to address.”
GEDAC member Alejandra Wichartz said economic development “is often a lot conversation and engaging citizens and businesses in the processes”, noting she agrees scorecarding is important.
“We also have to make sure that we’re not too set on that. Economic development, traditionally, is not always easy to measure.”
“Yes, all those soft things are important but what you don’t measure, you can’t monitor and you can’t improve. Scorecards and KPIs can be iterated over time as we learn but not measuring and saying we should just do things softly without a direction and report on outcomes…that’s not how business works,” said Dunda.
“Business is driven by KPIs, economic development is an extension of business and they are utterly important. To have this committee not focused on key outcomes and economic deliverables for the Town is just not acceptable to me.”
“It is absolutely important to measure things, but sometimes the outcomes of those activities aren’t immediate,” Wichartz said.
While those comments were geared to larger scale economic development, Williscraft noted the concern of retailers is much more focused and much more immediate.
“The concern for the board and the retailers downtown in particular is that program was intentioned and geared for shopping locally. It wasn’t economic development and the larger umbrella you’re talking about,” noted Williscraft.
“It was a shop local campaign, but it didn’t really do that almost at all. I heard a lot about it because the businesses downtown thought it was a DIA project. They’re going, “Where’s the people? Where’s the dollars?’
Because of those inquiries, he said, the DIA had asked for a copy of the program budget milestones outlining goals to understand how the program was being rolled out. Despite many requests, including from DIA representatives on the program committee, that information was never provided.
“We couldn’t get that information at the board and our people on the committee couldn’t even get that information. So there was a lot of information at the board. It has not achieved its shop local goal. Yes, I understand the commerce is there and the people are registering and putting in those dollars, and that’s great, but it is nothing additional. It didn’t create anything,” said Williscraft.
Because of immediate concerns with the initial program, Williscraft asked how the $50,000 Phase II would be set up.
“This program is not working for shopping local, which is what the intention is for. If it’s spinning off into economic development and larger umbrella, the soft marketing, the other bases of economic development as Richard eluded to, that’s fine, but it’s…misguided to call it a shop local campaign,” said Williscraft, noting other facets of the program dilute the shop local goal.
As an example, the business directory included in the process, historically, will not result in driving sales, he noted, adding the directory being a town-wide information source is a positive.
“There is some data tracking, so we’ll do a better job on the metrics to date,” said Schlange.
“And I’ll work with Rebecca (Shelley of the Grimsby Chamber of Commerce and project lead) on the next-stage plan but, really, looking at the leverage this achieved…could we do better, for sure, but there has been a positive uptake across the entire town.”
Coun. Kevin Ritchie questioned the validity of assessing input from 15 retailers downtown noting he has heard positive comments about the campaign.
“I also question how many businesses are in the DIA? I’ve heard Coun. (Reg) Freake say there over 80 some odd businesses in the DIA. Only talking to 15, does that give a good metrics on a town-wide initiative?” said Ritchie.
There are well over 200 businesses in the DIA area including retail and services.
Since the GEDAC meeting another 18 businesses have noted none of them had customers mention or ask about that program or have any discernible sales related to it. Two mentioned they like the social media program and one spoke in glowing terms of the program’s overall intent.
“What we’ve all heard is anecdotal information and should be treated as such. What matters is distinct objectives that are measurable longer and can be reported back to this committee so that we’re driving against outcomes that everybody is aligned against. Frankly, I don’t care about what everybody has heard. What I care about are outcomes that have been measured and we have success or not success, so we can learn.,” said Dunda.