Opinion: Economic endeavours need rebranding

By Mike Williscraft
NewsNow

It was Thanksgiving Day on Monday and, boy, was I thankful there was no Grimsby council. Those days are like Christmas around here. The mood is light, everyone smiling (even me).

There were actually several stories which will stem from last week’s council soirée, but it made sense to ensure two business community stories were in the same edition.

The stories, as you will find good reader, outline two very different initiatives – well-intentioned – but both missing their respective marks.

That does not mean both were wasted money and effort, but it does show both require significant rethinks on methodology to set a reliable foundation for anything on which a future program or policies could be based.

The Grimsby Got It shop local campaign – funded by a $10,000 Niagara Region grant, Town funds of $5,000, $1,500 in Grimsby DIA support and a long list of in-kind donations, was managed by the Grimsby & District Chamber of Commerce.

The story in this week’s edition notes the considerable issues with any measurables related to the performance of the program.

That said, any kind of promotion is good promotion, but the rethink on this entity should revolve around how it is billed.

As I noted at the Grimsby Economic Development Advisory Committee, it really wasn’t a shop local campaign at all. It was a program to create social media accounts and a website to host a directory.

With over 500 businesses in town – and the DIA and Chamber already having directories online – getting 47 signs ups is pretty small uptake.

It is not a bad thing in any way, shape or form, but directories have been proven time and again to be very poor revenue generators, which was the intent of the program in the first place.

That strategy is what concerned the vast majority of retailers I spoke to about the program, which now number 33 – spanning Grimsby Square Plaza to Robinson Street.

There was only one which spoke positively about the program at all, with two others liking the social media aspect of the marketing. Those who said they heard no buzz about the event – despite talking it up to customers consistently – also reported they saw no change in sales.

Again, it was a shop local program…not sure how one can call it a success based on that kind of information.

Also as I noted at GEDAC, as I don’t want to get ‘Bothwelled’ and have people thinking they heard something inaccurately, I noted the program is town-wide and findings could be better elsewhere. There could be stores in the DIA which made out like gangbusters, too, and that would be awesome…I invite anyone who saw significant response to get in touch…glad to chat about it, my cell, 289-442-4244.

I wasn’t going to say anything at all at GEDAC until I heard it confirmed another $50,000 has come in the door through an Ontario Chamber of Commerce grant and CAO Harry Schlange said the plan is to continue the
program which has already been started.

If the money was for an all encompassing, general town marketing program, great. Just call it what is and move because there is nothing wrong with a program like that. Just don’t mislead anyone into thinking shopping local is a prime directive.

With the Town’s business retention and expansion study, which has been ongoing for many months, there has been little uptake from the get go.

This is another one where town officials just seem to be trying too hard and are hell-bent on getting to some kind of report that they can dub a success even though the business community has pretty much rejected their advances.

The initial response to getting a survey completed was one, yes, one.

So they took another shot, got more aggressive, started sending direct emails and phone calls to some to elicit more response. Over months, they got up about two dozen, which is not enough of a sample to base anything significant. The decision was then made to draft a four-question survey for the Let’s Talk Grimsby site. While the shorter survey doubled responses, it would also skew any solid data from the first round because the second survey was so different.

The root of the issue, as stated by the CAO, trust. Lack of trust in town hall and what numbers may be used for was the number one reason businesses balked at giving up real responses.

When you look at how the high-profile shop local initiative was positioned, it is easy to understand why it is tough to trust whey you hear from town hall, which is unfortunate.

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