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Client Interview

Five Questions with Fortuna, California Chamber of Commerce

5 questions with the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce

Have you ever wished you had more restaurant options in town during a busy weeknight?

Or another store to stop at for a last-minute gift?

Last year, leadership at the City of Fortuna and the Fortuna Chamber decided to do something about it by hiring a retail economic development company called Retail Strategies utilizing Measure W funds (transient occupancy tax) to step in and help bring new shopping and dining options to town.

In this article, Fortuna Chamber President & CEO, Renee Lindsay, and Matthew Tate, Retail Strategies’
director of business development for the West Coast, discuss the retail landscape and retail attraction
efforts happening in Fortuna.

1. Why is retail so important to a community?

Renee Lindsay: Beyond just retail sales tax, which is important to any municipality as it pays for city
and police services, new roads, parks, and so on, it contributes to that feeling of community.
Especially locally-owned businesses which support our non-profits, school sports programs, etc.
Having diverse retail options is also important as it not only satisfies everyone that lives in our
community but helps bring other consumers to the trade area. Customers might come to Fortuna
for one retailer but stay in town to eat, shop, or use a service.

Matthew Tate: When we think about retail, it’s a mix of locally-owned and then those national and regional companies that everyone knows. For instance, Downtown Fortuna is beautiful, it’s historic. When tourists visit the Humboldt area, they don’t typically want to shop or dine at chain restaurants. Fortuna understands that they need to pull travelers off of the highway with national retail brands. It’s a delicate balance. The point here is that national retail won’t take away from the good things going on with local retailers. They complement one another. We aren’t trying to hurt or harm existing businesses – a rising tide lifts all boats.

RL: That’s right. Typically, nonresidents (e.g., tourists) aren’t getting off of the highway for a locally-known business they’ve never heard of, but they will for a national chain (e.g., Starbucks) and might discover other things while in town. Competition gets a bad rap but is healthy and necessary
for a community. If we don’t offer it, shoppers will go to neighboring towns to find it. Competition makes us all raise our game whether it’s in product offerings, customer service, or additional services offered.

MT: Even in more rural communities, convenience is king. People choose to live in smaller towns for various reasons, but everyone wants to grab a nice dinner and have a grocer close. You can stay small with intentional growth and development.

2. What is a realistic timeframe for bringing new national or regional retail to town?

MT: It typically takes 18-24 months before a retailer is going to make a decision and opens its doors. The site/real estate can be right, the property owners want them, but it could take nine months to actually break ground. The first step is softening the community, and the next step is getting retailers interested. We have connected with local property owners in Fortuna, we have sent new businesses their way, and they are perking their heads up – so property owners are starting to understand that businesses are interested in Fortuna.

coffee shop small business

RL: When you mention Fortuna to these retailers, how many had actually heard of Fortuna without having an identifier (e.g. it’s near Eureka)?

MT: Right now, we’re in the “have you heard of Fortuna?” stage. I was talking to a national hotel brand’s real estate executive, and he didn’t know where Fortuna was. I told him it was the gateway of the Eureka region and then he knew exactly where I was talking about. That’s part of what we do -we tell the story of Fortuna to the retail real estate community. After analyzing the market, we craft an elevator pitch on behalf of the city.

Most national retailers want to make the surest bet when taking a chance on a new market. They, of course, start by looking at the population and co-tenants present in a market in places like Eureka first, but if the right opportunity in a secondary or tertiary market is brought to their attention, they will look elsewhere, especially if you can help simplify and expedite their decision-making process. It’s been pretty clear in conversations up to this point that Fortuna wasn’t well known or high on the priority list for many retailers until we have gotten involved and helped tell the story of Fortuna.

3. Over the course of the last year, what discoveries were found by digging into the data and analytics of the consumers in Fortuna?

laptop computer hands

RL: Retail Strategies provided a mobile data study centered at Walgreens and we discovered that the store pulls in people as far away as Garberville. It was impactful to see just how far our reach is and how big our consumer trade area actually is.

MT: It’s one thing to say that we have a big reach, but quite another thing to back it up with data and analytics. That’s something retailers have to see – actual data on the consumers in the trade area and we provide that to the city and to the retailers we’re talking to. One thing we’re learning as City staff gets more involved is that the City owns some land or could potentially annex some that could be pretty big for retailers. We’re so much stronger when city leadership is involved and working with us as a partner.

4. What exactly does the Retail Strategies team do as a partner to Fortuna?

MT: If we break it down into what we’re doing, we can call it retail matchmaking. The first step is to pull the data on the consumers in the area and understand how they spend their money and their demographic make-up. Then we analyze what business types are missing from the market. Once we understand those gaps, we look at retailers expanding in the area. Making outreach to the right person at the right time. Simultaneously our team connects with the local property owners and brokers.

To date, we have conducted outreach and connected with over a dozen properties and property owners in Fortuna. We’ve contacted and met with over 55 retail prospects. We’ve had
interest from restaurants and a couple of national coffee chains. We’ve also been talking to a developer. The next step is matching the retailer up with the right site.

It’s important to note that while those conferences do generate a lot of face-to-face conversations, those events only represent six days on the calendar, so beyond that we’re emailing and calling to turn over the right opportunities for the City.

Those events would have cost the city several thousand dollars plus the cost of a space to meet, so that’s something we do as part of our partnership that saves time and budget dollars for the City and Chamber.

5. Beyond recruiting retail, what value do you receive from your team at Retail Strategies?

RL: The monthly webinars and videos that Retail Strategies puts on have been extremely helpful. During the height of COVID it was beneficial to see recommendations on how to use rescue funding and then have guidance on how to re-open retail/restaurant businesses, how to use tax credits, etc. I
think it’s great that this information is readily available and free, even if someone isn’t actually a client. The Retail Leakage report was also eye opening. It showed how many consumer dollars are leaving the community and are being spent elsewhere. We never knew that before. I also learned a lot through the psychographic data that was compiled, giving us insight into how consumers shop based on their behaviors and interest.

MT: Our team has not even scratched the surface of what the potential could be for downtown Fortuna! Attracting new retail can be described as crawl, walk, run. We’re still in the crawl phase, but good things are happening on behalf of Fortuna.

To connect with the Retail Strategies team, email Matthew Tate or Brookley Valencia.

If you’re a property owner that would like additional information, please reach out!


Matthew Tate

Matthew Tate is the director of business development focused on the West Coast at Retail Strategies. Matthew has spent the past 10 years working directly with municipalities to help educate them on their retail potential.

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