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Deal with marketer would be costly

by Mark Vasto
Landmark reporter

As anyone that has ever opened a restaurant, a hotel or apartment complex can readily attest, in the world of marketing, the phrase "if you build it, they will come" probably ranks among the worst pieces of advice you can receive.

City planners probably don't think much of the phrase either. Whitewashed windows and vacant stores are not the usual measure of success for your hometown. The question is probably better posed as "what shall I build, and who will come if I build it."

As reported in last week's Landmark, Platte City Mayor David Brooks and City Administrator Keith Moody invited David Rambie, a marketing executive for the Fort Worth, Texas based Buxton Company, to address the Platte City Board of Aldermen on this matter.

Brooks has said that he wishes to build a thriving retail sector in Platte City.

Retail is increasingly being seen as the best route towards economic development in many cities because unlike raising property taxes or building polluting industrial complexes, retail provides relatively high paying white collar jobs and sales tax revenues for a city. Like many other cities, Platte City finds itself in the position of having to market itself in order to attract these businesses.

The Buxton Company, which sells a research tool it calls CommunityID, claims to have the answer.

But it comes at a price. $60,000 to be exact. And for a city that recently cut $2,500 from the $10,000 budget of its own chamber of commerce in August, that price may be too steep.

While Brooks and Moody have only gone on record saying they thought it was important to listen to independent marketing firms like the Buxton Company, Karen Wagoner, executive director for the Platte Chamber of Commerce isn't so sure they have the answers.

"It sounded interesting," Wagoner conceded. "I really haven't had a chance to look too deep into it. I don’t know if the city intends to pursue working with (the Buxton Group)."
Wagoner said the chamber also serves as an economic development council and has formed retail development and business retention teams in the last year.

"Our retail team has developed a targeted list we’d like to pursue and that we're actively engaged in pursuing," Wagoner said. "We feel it's a good target list but that doesn’t mean that (the Buxton Company) wouldn’t help too."

Wagoner said she had questions regarding the services an outside company may provide that the Chamber of Commerce could not.

"I would like to know the depth of their demographic information being that they're from the Texas area," Wagoner said. "I would like to know where they’re getting it from, and what they have that we couldn’t get."

According to Rambie, it's quite a lot.

"They (Chamber of Commerce) can’t do anything we can do,” Rambie, the president of the Buxton Company's CommunityID division said.

“Most of the people that tend to say ‘look, we can do this ourselves’ have to understand that we’ve been matching cities to retailers for 10 years. If (the Platte City Chamber of Commerce) wanted to do it, if they wanted to spend millions of dollars on data, they’d have to replicate the Buxton Group.”

To do so, Rambie pointed out that the chamber would need to accumulate and store more than 17 terabytes of data pertaining to retailers and market areas (they use a 25,000 square foot research center equipped with a fiber-optic cable network) and develop a computer mapping system that utilizes advanced geo-spatial problem solving techniques.

The Buxton Company boasts a client list that includes Pier 1 Imports, Schlotzsky's Deli, New Balance and adult arcade chain Dave and Buster's. According to Rambie, his division has contracted with 40 cities, the last being Round Lake, a 5,800 population village in Illinois, to provide retail matching services.

City Administrator Keith Moody said the city has an interest in working with the Buxton company, but the city would like to partner with the county to defray costs before working with them -- if at all.

"There's a cost associated with it," Moody said. "We think that sales tax revenues the city would benefit from would also benefit the county, so we see a chance to partner with the county."