Competition, Marketplace Strategy and Alternative Solution for Downtown Naperville’s Business-Mix Debate

After receiving record hits, a couple of comments, email and even a phone call regarding my attempt to gauge Napervillians concerns over the future of downtown Naperville’s business mix, I’ve been giving the whole situation additional thought over the past couple of days.  Below is a reply I made to a comment I recieved from John M. Gallagher.  John’s original comment can be found at the bottom of my recent “Concerned about the Future of Downtown Naperville’s Business Mix?” posting.     

In my mind, to keep the competitive edge in preserving Naperville’s unique position, we must continue to be proactive as a community on both a public and private level in forging partnerships to study and analyze the evolving needs and interests of visitors and residents alike so that we can  make the right choices for our future. 

The good news is downtown Naperville has a strong degree of allure given our size and demographics.  The community is in a strong position to foster cooperation in being more selective given the needs and desires of our marketplace.   

If we turn our backs and let opportunities slide past us in allowing downtown to price itself out of reach for most new, unique and interesting enterprises as well as the average consumer demographic, we run the risk of losing our allure. 

As a marketing professional, the practice of market research and product development is an essential and evolutionary process.  The goal is to ensure that the entity and marketplace offerings continue to maintain a strong degree of relevancy and alignment with target audiences. 

In simpler terms, the connection between the enterprise and the consumer is, indeed, an ongoing “relationship”.  The investment, or lack thereof, in that relationship can bring about feast or famine.  When you think of the essentials in maintaining a good personal relationship, whether with a friend or spouse, the elements of trust, understanding, personality, connection, validation/satisfaction of needs and communication is paramount.  Maintenance, nurturing and attention is essential on a regular basis to maintain and grow a strong and loyal relationship.  Both the art and science of consumer relationship development is very similar.  Both a consumer relationship and a personal relationship can wither on the vine abruptly and definitively upon the breach of the above elements creating a rapid divergence of mutually shared interest and catastrophic failure.  Unfortunately, when it comes to consumers, breaking up is actually quite “easy” to do compared to ending a valued personal relationship.   

The last thing we want to happen to the broad cross-section of Naperville consumers is for them to arrive at the day when they look around and say “Naperville is no longer relevant or unique to me and my interests”.  

Walt Disney World conducts market research within its theme parks each and every day, always on the lookout for trends, opportunities and weaknesses.  The goal is to get ahead of issues before they become problems and to respond to consumer preferences/trends before they “tune out”.  It’s an evolutionary process designed to mitigate the possibility of a consumer uprising or revolution.  Even more, it decreases the possibility of WDW finding themselves in the business of resorting to desperation in which sudden and revolutionary change is needed to attempt to stop consumer erosion.

With all of this said, I do understand the challenges, limitations and politics behind our community intervening in capitalistic darwinism.  At the same time, the ultimate solution  may be elsewhere.  Perhaps we are focusing our energies too narrowly in thinking business mix and commerce alone will make or break our future. 

I happen to believe there are other ways downtown can solidify its uniqueness even in a chain retail/restaurant-infused world.  I say this because I must confess I have ironically dined at the Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse in Austin, Texas which is wedged between the undeniable uniqueness of 4th Street and 6th Street. 

Austin has made its mark largely because of their strong commitment and understanding of the social/economic impact and unique allure of the arts in fostering limitless creative possibilities and understanding.  There are boundless opportunities within our borders for making Naperville a world-class destination for the arts.  If we can bring our collective energies and talents together to cooperate in the establishment of a strong vision for Naperville’s arts future, we may one day find ourselves less worried about Ruth’s Chris and Banana Republic. 

As a matter of fact, the business-mix evolution may occur naturally.  The arts reveal the true multi-dimensional power of independent creative expression… the same energy that drives entrepreneurial thought, success and innovation.  Our lives are enriched by our encounters with art as well as unique and inspiring experiences.  When we become inspired, we “pay it forward” in other areas of our life.  Likewise, our senses are dulled by the repetitious exposure to a homogenized and predictable world. 

Austin has forged a successful path which promotes uniqueness and individuality through its commitment to arts and culture, which also contributes greatly to the local economy and economic development successes.  The town has even supported a creative and enterprising University of Texas at Austin graduate who found the right environment for cultivating his unique idea for a business of which he still operates today in Austin… his name is Michael Dell and the little business he got off the ground is Dell Computers.  The possibilities are, indeed, limitless.

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