By Richard Smith, Independent Newsmedia
Sales tax data from July through November 2016 for businesses in the area of Bell Road and Grand Avenue was down from the previous year, but the drop was not nearly as severe as expected during this stretch of the Bell Road closure.
Surprise Finance Director Lindsey Duncan presented the data during the Feb. 21 City Council work session. She said the city budgeted in anticipation of a $477,700 decrease in sales tax revenue from that area through November when the bridge reopened.
After collections, however, that decrease was closer to a mere $33,400.
“We did much better in that area for our retail sales tax than we anticipated in all of our categories, including restaurants,” Ms. Duncan said during the Feb. 21 meeting. “Overall a lot of that sales tax was picked up in other areas of the city.”
Ms. Duncan stated in an email that citywide projections anticipated about $127,000 in increased fiscal year 2017 sales tax revenues through November. The actual year to date revenue is stronger at $733,500 above the prior year.
In her presentation, Ms. Duncan thanked the city’s economic development, police, communication and public works departments, as well as the Surprise Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Arizona Department of Transportation for their collaboration of behalf of local motorists and businesses while Bell was closed for seven months.
The partnership between the city’s economic development department and the chamber bore the most fruit and appears to be impactful in the future as well. Their collaboration, the Bridge to Business Campaign, won an award from the Arizona Association for Economic Development.
Chamber president Raoul Sada said like many businesses impacted by the road closure, the chamber needed to take an entrepreneurial approach. This gave birth to a digital text marketing campaign.
The chamber’s final numbers show that:
• 3,260 residents opted in to receive special promotions.
• 285,583 messages/discounts were delivered during the campaign.
• 156 businesses participated in the promotional campaign.
• 12,133 visitors used the Shop Bell Road and Grand website.
“I was extremely pleased to see the sales tax data. Yes, bridge construction presented challenges for businesses, but the City of Surprise did a phenomenal job in helping to mitigate the situation. The city did an extremely good job of communicating the right information, and facilitated some excellent communication and coordination efforts,” Mr. Sada stated in an email. “We saw local businesses not only endure the process, but many came out stronger. Several businesses launched their own digital text marketing campaigns, some started home delivery services, some for the first time, got into to social media.”
Now, the goal for city, chamber and businesses is to apply the innovations forced on them by circumstance in what is now a much friendlier situation and location.
Surprise Economic Development Director Jeanine Jerkovic stated in an email that the feedback received from the businesses has been positive, and hopefully the construction contributed to raising awareness for the importance of shopping locally and working as a community to support businesses.
“After the construction ended, the goal of both the economic development department and the chamber has always been to jointly continue to promote the intersection as an important retail corridor for consumers. On the basis of the success of the Bell and Grand campaign, we are now actively working with the chamber on programs to roll out an effective citywide program in the future,” Ms. Jerkovic stated.
She also said businesses participated in free city and chamber-hosted business coaching classes and collaborated on a number of promotional events. Potentially the biggest impact in terms of lasting impressions and lessons learned was the influence of the deal of the day digital marketing campaign.
Her email also stated that several businesses were creative independent of the chambe/city campaign, designing unique marketing and social media campaigns. For example, the “Cruise Around the Construction” campaign by Surprise Dental and Denture, who raffled a cruise for their clients who visited them during the closure.
Mr. Sada stated that one chamber member, Dex Media, provided free classes on digital marketing and social media, and several businesses launched some new digital marketing programs.
“The stores at the center of the Bell and Grand construction process demonstrated a spirit of resiliency that we should all regard with tremendous pride in Surprise,” Ms. Jerkovic stated.
Most of the pre-construction attention and financial concerns came from stores in the power centers west of Bell. Mr. Sada said he heard from a couple of the big box stores that had declines in total customer counts, but the numbers were balanced out by higher average sales.
But as the Bell closure continued data showed the detours and delays were tougher on stores east of Bell. The bulk of Surprise lives west of the Bell/Grand intersection and would shop in the power centers on their way “into town.”
However, the eastern Surprise businesses lost out more on customers from the Sun Cities and Surprise with shopping options in the opposite direction.
Ms. Jerkovic stated that the city and chamber contacted all 277 businesses in the area for the campaign, regardless of whether the business was east or west of Grand Avenue, their success was highly important to us. In support of the Bell Road’s re-opening in November, the City developed a special “Black Friday” promotional eve.
“Yes, I did here some anecdotal stories of businesses being hit a little harder in the that area. Some of the businesses that retail operations and tucked away, were hit a little harder. Part of this problem was made worse by them being located in a more industrial area,” Mr. Sada stated.
Mr. Sada said he is not aware of any members leaving because of the construction.
Since the closure commenced on April 1, 2016 seven new businesses opened or announced their opening in the impact area of the construction, Caliber Collision and Harbor Freight Tools are east of Grand.
“The changed visibility of the intersection was certainly a concern and an important subject of discussion prior to the construction, and post-construction we continue to explore signage and marketing solutions in partnership with the property management and impacted businesses,” Ms. Jerkovic stated.