By Ray Tiernan.
In a local government economic development context a large proportion of time can be taken up with street level retail businesses. These stakeholders can be key drivers of, and heavily reliant on, foot traffic in main streets and activity centres but they’re not the only inhabitants of this retail ‘forest’.
Independent professionals – solicitors, accountants, tax professionals, financial advisors and superannuation specialists – as well as the ‘creative suite’ – architects, graphic designers to name just two – are often clustered in and above main street shopping precincts and form a subtle but important part of the local economic ecosystem. In addition, they provide government with an alternative ‘on the ground’ stakeholder to the traditional physical shop retailer.
SAME SAME…BUT DIFFERENT
It’s both the things these professionals have in common with shop retailers, as well as the differences that make them such a valuable stakeholder.
Like their shop neighbours the local professional is either a property owner or tenant in the precinct. In addition, they spend the majority of their time physically in the centre. Like shop operators, if there is a trader organisation then they are likely to be a member or at least be aware of its existence and know some of the members. Finally, if a special rate/levy scheme exists for the area then they are directly or indirectly participating and/or contributing to it.
Unlike shop operators these professionals usually keep more traditional office hours. They have more structured, calendar appointment based work practices and usually have no need to engage with local government on footpath trading or street infrastructure issues.
With their physical presence in the street the professionals have valuable knowledge about the history and relationships between traders as well as the inevitable ebb and flow of tenancies, shop operators and the opening and closing down of businesses. As they usually operate by appointment it can be quicker and easier to meet with them one-on-one as opposed to a shop operator where the conversation is constantly under threat of interruption by staff and customers.
In areas where trader groups are in their infancy, professionals, through their constant exposure to government process and regulation, can be an invaluable asset in navigating the group through incorporation and other administrative regulatory requirements.
Finally, as they’re not as heavily dependent on foot traffic and the associated issues of parking, street infrastructure and footpath trading, conversations can more quickly move to macro strategic issues, for example, the marketing and promotion of the centre as a whole. These professionals can be a trusted voice to encourage trader groups to lift their outlook to the medium term, bringing discussions of the “bigger picture” – the long term commercial sustainability of the precincts – to the forefront.
So when engaging with the butcher, baker and candlestick maker, keep the local independent professional in mind as well. With the rapid transformation of the retail sector, the professional services provide a critical piece of the tenanting mix to ensure the prized activation of our local centres is sustained.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ray Tiernan holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Queensland and has worked in local government in Victoria for the last six years. He was Senior Project Officer for the City of Port Phillip’s Vibrant Villages Placemaking Program which won the 2016 EDA award for Community in Economic Development. In 2018 he was Program Manager – Planning & Performance overseeing the Council endorsement and publication of Year 2 of the City Port Phillip’s Council Plan 2017-27 and Budget 2018/19. His passion and focus is on delivering the benefits to communities and the local economy brought about by collaboration between businesses, community groups and local artists.