By ERIC KEPHAS
PDT Staff Writer
A group of local businesses have been getting professional advice on how to increase sales and help revive Portsmouth’s downtown, thanks to Main Street Portsmouth and ‘Retail is Detail.’
‘Retail is Detail’ is a program funded through grants that brings professional marketing and retail advice to small town businesses. Consultants Deb Miller and Chris Boring have been meeting with local businesses and helping them with SWOT Analysis (Strength-Weakness-Opportunity-Threat) and by suggesting low- to no-cost changes they can make to improve business.
Main Street Portsmouth Director Jennifer Foster said local businesses can really benefit from the consultants’ insight and advice.
“The businesses need to have a fresh look. They need someone to give them some strategies to help them be successful,” Foster said. “A lot of them don’t know where to go with their business, they feel like they are out of ideas and they’re just not sure which direction to turn or they have too many ideas and they’re not sure which ones will work. These consultants will help them choose the best strategies for their business because it’s not a one size fits all.”
After visiting some of the businesses, Miller and Boring said the downtown businesses all have unique challenges ahead of them. However, there are some recurring themes.
For example, she said they could all improve their marketing and could do a better job of highlighting new merchandise.
“Some need help reducing … their product on the floor and narrowing it down to be more focused (rather than) trying to be everything to everybody,” Miller said, adding that “most don’t really understand who their customer is, in terms of the demographics of their customer. Age, psychographics, that kind of stuff.”
Miller also said, in most cases, the downtown buildings are simply not in very good shape. However, one of the biggest problems Miller and Boring saw was that Portsmouth’s defined ‘downtown’ is too large for a city its size.
“I think its biggest problem is downtown was built for when you had a population of about 45,000 back in the 1930s,” Boring said. “Now you’ve got about 20,000 people, so downtown’s just too large for the size of the (city) … It’s not really pedestrian friendly. You almost need to have a car to live here and to really shop downtown.”
“And because it’s so large, there’s not a concentration of businesses,” Miller added. “You’ve got a few businesses here and there and a lot of empty storefronts in between. It’s not a walkable space. It’s really unfriendly to retail shoppers, especially if you’re visiting.”
Miller said most cities Portsmouth’s size have a downtown of just four blocks.
Although there are plenty of challenges, Miller and Boring agreed the businesses they’ve worked with seem receptive to their advice.
“I think they’ve been great to work with. We’re looking forward to, when we come back, we’re expecting to see (improvements),” Boring said. “Deb has already given them several recommendations to work on, and they seem really receptive.”
Once their current trip concludes, Miller and Boring will return to the Portsmouth area in January. If the funding was available, Foster suggested Main Street Portsmouth may have an interest in bringing ‘Retail is Detail’ back in the future.
“If we were able to get the funding for it, then we would probably want to do it again,” Foster said.
ERIC KEPHAS can be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 234, or email@example.com.