Shawn Massey, CCIM, SCLS

My 12 ideas for a better way to recruit retailers to small town USA!

If you attend the ICSC Southeast Idea Exchange in Atlanta or the ICSC Tennessee Kentucky meetings you see a great group of people running around in their matching white or yellow polo shirts with The West Tennessee Retail Alliance logo proudly displayed.  This group of individuals from West Tennessee chambers and economic development organizations understand what it takes to recruit retail to their communities and to their region. 

If you own or lease retail property in a small town or a rural community you understand how tough it is to get local or national retailers to consider expansion.  You are not alone in this feeling and below I offer twelve of my ideas to assist you in your recruitment efforts.  As I tell all my landlords and community contacts the challenge of retail recruitment in rural communities is that it is a marathon and not a sprint.  There are no quick and easy ways to success.  

“Rural markets have a great challenge recruiting new national and regional concepts in this economy.  It is important to know who you are and how best to market your assets in the retail real estate industry.  New retail businesses boost the sales tax base, number of jobs and quality of life,”  Lacy Beasley, Public Sector Consulting Division of The Shopping Center Group.

The 12 Ideas:


Sell the region first and your community second.  This is why the folks at WTRA work so well together.  Retailers are not looking for one location, like an industrial prospect, but want to expand in the region with multiple outlets for effective product distribution.  It’s rare for a retailer to skip markets.  The adjacent community may need to get a unit first to have the retailers expand to your community.


Develop and practice a well thought out “60 second” elevator speech on your community from the retailers’ point of view.  Include the following:

  1. City, State with distance to closest Metropolitan Area
  2. Population, growth and median household income within a 5 mile radius
  3. Largest national retailers and restaurants existing in the market
  4. Use factual information from a credible source.  You will lose their attention with a fluffy or emotional sales pitch. 


Communities need to have the right materials ready for your retailers.  What appeals to an industrial client maybe meaningless to a retailer who is looking at your community.   Communities need to work with retail industry professionals on this material.  Small developers do not have the resources or the funds available to produce the quality materials necessary.  This is where communities can provide a value added service and create a consistent, high-quality community-wide marketing strategy.


For efficiency and effective marketing, prepare a target list of the right retailers for your community.  Think rifle rather than shot gun.  The spray and pray approach will waste everyone’s time, which is the cardinal sin of the real estate industry.  Your community is screaming for Target and Chick Fil A, most will not get them!  Asking the community what they want is not always the most effective.  Consider this approach instead:

  1. Identify your peer communities within 150 miles of your town and visit these towns.
  2. Make a list of retailers that are in those towns that are not in your town.  If you have not been in one of their stores take the time to see their operation.

Note:  Do not forget quality local tenants in those communities that fulfill missing niches in your community as potential prospects.  This is especially effective for downtown areas.


Utilize retail databases from ICSC, Retail Lease Trac (which I highly recommend-Tell DJ that Shawn recommended him) or by visiting the potential tenant’s website to identify the proper real estate contact and site selection criteria.  Customize your materials to a concise, visual message that speaks to their specific needs.  Email is the most preferred method of delivery.  Subject line should include the CITY, STATE – PROPERTY LOCATION or NAME.


Indentify the brokers and tenant representatives that work mostly with retail tenants in your region and target them too.  It’s a commission based industry, therefore, they are financially motivated to do deals in their region.  Add the most value by saving them time in research.  It is welcomed and appreciated.

7.       TRADE SHOWS:

 Attend ICSC conferences armed with your 60 second elevator speech, the right materials, a list of your targeted retailers and tenant representatives so you do not waste your valuable time chasing the wrong retailer.  When possible, try to book meetings in advance of the conference to ensure the retailers presence and adequate time to showcase your community. 


 Identify franchise uses that will fill a void in your community and then recruit potential franchisees that are already located already in your community.  This is not easy, but will pay long term benefits.  This can be done by working with the power brokers in your community to work with potential entrepreneurs and capital investors to develop a business plan.  It is hard to get a potential franchisee to move to your community just to open a business.  Most retailers that you are looking at are probably franchises.


Engage property owners and know what retail real estate opportunities are available in your town.  Put them in a database that is available on the community website.  You do not need to be a member of Loopnet and Co-Star and many other CIE’s (community information exchanges) to have your properties posted in their database.


Your website is the window to your community.  It is your first impression.  Social media is your ongoing communication to remain top-of-mind. Your marketing materials should be clearly marked and easily accessible on your community websites.  


Hard work and burning shoe leather will improve your chance of success.  It will take 7 to 8 touches (calls, letters, meetings, company headquarter visits) before the average retailer in which your community is suitable to possibly schedule a trip (they are not ignoring you, but most have limited time, small travel budgets and most likely a very large territory).  Most people give up after 2-3 touches so don’t give up as it is not a part time job.  Remember it is a marathon and not a sprint.

12.   Work your plan and BE INTENTIONAL!

Shawn’s little secret:  As a former corporate real estate representative and currently as a retail tenant representative, if a community has developed all the right materials so we do not have to, then  the community will rise to the top of the stack as we will grab the low hanging fruit which requires the least amount of effort on our part. 

West Tennessee Retail Alliance

The West Tennessee Retail Alliance (WTRA) was established in 2006 as an agreement between the West Tennessee Industrial Association (WTIA) and its affiliated Chambers of Commerce and communities in an effort to concentrate and enhance the recruitment of retail businesses into the rural communities of West Tennessee. It is a nonprofit economic development association that assists WTRA communities with access to retail research data and information, development of retail marketing materials and attendance to professional retail recruitment shows such as the ICSC regional and state Idea Exchanges.

The primary goal of the WTRA is to assist retailers, developers, brokers, etc. in obtaining current and accurate information about any community in our area. This information is provided on a cost-free basis and from various sources and partners

“Economic development is a team effort.  The entire purpose of WTRA is to provide the right tools and information to communities that want to attract more retail development.  I’m pleased that the investment of time, money and effort has paid off for so many of our partners throughout West Tennessee.  Because of the partnership between WTRA, TSCG and the local Chambers of Commerce new retail investments and jobs have been created throughout the region,”  Mike Philpot, Executive Director of WTIA

For more Information on the WTRA:

26 Conrad Dr.
Jackson, TN 38305                                                                                                                   Phone: 731.668.4300
Fax: 731.668.7554


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Shawn Massey, CCIM, SCLS is a partner with The Shopping Center Group a 3rd party retail real estate advisory firm in their Memphis office, an adjunct professor in the graduate real estate program at The University of Memphis and a co-founder and Chairman of the Board for the Memphis Business Academy charter schools (K-12grade) in the Frayser area of Memphis.  

For all your retail real estate needs (tenant representation, landlord representation, investment and land sales) I hope that you will choose The Shopping Center Group and me to represent you and your business.  We understand that representation is a privilege and that you have a choice!

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  1. Michelle Proctor /

    Shawn & Chuck,

    Thanks for sharing these tips. I completely support retail development through entrepreneurship. Locally owned businesses tend to keep more of their profits and wealth in the community. Rural communities have the entrepreneurs. We need to do a better job of connecting them to the right data and opportunities for success. TVA has some unbelievable consumer data that entrepreneurs would love to get a hold of. Franchising can be a great way to meet both the entrepreneur and community’s needs with the proper education and access to financing. A regional franchise expo, like those held in Memphis and Nashville, might be a good idea to garner support from community leaders.

  2. Shawn:
    Great information. I am a bit of a novice in retail site selection and need all the help I can get. I live in Carrollton, GA., a city of about 25,000, 50 miles west of Atlanta. National tenants are tough to break in out here.

    Thanks again.


  3. John Daniel , CCIM /

    Nice article, back to basics
    I’m on small town also. Sanford NC

    Business lists on stdb helps as well

    Big john

  4. Shawn, I’d like to show you our presentation for Cumberland Center in Lebanon, TN and would appreciate your comments.

    I’ll be in touch soon.


    • Larry:

      My office in Nashville would handle Lebanon area. Please call me and I will give you right person to contact.


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