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What It Takes to Get New Retailers to Palm Coast: Behind a $135,000 Matchmaking Deal

| November 20, 2015

buxton retail palm coast recruiting

If you sniff it, they will come. (TheGiantVermin/Flickr)

Want to see a Bed Bath & Beyond or an Applebee’s in Palm Coast?

Towelphobes and the odd vegan aside, aside, who doesn’t? And within the next one or two years, such stores might be on the way.


That’s because the city council and town leaders have taken a new step in attracting retailers to come to Palm Coast. In July Palm Coast signed a three-year contract with the Buxton Company, paying the Texas-based marketing and analytics firm $45,000 a year to help boost the city’s economy and bring major stores to town. It’s somewhat of a bet on a company that’s delivered retailers to some towns and not to others.

It has its skeptics. The approach is not geared toward high-wage employers. The retailers on Buxton’s list tend to pay at the lower end of the scale, and Florida is not among the states pushing for $15-an-hour living minimum wages. But the approach is not lacking for cheerleaders, or need, and it doesn’t preclude the recruiting of high end employers through other means: in a city still more desperate than not to fill storefronts and empty commercial lots–at City Marketplace, at Roma Court, at Island Walk, at European Village, in the vast fallow fields of Town Center–the Buxton strategy is a relatively low-cost option for a potentially worthy payoff.

“It’s not the be-all end-all solution, but it’s one of the things we really think will help the local economy,” said Beau Falgout, Palm Coast’s administration coordinator in charge of economic development. “And so far we’ve been very happy with what Buxton has done.”

Until recently, Falgout says, he would often cold-call national and state chains and try to sell them on Palm Coast’s charms, telling them about a growing city of 80,000, its friendliness, open spaces, and customers who would rather stay in town to do their shopping then drive to St. Augustine or Daytona Beach.

But earlier this year Palm Coast hired Buxton to help attract retail business to the city.

The Buxton Company has been around for 21 years. The Dallas-based business boasts that it has worked with more than 700 towns, cities and municipalities to increase retail traffic and civic awareness.

To put this relationship between Buxton and Palm Coast in less-buzzwordy terms, think of Buxton as a high-end matchmaking service: They have gathered tons of demographic and economic data on Palm Coast, and presented it to the city over the past few months.

buxton retail recruiting

Buxton’s promotional pitch underscores the ‘help’ rather than the miracle cure.

They’ve come up with lots of fancy figures that show exactly what the new business possibilities are in Palm Coast, how much “retail leakage” exists in the city (the amount of business in a certain industry that could be kept by Palm Coast, but instead goes elsewhere), and what motivations the town’s residents need to spend more money locally.

Now that that’s done, Buxton’s team of eight to 10 employees assigned to Palm Coast will work to put the city’s “resume” on top of the pile at companies like Applebee’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, or Bed Bath & Beyond, just to name three examples of the 20 major retailers Buxton has suggested Palm Coast officials target as good fits for the city.

All 20 companies Buxton has passed on to Palm Coast’s city leaders are in “expansion mode,” Falgout said.

To be clear, Buxton doesn’t actually make deals between retailers and cities, but it nudges them toward each other, so to speak.

Cody Howell, Buxton’s vice president and general manager, explained further. “We’ve done the heavy lifting so far, and now we shift into implementation,” Howell said. “This is where we work and we actively engage with retailers. “We’re not picking up the phone and calling a Costco or a specific retailer, but we do start the process by sending an outline of the prospective city to the company, and telling that company they should be expecting a call and engagement from Palm Coast.”

Howell said that demographic data and town analysis come in handy when “XYZ retailer engages back to Palm Coast, with feedback like ‘we think your city’s great, but we have a store in a nearby city.’ If they say that, we can show them all kinds of analysis showing that market can support two of their stores in that area.”

In the past year, Buxton says it has seen more than 7,500 stores opened by their retail and restaurant client base, in cities ranging from smaller than Palm Coast (Rochester, N.H. is a client with a population of just 30,000) to Pasadena, Calif. (population 140,000).

“We are going to help Palm Coast officials bring business there,” a Buxton official promises categorically.

FlaglerLive contacted out to several cities currently under contract with Buxton, all seemed satisfied that the company has delivered on what it promised.

Pasadena has had a contract with Buxton for three years, and Eric Duyshart, a division manager in the City of Pasadena’s Office of Economic Development, said he was pleased with the retail progress the city has made.

“They’ve been part of a broader approach to recruiting businesses,” Duyshart said, echoing the thinking in Palm Coast. “They’re not the savior to a city’s challenges, but we’ve used their information and data for multiple purposes, and it has been very useful.”

“They’re definitely an asset, and we’ve gotten a lot of value out of their service,” said Victor Schrader, the economic development manager of Oak Park, Ill. “We haven’t had a big influx of retail yet in the year we’ve been (with Buxton), but they’ve definitely been helpful.

Neither Passadena nor Oak Park can attribute new businesses to their relationship with Buxton. Not yet, anyway. But several cities have seen such gains: Rochester, N.H. attracted 30 new retailers during its Buxton contract, including Kohl’s, Lowe’s and Staples, and a recent economic impact analysis done by the city claims that Rochester earns $91 in revenue for every dollar invested with Buxton at the start of the contract. (The figure is cited in PR materials, based on a Dec. 2013 Rochester study that states the figure is a combination of property tax revenue and retail revenue.)

Hesperia, Calif., a city of about 100,000 people in Southern California, started working with Buxton in 2004, and within one year Walmart and Target agreed to locate new stores there. (No new word on whether Walmart intends to make good on its promised store at the south end of Old Kings Road near State Road 100.) According to Buxton, Hesperia recruited 27 new retailers in an eight-year span.

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At this stage, Buxton and Palm Coast are at the “implementation” stage. Believing that most retailers are busy for the next two months during the holiday season, Palm Coast officials and Buxton employees will begin contacting potential franchises and businesses that fit Palm Coast’s profile beginning in January.

Buxton has provided Palm Coast with a list of potential matches, including TGI Fridays, Big Lots, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Aldi, Sports Authority, Home Goods, Burlington Coat Factory, Marshalls, and Chili’s. (Note that bigger stores like Cotsco or Ikea are not on the list: the local market could not support them.)

Bill McGuire, a Palm Coast city councilman, said the town did its research on a number of firms like Buxton and was convinced Buxton was best.

“Their track record is excellent, and so far they’ve done exactly what we expected and what they said they would do,” McGuire said. “If things change and we’re not happy, we can get out of the contract after one year.”

So when can Palm Coast residents expect to see results? Buxton’s Howell and Palm Coast city officials stress that patience is a virtue on this one. Howell estimated that with most municipal clients, considering how complicated land negotiations and the pace of construction can be, new retailers attracted now might not open locations in Palm Coast for another 18 to 24 months.

City councilman Steven Nobile, while not criticizing the efforts of Buxton or the city, said investing money in an outside recruiting firm “wouldn’t have been a path I’d have gone down.”

“Attacking the economic problems of Palm Coast, from the retail perspective, isn’t going to create the jobs we want,” Nobile said. “It will solve some issues, like we’re losing sales taxes because people are leaving the county to shop, but I’d focus on creating incubators, and job offers, that would bring in high-paying work.”

Hector Sandoval, an economist with the Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research, is skeptical that this kind of recruiting can help a city like Palm Coast in the long run.

“If the recruiting process matches the long-run market outcome,” that is, which businesses stay in the market, Sandoval said, “then in terms of efficiency, doing the screening in advance might be preferred. However, I really doubt a company can have all the information to mimic the market. Market outcomes depend not only on the demand, but also on the supply (product/service quality, cost, etc. of the business).”

Howell disagrees. Categorically.

“People in Palm Coast, they can expect a retail bump in the next few years,” Howell said. “We are going to help Palm Coast officials bring business there.”

Falgout and others are bullish that Buxton’s efforts will produce results.

“This is part of what the living experience is, reaching out to people who can help,” said Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts. “Buxton is getting us in the front door, and then it’s up to us.”

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28 Responses for “What It Takes to Get New Retailers to Palm Coast: Behind a $135,000 Matchmaking Deal”

  1. Robbie says:

    Hector Sandoval, an economist …….is skeptical.
    Howell disagrees. Categorically.

    Of course Cody Howell would disagree, his company is being paid.
    I’ll go with the economist, they live in the world of supply and demand.

    I agree with Nobile on this one.(Not on the raise issue though). Freak retail, invest in companies that would develop living wage jobs.

  2. David B says:

    A Mercedes – Benz Dealership would be nice.

  3. NortonSmitty says:

    So let us all cheer these fine examples of 21st Century free-market Capitalism. While we are closing Libraries, Parks and forcing our Teachers to buy paper for their kids to draw on from their $28k a year salary, we see fit to pay a world-wide-profitable and publicly traded corporation our scarce tax dollars for the right to siphon money out of our community to rich investors in New York and elsewhere. In return they will create a few dozen minimum wage jobs.

    Is this a great country or what?

  4. groot says:

    We’re limited here by our demographics and our population. We should not even mention Pasadena and Oak Park in the same company as Palm Coast. Pasadena is in the LA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) and Oak Park the Chicago (MSA). Hisperia is in San Bernardino County and is the 12th most populous county in the US. Bigger retailers like Whole Foods or Costco probably won’t come here. But, I’m surprised we don’t have an Applebee’s, a B Dubs or even a Bed, Bath and Beyond. Do they really need to pay Buxton for this? This is a large area with not a whole lot of people and the demographics, well, they stink (relatively low income and educational levels) . Why not just encourage locals who want purchase franchises with some tax incentives? I doubt Buxton can help. The area is what it is and will be for years.

  5. snapperhead says:

    If we’re going to outsource economic development then we really don’t need someone on city payroll doing that then right?

  6. blondee says:

    Don’t we already pay Helga Van Eckert to do this??

  7. tulip says:

    I think the city is anxious to fill up a lot of its empty retail space and also get some retail built in Town Center the “Promised Land” of practically nothing in it.

    But, I would think they could have our economic people contact various retailers and offer them an incentive of some kine without having to pay Buxton. Well, we shall see whether PC was sold a bill of goods or not, it wouldn’t be the first time.

  8. Oldseadog says:

    Perhaps they could lure Oscar de la Renta to open a shoppe here!

    (New York City: And the most expensive store in American scores
    a whopping average of $3,217 per shopper per shopping trip.)

    I bet they pay a nice wage to their employees and I hear some people in government here could AFFORD to perhaps shop there.

  9. Hmmmm says:

    Want to increase revenue? Legalize marijuana

  10. Marlee says:

    I suppose the ‘local mkt” will not support Traders Joes or Whole Foods either.

  11. NortonSmitty says:

    Why not a program giving incentives like this to local entrepreneurs with the stipulation that they buy as much as possible locally to keep the money here?

  12. Anonymous says:

    we need a best buy-or at least a hhgreg-maybe a few more car dealers….a Hyundai and kia dealer would do good here

  13. scoff the cuff says:

    A $45,000 a year “nudge”, and Palm Coast does the work?!
    I suggest an XYZ franchise. Send me a check, please. I live in Palm Coast and I’ll spend in Palm Coast (how’s that for incentive City Hall).

  14. Donna Heiss says:

    Are you kidding me? Big Lots? Aldis? Hey council people get with the program. There is plenty of money here in Flagler County. Why the hell do you think we have so many banks?

    I ‘m sick of the hour drive it takes to get to decent stores that don’t sell seconds. It wouldn’t have been so bad if Belk’s was an “A” store instead of a “C” store. (C meaning, no high end designers are carried at that location). Not everybody is looking for cheap crap. 12 years ago town center was billed out as a walking shopping experience similar to town center in Jax., Nice restaurants, boutique stores mingled in with higher end retailers,, etc. One of the main reasons I agreed on P.C. A decision I now regret. How many dollar stores can one county have? Count them.

  15. Ben Frugal says:

    Interesting….They think Palm Coast can not support a wholesale store such as Costco or BJ’s when they are both about an hour away in opposite directions. Costco in Jacksonville, and BJ’s in Daytona. If you were to open either in PC you would pull people form both areas. For example if you were to open a BJ’s here, you would get people traveling down to Palm Coast to shop as well as from the western counties. People do not enjoy traveling up to JAX to shop because of the traffic,and the same can be said if a Costco was in Palm Coast, people would travel up from Daytona and surrounding areas.
    Also Ikea would be a huge draw for this area. The closest store is in Orlando. Palm Coast residentcal areas are growing we have everything from retirees, empty nesters, condo’s, rentals, and college kids where this would be a destination store. I don’t get there reasoning.

    We are also devoid of home stores…ie. Furniture shops, decorating. With new homes popping up and the growth of Palm Coast, wouldn’t a HomeGoods or a Marshall’s make sense.

    Seriously a Buffalo Wild Wings, Aldi’s , Big Lots, Bed Bath and Beyond,and Chili’s are already in St. Augustine… Gander Mountain is there as well so why a Sports Authority or Dick’s?
    How about a Bone Fish Grill, or a Steak House (higher end than Outback!)

    Don’t understand why Buxton wants to ‘lure’ the same type and caliber stores that we already have.
    START luring businesses that will make Palm Coast a destination with the stores you bring in. It will keep residents HERE to shop and bring in money HERE non-residents as well! A win-win!

  16. scoff the cuff says:

    Higher incomes result in high-end shopping. But the city’s goal is low wage earning jobs in low end stores, along with a few restaurants. And they’re paying some one to tell them this? Using whose money?
    I don’t recall the last time I dined out. I notice a few of the better proper restaurants seem to be doing well, as I PASS BY. A few of the fast food places don’t appear to be doing well at all. If the city would choose rather to bring in quality jobs, bank accounts would increase and the other businesses would follow. Bringing in places to spend without places to earn is like … a hungry dog chasing its tail (?).

  17. Dave says:

    Why people want to drive to other counties and give their money to others counties beats me.

  18. NortonSmitty says:

    Ben, how hard is it to understand the money does not stay here? They buy nothing here except electricity and a little maintenance, load up all the money into armored trucks and send it to New York. This is why across America you see nothing but boarded up locally owned stores downtown and on the edge of town if there’s any money left, some speculators from somewhere else buy up a few acres, put up a strip mall and lease the stores to BB&B, Best Buy, TGI Fridays, Hooters and other Wall Street traded corporations who suck the marrow left out of the bones of the middle class in America for the benefit of Billionaires who never will spend 1% of what the already have. And whine about paying taxes to build roads to get you proples to their stores. Keep voting for the politicians who support this suckers treadmill and keep worrying about terrorists and teachers salaries while we sink.

  19. Kathy says:

    How about a nice Seafood Restaurant-not a Franchise, like Red Lobster but real fresh seafood prepared nicley

  20. groot says:

    There are still 19 vacancies at Island Walk. When Roma Court and City Walk are added in, this area has a whole lot of vacant retail space. Oh, and then there is the St Joe’s Plaza, etc…It would be nice if someone would open a quality seafood and higher end poultry and meat market but then they would have to compete with Publix so it probably won’t happen.

  21. JimO says:

    I still have doubt that we have the correct city government to work with companies that show interest. In a recent article in the Observer it outlined the difference in Square feet that a business can build in Flagler vs. St. John’s or Volusia. It was eye opening and not good for a business to come to Flagler. We need to have the correct mindset to get these companies to open here. Just my two cents.

  22. tulip says:

    There has been a fair amount of posts that would like high end meats and seafood. How many people would actually patronize those stores often enough to keep them in business? Those things are high enough already, Also, most restaurants use frozen seafood & meats because it has a very short refrigerator life and it would be spoiled in a few days.

    We have had in the past a couple of “high end restaurants” and they failed. There are some nice ones in Euro Village and places like Carrabas and Thai Korner &Olive Garden, etc. are nice also. Their prices aren’t cheap either., Average meal around $20 per person.

    I do agree we need a higher end clothing store that carries totally different style merchandise from Bealls, Belk and Kohls.

    We do have a couple of small furniture stores here, but perhaps one large one that carries a variety of styles to suit most people’s taste. We do NOT need another mattress store

    Some suggested another “Staples type” store—I agree.

    However, getting high end stores and merchandise here is not going to give the employees high paying jobs, as those high end businesses don’t pay all that much either. . Costco and BJ’s might bring in some customers outside the Palm Coast area, but that just causes a lot more traffic here and doesn’t contribute to higher wages for the employees.

    And last, but not least, as more and more people shop online, local businesses will get less and less customers and hire less and less employees and, for the moment, the cities the local stores are in don’t get the benefit of the sales tax revenue because it went elsewhere.

    I guess there is no one right answer to solve the problem for everybody, and I don’t think Buxton is going to be Palm Coast’s “savior” in the retail world and we shouldn’t be paying them to bring in businesses that would probably have decided to come here on their own when they felt the time was right.

  23. groot says:

    I agree Tulip, a high end butcher and seafood shoppe will not come here. As it is, we drive to Whole Foods up in Jax once or twice a month and down to Hulls in Ormond or Kyle’s in St Augustine a few times a week. We drive up to Jax or St Augustine to dine out due to constant poor quality locally (except for a few restaurants). I used to go to Anthony’s in Bunnell but quality became a problem and it’s not the safest place to go. We do have a lot of Mattress Stores. But, we even went up to Jax recently for a bed due to better quality and variety in a bigger market. We live in a small market and this is not Boca Raton. If you live here and you want certain things, you have to drive. It’s part of the cost of living here. Or, you can just stay here and shop locally. Some folks are good with that, I’m not.

  24. Shark says:

    Time to get rid of Landon !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  25. Dan potter says:

    I studied economic development through the University of Kentucky several years ago and it was truly rewarding. Being a mayor of a small city of 10000 I took a personal interest in drawing first rate business and attractions to my area.
    Usually the reason that economic development does not work is because of the system used. It goes much farther than writing letters of introduction or sitting on a board.
    I had contact with many many people that were advertised to be economic guru’s but ultimately they all ended up sub par. The secret to economic development is to do it with a passion and retailers can see this. They had rather deal directly with a city, county, or state representative.
    I think Bunnell is in a stagnant state. It is the perfect site for large part manufacturing with light industry supporting that. Yes, it would take a good size rail spur and free tracks but it is workable.
    Since Palm Coast is mainly residential this development of a “forgotten” small city in industry would provide for good jobs for all in Flagler County to include Palm Coast. Secondly it would bring Bunnell and Palm Coast closer without the animosity.

  26. Dan potter says:

    Being new to the area and discussing economics to a variety of people it’s easy to understand why we have an abundance of low paying jobs. I have been instrumental as a economic developer in greeting shopping mall developers and investors, a 12 screen Carmike Theatre, several one off quality places to dine, a horse racing facility, and many other high dollar facilities. I did all this without the need of associations like Buxton. They are a waste of money. We need people with heart and persistence.

  27. Dan potter says:

    The mayor should be the city planner and not just a figure head to meet and greet. He or she was not elected to be a puppet but to actually run the city. The city planner is usually hired through political connections and usually have no earthly idea what they are doing.

  28. Dave says:

    I really don’t see much happening with Island Walk, a few new stores, sure but nothing special. If they can’t fill the vacant newly built stores, I can see the rent will raise to cover the cost.

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