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Essential Input: How One Downtown Partnership Leveraged Residents Opinions on Reopening

May 21, 2020
Essential Input: How One Downtown Partnership Leveraged Residents Opinions on Reopening

— Guest Article By Terri Takata-Smith, VP of Marketing & Communications, Downtown Boulder Partnership

— Graphics by Parker Quinn —

With COVID-19 stay-at-home orders shuttering many retail establishments around the nation, leaders from the retail sector in Boulder, Colo., knew the community needed one particular source of guidance and support for the eventual reopening — resident voices.

Business owners were wondering what to expect when they reopened their doors and how to best resume daily operations in the days and weeks ahead. They wanted to hear from the community to gauge the level of economic support given the current environment.

The Downtown Boulder Partnership (DBP) took action, working with Polco/National Research Center (NRC) to deploy a Resident Readiness Survey that provided key insights into residents’ opinions and feelings about reopening the economy in a post-COVID world.

The survey results were enlightening to business owners, as well as city officials and other community partner organizations. Findings from the survey will help guide not only business operational decisions but provide guidance in marketing and public relations plans moving for the weeks and months ahead.

How We Got More Than 1,000 Responses in 10 days

DBP is a 501(c)6 nonprofit / membership-based organization. DBP promotes the civic, economic and commercial vitality of downtown Boulder - while helping preserve its historic and cultural environment as the heart of the greater Boulder community. DBP supports downtown businesses through public policy advocacy and provides staff to implement the missions of the Downtown Boulder Business Improvement District (BID) and the Downtown Boulder Foundation (DBF).

DBP decided there was an opportunity to poll the community we engage with through our newsletters and social media. DBP staff was working on formulating questions to send out on the exact same day that Polco/National Research Center (NRC) announced they were getting ready to launch a Resident Readiness Survey. DBP was excited to try the Polco platform and the timing of the survey presented the perfect opportunity to do so!

The Polco team was extremely helpful and accommodating in answering questions and troubleshooting glitches as DBP staff acclimated to the platform quickly to set up the survey and personalized it by adding a zip code question. Thanks to outstanding customer service and a user-friendly backend, DBP was able to set up and launch the survey within a 12-hour window.

DBP utilized our email database to notify people about the survey. We also asked our business community to share the survey with their customers directly. The City of Boulder, Boulder Chamber, Boulder Convention and Visitor Bureau were also key partners in getting the word out about the survey. Facebook and Instagram posts were also utilized. Due to the time sensitive nature of the businesses needing this information, the survey was active for 10 days. During that time nearly 1,100 people responded.

Our Results and Findings Proved To Be Vital

DBP shared initial findings on every other day to help the business community get a feel for community sentiment. The Polco results dashboard was easy to access information quickly and efficiently. The most valuable responses for retailers centered on community comfort levels in re-engaging in the economy.

When asked the comfort level of going to a retail store, 15% of respondents were very comfortable and 23% were moderately comfortable leaving 52% as very or moderately uncomfortable (leaving 10% neither comfortable nor uncomfortable). Results also showed that the community was not ready to dine indoors in restaurants but extremely supportive in ordering take-out and delivery.

The survey showed the community felt it was more important for restaurants and retailers to be implementing safety measures — such as enhanced cleaning/disinfecting, wearing masks and ensuring proper social distancing — than having a "seal of safety" by a government agency.

Another key finding from the survey was the anticipated return to normal buying behaviors. In terms of shopping in retail stores, 38% of respondents noted returning to "normal" buying behaviors in 1-5 months.

The benefit of NRC's generosity in providing the Polco platform free of charge during the pandemic is immeasurable. The ability for cities and towns across the country to use this platform and to compare results is invaluable as the country begins to rebuild the economy one brick at time for small businesses that make up the heart and soul of downtown districts nationwide.

I would encourage all municipalities and specifically all economic development partnerships and districts to gather their own data about residents’ feelings on reopening. Simply follow this link to deploy the pre-made templated survey.

Terri Takata-Smith is the Vice President of Marketing & Communications for the Downtown Boulder Partnership (DBP) providing strategic leadership and management of the organization’s initiatives to market / brand downtown Boulder as a premier shopping/dining/entertainment destination. Terri joined the DBP team in 2008.  She holds a Bachelors of Arts degree in Advertising (with a minor in Sociology) from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Her earlier career endeavors included positions as a regional publicist for Miramax Films and Twentieth Century Fox, as well as marketing and communications roles at Evans Group, Solomon Friendman Advertising and Special Olympics Colorado.

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