Boring provides insight into local retail industry trends

Expert Perspective — By on January 20, 2012 at 8:00 am

Columbus-based Boulevard Strategies has released its seventh annual “Top 10 List.”

The list −a collection of trends, insights, observations and musings regarding the retail industry in Central Ohio and beyond− is written with the help of many retail-related articles that pique Chris Boring’s interest.

“I read a lot of retailing and shopping center publications and blogs, a lot of local publications, including Metropreneur and Columbus Underground, receive reports from local resources, such as commercial brokerages’ market data and economic data from the Columbus Chamber, and read several national publications, such as The New York Times and the Washington Post and others,” says Boring, owner of Boulevard Strategies, which provides economic and retail research and analysis, economic development planning, strategic planning, market plan development, and program development services to government, nonprofit and private sector clients.

“I also sprinkle in some of my own observations, or my partner Deb [Miller's] from our consulting work, especially in working with retailers enrolled in the Retail is Detail program,” he says.

No. 1 on this year’s list is  ”Reservoir of Retail Know-How: Central Ohio Continues Tradition of Innovation,” where Boring makes a few points that might interest Metropreneur readers.

One, 50 percent of 20-somethings aspire to be their own bosses.

Two, each year, the Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business and Columbus College of Art & Design introduce hundreds of graduates into the labor pool, many of whom have an interest in retail careers.

And three, local governments are focusing on nurturing growth at existing small startups instead of trying to attract  ”big game” from outside their regions.

In the following interview, we ask Boring to explain those assertions and their significance. He does that and much more.

The Metropreneur: Which years do you include in the Millenial generation? I’ve seen varying answers.
Chris Boring: I have too. I often fall back on the term “twenty-somethings,” but I think it generally takes in young adults 18 to 34, people who grew up in a digital world.

[M]: Why do you think half of all Millenials aspire to be their own bosses?

CB: They’re half-crazy. Seriously, I see a lot of factors at work.

First, there is the difficulty of getting a job in this economy, especially if you are a younger person with limited experience to show on your resume.  So it could seem like a better use of one’s time to work on a business plan than sending out more resumes to the proverbial black hole.

Second, technology has lowered the cost barrier to start many types of businesses or to support self-employment. For instance, if I look out my window at the parking lot, I’ll see two cars during the day: mine and my 20-something neighbor’s. He designs websites. Very low overhead.

Third, justified or not, I think young adults are more self-confident than before and unafraid of risks and challenges. They can actually take classes in entrepreneurship in college now, which encourages them. However, the flip side is that many have misplaced romantic notions of what it’s like to be your own boss.

A story I like to tell is about how early in my career, a work buddy and I would play hooky every year to watch the beginning of March Madness. The first year I had my own company, he called to see where to meet to watch the noon tip-off. He was taken aback when I told him I couldn’t go. He said, “But you own the company.”  And I said, “That’s why I can’t.”

Being your own boss is a ton of responsibility and takes a lot of self-discipline. It’s a wild ride and it can be scary and lonely.

[M]: You contend that OSU and CCAD graduates are increasingly pursuing careers in retail as the profession gains “credibility.” What do you mean by “credibility” and what kinds of jobs are they interested in?

CB: When I was studying for my MBA at Bowling Green back in the 80s, the whole curriculum revolved around basically preparing students to become brand managers at major packaged goods manufacturers or a market research company, or to go to work for an investment firm. Retailers weren’t on anybody’s radar.

Today, some of the coolest jobs are at retailers like Limited Brands and Express. Retailers like Wal-Mart now control the channels of distribution. Thirty years ago, manufacturers such as P&G called the shots. Sometimes people think of retail jobs as working in stores.  Actually, there are many, many retail-related occupations that do not require you to stand on your feet for eight-hour shifts.

Ohio State has one of the best logistics programs in the country. There is an incredible science and a load of high technology behind the whole 24/7 process of moving goods from their source to distribution hubs to store shelves, and Ohiois a leader in this field. Central Ohio is, in many ways, the birthplace of modern retailing management practices as a cadre of young business professors interested in retailing formed a consultancy called Management Horizons in the 1960s to create strategic and analytical frameworks to solve problems for private clients.

One of Management Horizons’ co-founders, Alton Doody, went on to start Retail Planning Associates in the 1980s, which specialized in store planning and design, including architecture, lighting, and graphics. When I worked there, roughly half of our design staff had degrees from CCAD. Along with Roger Blackwell and others, these Ohio State professors wrote the textbooks on retailing that are still used in many universities today. There is still an elite roster of local offshoot retail consulting firms like this that still keep Port Columbus busy everyday as they fly all over the country and world to assist retail clients.

The advent of ecommerce and mobile commerce opens up a lot of work in those fields for retail companies and consultants, as well. Central Ohio’s deep reservoir of retailing talent at all levels is why large retailers like Sears can be somewhat credible in threatening to move here. Ohio State and CCAD graduates pump new energy into the pool each year.

Some will also choose to open their own restaurants and shops while others will go into store management at chains. We do have 56 million square feet of shopping center space in Central Ohio; we do need store managers! There are many career paths in retailing, especially in Central Ohio.

[M]: Why do you think local governments have started nurturing the little guys rather than hunting for big guys outside their regions?

CB: Well for one thing, 80 percent of employment growth in America occurs in small businesses. I think situations like where Bob Evans was offered $18 million in tax incentives to basically move up the road from Columbus to New Albany have left a bad taste in everyone’s mouths about the wisdom of doling out corporate welfare when the state is struggling so much. Helping the businesses already in your community get better is not only the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.

[M]: Is there anything else you think we should know?

CB: Please, please, please follow us −Boulevard Strategies and Retail is Detail− on Facebook. Yes, I am groveling. We post commentary and articles daily on trends in retailing, real estate, urban planning, and financial services marketing. If you like the “Top 10 List,” you’ll enjoy our “feed” for thought.

To see the “Top 10 List” in its entirety, click here.

Melanie McIntyre (542 Articles)

Melanie McIntyre served as editorial director of The Metropreneur from its launch in August 2010 to May 2013. She is also a featured writer for Columbus Underground and writes about fashion, style and pop culture on her blog, Thoroughly Modern Melly. Melanie is an Ohio State University graduate, lives in the Short North, and enjoys reading and running.