“We’ve heard about Greenville enough, we’ve heard about Greer, we’re hearing about Travelers Rest,” Tripp Muldrow said. “It’s time we hear about Pickens – and I think you have the story to tell. It’s time for you to be the next great success story.”
That was the message Muldrow delivered during a market analysis of Pickens, which outlined the city’s strengths and weaknesses regarding business opportunities.
The market analysis was part of a report delivered on Thursday to city leaders by officials with Main Street South Carolina, and the report itself was the culmination of several days of intense design work by the team, including many meetings with the public.
The design team asked 12 area merchants to do a zip code survey of their customers, which gave the team a base for their data set.
From July 10 to July 17, 1,146 customer visits were recorded by the participating merchants.
“That represents 63 unique American zip codes and 10 states that passed through your downtown in the last week,” Muldrow said.
Of those customers 61 percent were from the 29671 zip code.
“You are your best customer,” Muldrow said. “The local base is the most important customer base of all. If you’re not loving your neighbor, you’re running the risk of running your business into the ground.
About 1 in every 10 customers were from the 29640 zip code of Easley.
8 percent were from Liberty and 5 percent were from Six Mile.
No business that participated had under 30 percent of their customers come from Pickens, Muldrow said. Not a single business had less than 70 percent of its customers hail from Pickens zip code or one of the surrounding zip codes.
“You’re very much a regional center,” Muldrow said. “You’re attracting in from the regional area, the greater Pickens area. A lot of the smaller communities around you think of Pickens as the destination point because they are so rural.”
Pickens has a “really big opportunity to grow the visitor market,” particularly during football season and the changing of the leaves, Muldrow said.
The city saw robust growth between 1990-2000, and still grew, though at a slower rate, between 2000-2012.
The surrounding area also saw strong growth during the years 2000-2012, which is good news for Pickens.
“This growth is coming,” Muldrow said. “You’re surrounded by it.”
Though Pickens is not growing as rapidly as Oconee or Anderson County, the slower rate of growth gives city leaders a chance to plan and prepare for future numbers, he said.
The median household income for the city is $39,899, very comparable to other nearby areas.
There are a lot of opportunities to recapture market, Muldrow said.
“Every year, 29671 packs up $36.1 million and ships it out to other zip codes,” he said.
That’s a natural market occurrence for a community like Pickens.
“You’re very close to Easley, which is a larger retail market, and very close to Greenville, which is a very large retail market,” Muldrow said.
Pickens will always have some leakage due to its close proximity to those areas, he said
Easley’s own market leakage offers some huge opportunities for Pickens.
“They’re leaking dollars in full-service restaurants, they’re leaking dollars in limited-service restaurants, they’re leaking in clothing and apparel, they’re leaking in all their specialty categories,” Muldrow said. “Greenville is the big vacuum cleaner.”
Pickens has an opportunity to capture market in a number of areas.
“There is an opportunity for more dining, and dining tends to cluster,” Muldrow said.
Other opportunities to capture market for Pickens include specialty clothing, sporting goods, hobby shops, bookstores, outdoor supplies.
Gifts and antiques are another opportunity, but one contingent on increasing tourism in the area.
“There’s a strong opportunity to capture visitors,” Muldrow said.
Many people have said that Pickens needs a hotel, but the data reveals that the city needs a creative solution for lodging.
The data revealed that Clemson and Anderson are a weaker hotel market compared to other areas in the state.
“I really do think that the opportunities for a flag hotel are very limited,” Muldrow said.
A flag hotel is a brand name hotel, he said.
“How do we creatively solve this problem in another way?” Muldrow said.
The design team is recommending a “self-catering inn for Pickens,” he said.
“It’s not a bed and breakfast,” Muldrow said. “It’s a place where a business person can come check in, maybe have a cottage or a room. It could be extended stay, for that extended business person.”
Such an inn would appeal to business people, leisure travelers and those exploring relocating to the area, he said.
“I’m recommending 12-14 rooms,” Muldrow said.
Self-catering inns are a lot less stress on management and ownership.
Another opportunity is theaters.
“The amphitheater project that you’re looking at is a way to do some movies downtown and then have that evolve perhaps into something more permanent,” Muldrow said.
The Walmart currently in the works represents some positive opportunities, including stabilizing general merchandise market leakage, he said.
“You retain a customer and expand your trade area for folks who might otherwise have passed through,” Muldrow said. “You’re intercepting more of then and retaining them, because they can get it here.”
Then the challenge changes, when it comes to Walmart shoppers.
“Not how you get them from not going to Easley, the challenge becomes how do you get them to go a half mile, from the shopping center into downtown?” Muldrow said
One idea to get encourage Walmart shoppers to also visit other shops in Pickens is to get Walmart to be a part of the “Turtles on the Town” trail.
“One that says, ‘Hey, there are a whole bunch of us downtown!” Muldrow said. “Sort of a hint to get people to shop downtown.”
Pickens needs to do a better job of letting its neighbors – and their residents and shoppers – know what’s happening in Pickens, Muldrow said.
“It’s time to start tooting your horn,” Muldrow said. “You all have been quiet in this region about all the incredible things that you’re doing. This town is dynamic and progressive and it’s getting a lot of work done.”