by Kelley Chambers
Mandy Vavrinak, owner of Crossroads Communications, and Rickey Hayes, owner of Retail Attractions, pause for a photo in Owasso. (Photo by Rip Stell)
TULSA – A pair of Tulsa-area consultants have drawn national attention helping suburban communities strengthen their retail base.
Since launching Owasso-based Retail Attractions in December, Rickey Hayes has inked contracts to help eight Oklahoma cities and towns strengthen their sales tax revenue and economic base by identifying and attracting needed retailers.
He has contracts brewing with almost that many, ranging from Pennsylvania to Texas to New Mexico and many states in-between.
“If we signed every contract that is on the table right now, it would be close to 15 by the end of the year,” he said.
He’s thinking of adding a third employee to handle the workload.
In many of those deals he partners with, or outsources work to, Crossroads Communications of Tulsa. Owner Mandy Vavrinak has returned that gesture in her contract with the city of Glenpool and other clients.
“We’ve grown 25 percent each year,” Vavrinak said of her five-year-old company. “We think this year will be our best ever.”
Both executives made their retail names in helping the city of Owasso add more than 2 million square feet of retail space this decade, Hayes as its economic development director from 2002 to 2007, Vavrinak as a contractor who prepared the research and marketing tools showcasing Owasso’s economic strengths.
That success allowed Crossroads, which also provides marketing and public relations services, to reach similar contracts with Broken Arrow, Glenpool and other cities.
“We feel they’ve been very effective for us,” said Glenpool Assistant City Manager David Tillotson, whose city has gone from 10-percent annual sales tax growth to triple-digit growth, based on its new Wal-Mart Supercenter.
“All the detail work that Mandy’s been able to provide as far as statistical information, the mapping she does, it all has been valuable in determining what we need to be looking at,” he said. “She’s provided very valuable tools for us. Rickey, his contacts have been able to open a lot of doors that we wouldn’t be able to reach on our own, and in a lot quicker way.”
Their services could prove especially valuable now, said observers at this month’s International Council of Shopping Centers 2008 Idea Exchange program in Rogers, Ark. With lenders tightening their credit standards, rejecting construction projects that fail to show strong fundamentals, many developers nationwide have hit roadblocks even when trying to deliver Wal-Mart Supercenters, Targets, and other one-time sure things.
“Three years ago, banks were competing to finance retail developments,” said Hayes, who launched Retail Attractions in December.
“Now they’re competing not to,” said Vavrinak.
“Now they’re hiding,” said Hayes.
While many communities have stressed attracting manufacturers and other large employers as the foundation for economic growth, Hayes said they have often overlooked attracting retailers that not only can supply jobs, but grow the city’s sales tax base and improve its quality of life.
“That’s one of the issues our city looked at,” said Coweta City Manager Steven C. Whitlock, whose city hired Hayes six months ago.
“We hired him to help recruit businesses that will help sustain us in the future,” said Whitlock. “I think it’s working out real well.”
While they are not real estate agents, Hayes and Vavrinak said they bring to the table extensive experience in dealing with retailers, developers and brokerages. They also can help a city identify needed changes in infrastructure, zoning and policies to make the community more appealing and friendly to new business.
Even with the credit crunch clouding the horizon, Hayes said many communities have sought their services in preparation for future growth. Retailers also have gone over growth strategies with the duo, to be ready when economics prove more fruitful.
One month ago the city of Skiatook hired Hayes for the turnaround Town Administrator Martin Tucker expects to come soon.
“We know more retail is coming,” said Tucker. “They’re just waiting on the head count and the traffic count to go up. It’s going that direction. He can advise us on the kind of things to promote and attract the retail customer.”