Thursday, July 17, 2008

Commercial Vacancies Concern City Officials

Grad students take on Ojai marketing plan as class project

By Nao Braverman
The growing number of commercial vacancies in Ojai have been worrying city officials, local decision makers and concerned citizens; especially when the nationwide economy has taken a downturn and the city budget is highly dependent on revenues from tourism.
While elected officials and community members discuss ways to boost the local economy, several Claremont graduate students are working on a marketing plan for the city.
“Graduate programs like to use real-life examples, real businesses, as a way to study,” said Jenny Darroch, a professor of a marketing strategy course at Claremont University’s Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management.
Her students are divided into smaller groups, each focusing on various real-life organizations including a host of for profit and nonprofit business models. Two of her students, Lugene Whitley and Tyler Barrell, chose to work on a marketing plan for Ojai.
“Tyler has a real interest in sustainability and socially conscious business, and Lugene is has been working in art management,” said Darroch. “They were a perfect fit because they truly understand what Ojai is about.”
Darroch, who came to Claremont from the University of Otago in New Zealand, offered the city of Ojai as a study focus for her students, after speaking with Claremont graduate student and Ojai resident, Martha Groszewski.
Groszewski, former chief financial officer of Patagonia and friend of Jeff Haydon, the president of the Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce board, has been facilitating a sub-committee of the Ojai Chamber of Commerce Marketing Group.
The recently formed sub-committee includes Mayor Sue Horgan and Councilwoman Rae Hanstad from the city, various chamber members including CEO Scott Eicher, and other highly engaged members of the local business community. The group’s goal is to come up with some concrete plans to help boost Ojai’s economy. Members hope that the Claremont graduate student study will result in some applicable solutions and plans to help Ojai’s struggling merchants and policy makers. If not, it should at least provide some interesting information, said Groszewski.
The marketing plan is a class project, not a city project or a Chamber of Commerce project, she clarified. The city has no obligation to adhere to any of the suggestions that the students offer. However, the study will likely be beneficial in some way, at no real cost to the city. Especially since the city doesn’t have a lot of money to spend on consulting, Groszewski added.
While some universities charge organizations as much as $50,000 for similar studies, Claremont’s Graduate University’s study is funded entirely by the school.
“We want to build partnerships with the community, we want to give back,” said Darroch. “Even if Ojai is not technically our neighbor, it is a nearby suburb and part of Southern California.”
Whitley and Barrell are just in the information-gathering stages of their research. They have made a few trips up to Ojai during the Ojai Music Festival and the Lavender Festival and interviewed City Council members Hanstad and Horgan, Eicher from the chamber, city manager Jere Kersnar, Peter Bowen, Ojai Valley Inn’s director of marketing, and Cathy and Don Cluff, of The Oaks at Ojai, among others. They still have plans to interview a few more merchants and key community members, Whitley said.
Because the scope of their work is limited, they have decided to focus on a tourist marketing plan, something Ojai doesn’t have yet.
“The fact is that Ojai is pretty tourist dependent,” said Groszewski. “I don’t know if that can change, or if that is a good thing.”
Already the two students have had a taste of some of the commonly debated topics, such has how to balance mom-and-pop shops that cater to locals, with establishments that cater to tourists. While some of these overlap, others seem to conflict. Some local merchants, while grateful for the traffic that the Ojai Valley Inn attracts, are frustrated that more and more visitors seem to be content to remain on the inn’s premises, and are less likely to venture to town to shop.
One thing both students understand is that city officials and Chamber of Commerce members are very concerned about maintaining Ojai’s character and charm, Whitley assured.
“Ojai is different from other communities and has a lot to offer. That is a real strength, we want to keep that,” she said.
They are also aware of the fears that many residents have of Ojai becoming purely a tourist trap.
While Whitley has a background in arts management, she also grew up in a small agricultural town in Illinois, and appreciates Ojai’s origins. Barrell grew up in a 4,000-person town in Maine and hopes to move to Ojai one day with his wife, who was born and raised in Ventura.
“Cities who rely to a certain degree on tourism are often uncomfortable having a certain amount of people in town,” said Whitley. “We understand that is a concern and we are sensitive to that.”
Whitley and Barrell are still compiling information and are far from making any solid recommendations. But a full marketing plan should be complete and ready to present to the Chamber of Commerce sub-committee by mid-August, said Barrell.
Both Barrell and Whitley have agreed to check the Ojai Valley News Blog for suggestions and comments from community members.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does anyone else see any irony in the fact that Ojai just lost a long standing video store while the "evil chain store" Blockbuster continues to operate just outside the city on county land. Guess where those tax revenues are going. I resent the fact that Ojai's socially liberal elitists can tell me what kind of stores (no chains) I can shop at and that that contributes to empty storefronts. Something is not right here.

Anonymous said...

I resent the fact that people like you never run for a council seat and work to change the things you don't like. You just come here and blather on and on and on and you NEVER ACTUALLY DO ANYTHING.

Anonymous said...

Nobody is telling you what kind of stores you can shop at. You are free to shop wherever you want. You are free to live wherever you want as well. There are plenty of communities where chain stores are abundant. It just so happens that in this one, tiny community, a large majority of us do not want chain stores dominating our town.

In this one, tiny town, is the large majority of residents required to suffer your desire that we be McSame?

Who is the elitist?

Instead of blathering on, or worse yet, attempting to "do something", why don't you just move somewhere where the majority share your values? You've got several hundred square miles to the south and east that fit your desires.

On the other hand, for the majority of Ojai residents who want to live in a community that is not dominated by chain stores, where do you propose we go?

Anonymous said...

I will resist the temptation to tell you where you should go.
How about this as a concept.If the majority of Ojai residents don't like a particular chain store then they don't shop there and the local independent thrives. Why do we need big brother to tell us how to choose. Are we not capable of making our own individual decisions. am I going to go to some chain instead of Rainbow bridge. I don't think so.

Anonymous said...

Why do we need big brother to tell us how to choose

You're just Big Brother wearing a different mask.

If you ran things, you'd be even more of a totalitarian than the people you hyperbolically refer to as totalitarians.

Anonymous said...

"I will resist the temptation to tell you where you should go."

Oooh. Ballsy. Edgy. Manly.

Anonymous said...

The chain store advocates continue to believe in the holiness of the free market. Stores with more selection and lower prices are not necessarily better for our community. The locals are stuggling enough as it is and deserve some protection. If you want a Trader Joes move to Ventura!

Anonymous said...

I like Trader Joes, but Bristol Farms is better

Anonymous said...

No, we will all just live in Ojai, drive to the Ventura Trader Joes, leave our sales tax and jobs revenue there, and bask in the smugness that comes with driving a Prius and knowing that we can force these "greedy landlords" to absorb another vacancy.

Anonymous said...

There is such vile hatred in this community, it's no wonder it's falling apart.

Ryan said...

I knew Tyler wasn't a native Marylander. All this time he's been a Maine yankee in masquerade.

Anonymous said...

There is such vile hatred in this community, it's no wonder it's falling apart.

Well, I know that when you finally tear yourself away from your "Left Behind" video game you'll spend some serious time praying to Jesus to kill us all. Then there'll be nothing left except pure and perfectly balanced folks like you.

James Hatch said...

Let's face it. Ojai residents would rather shop in Ojai. The problem, though, is that the stores locals once shopped at for basic necessities are no longer here. What replaced these? Art galleries. These are a dime a dozen now and all struggling.

When will Ojai realize that it really isn't a tourist destination or a artistic enclave? Sure, it might be a beautiful place or an anomoly in Southern California, but it will never be Santa Barbara.

The bigger you make the Inn or the more art galleries and theatres you put in Ojai will never change that simple fact.

Anonymous said...

Ojai needs to just be a sleepy town. We can always commute to ventura for goods.

Anonymous said...

Von's and chevron gas an valero gas and 76 gas ,ace hardware the ford dealership and best western bank of America, WA mu, wells Fargo even radio shack & century 21,remax,allstate

Anonymous said...

The video store did not close because there is a Blockbuster near by. It closed because it could not compete with the online video rentals prices.

Why do we see so many store vacancies? Because the shops owners cannot effort the rent and other monthly cost to keep a store running. Lower the rent and it may become more lucrative to open a store. Once the economy is better again, then race the rent.

Ojai is a tourist town, and it lives from it. Look how the city budget was crippled throughout the time of the Ojai Valley Inn renovation. Without the tourist there wouldn't be any money in Ojai for anything.

Anonymous said...

As an Ojai resident, it appears to me that the most successful businesses are those who are able to truly cater to both locals and tourists. I haven't seen their balance sheets, but it seems Rains and Suzanne's Cuisine would be offhand examples. If the business is open during the week it needs that constant flow of residents.

Anonymous said...

Would Blockbuster have stayed open if they were in Ojai? And if so would that be a good or bad thing?

Anonymous said...

Maybe a lot of us just don't need to buy very much stuff. Retail models based on recreational shopping seem likely to fail everywhere, eventually. Ojai residents have access to groceries, restaurants, cheap or expensive clothing, tools for our work. And we have Amazon for everything else. Sure it would be nice to have a tax base that provides ample income for needed services, but if we distinguish needs from wants more carefully, maybe we have enough revenue...

Anonymous said...

Come visit the new Ojai Theater. It was surprisingly nice after all the renovations. The seats were comfortable. Food is cheaper and you don't have to drive to Ventura to see your movie. My family loved it. It was only 5 minutes to drive back home.

Anonymous said...

Maybe a diminished tax base wouldn't be such a bad thing. Perhaps it would curb the recent spike in uncontrolled growth and keep the town sleepy.

Anonymous said...

...recent spike in uncontrolled growth...

Where is the substantiation for this statement? Can it be found with the evidence for a stolen election? An "increase" in population? Support for a City of Ojai takeover of utilities? Hmmmmm?:-)

Anonymous said...

As a small business owner struggling to survive in this economy I can tell you that one of the reasons there are so many commercial vacancies is the outrageous rents that landlords want. I have been looking to move my business to a larger location so I can grow my business but anything over 850 sq. ft. is $2000 or more. It's ridiculous! How can a business survive when most of their income goes to sky high rents??? Even though these places are sitting empty no one will negotiate on the rent. I tried that and was told that the space was for rent only at the full price and nothing less.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the city could fine owners of commercial property if it remains vacant longer than a given period. That might encourage a little negotiation. If that were the policy, we might have a bowling alley!

Anonymous said...

I have been looking to move my business to a larger location so I can grow my business but anything over 850 sq. ft. is $2000 or more.
What would be a fair rent amount? What are you offering?

Anonymous said...

To anon July 24 3:53:

I rented 900+ square feet for less than $2000 at E'Bello and business is good. Ron Polito currently has one 850 square foot space for rent.

Give him a call.

B Dawson

Anonymous said...

Isn't that Becker guy the cause of this problem too? He sounds like such an evil doer.

Anonymous said...

I thought Becker wears a mask and
A cape and was last seen chasing the joker down ojai ave

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that my fellow Ojai residents fail to recognize reality as it stares them in the face...Chain stores, or FRANCHISES as they are commonly called, litter the streets of Ojai. Century 21, Troop Real Estate, Jersey mike's; these are all "chain stores." Why is no one up in arms at the fact that in Ojai's newest retail development on Ojai Av there are numerous franchise operations?
A jim & Rob'd franchise or unreal estate franchise is perfectly acceptable, but damn Subway and the sales tax revenue it would bring the city. Against Blockbuster? then do everyone a favor and stop watching television! certainly ojai has charm and character, but as with every other aspect of society in america, the bottom line always wins.
Everyone needs to realize that voicing their well thought out opinions on a newspaper's website will not change anything...so i have no expectation that this comment will have any effect!
I think that a TGI Friday's would do very well where the eyesore abandoned gas station now sits on ojai av & ventura st...the converted sfr commercial on ojai av, the first thing you see entering the downtown area, should be bulldozed and something other than an overpriced furniture store, crappy restaraunt, or real estate office should be built there, in keeping, of course, with the city's "strict" development guidelines....oh, wait, the chantico suites paid enough to the city that they were allowed to put up those awful sunflower tiles all over the building, none of which, i might add, were part of the original plan, and Ktrina Rice-Scmidt swore up and down that before they got their C of O the non-approved aspects of the project would need to be corrected. so much for strict!
the free market is a hungry beast, it devours the weak and weary. ojai's commercial sector is very weak and very weary!

Anonymous said...

Yes, to the person that listed all the chains in Ojai. I don't care for Jersey Mikes but the rest are ok. There is something a little bit Mc Happy about Jersey Mikes, kind of like if the gas station space across the street from Starr was bought from Mc Donalds and they put up those god awful golden arches. We have already let chains in but we can still be picky about which ones Ok?

Anonymous said...

My personal take is that the arcade area fronting Ojai ave should be quaint, historic and chain free. Outside that area I say bring on some chains. I'm sick of driving to Ventura for basics at decent prices and would like to see the sales tax revenue go to us instead. I'm just not sure any chains even want to be here.

Anonymous said...

FYI - Never mind the commercial vacancies how about the Ojai we all know and love vacating as well. There is a famous hollywood celebrity that leased a house in Ojai recently. They damaged the house and then hired high powered attorneys to get out of paying for the damage. They would rather pay an attorney than fix the house they damaged. They are now citizens of Ojai. Their sense of entitlement and elitism are contributing to Ojai changing for the worse.