Business owners along Madison Street are looking for an extra push this year to help bring in new customers and may call in some professional help to get the job done.
M2, a collaborative group spun out of the Main Street Redevelopment Association and the Chamber of Commerce, has set aside $10,000 that will likely be used to hire a public relations firm. The goal, according to M2 members, is to establish a customer base in communities outside of the near west suburbs. Because more and more store owners are catering to niche markets, the need for an expanded market is growing.
For Jennifer Taylor, owner of Painted Board Studio, the search for new and repeat customers is constant. Taylor specializes in repainting old furniture with lively, colorful patterns. Admittedly, she said, people will only do this with a limited number of pieces in their home, hence the need to find new customers.
“People don’t want everything in their house painted,” Taylor said.
Though M2 is largely a grassroots organization that focuses on advertising, Two Fish Art Glass co-owner Tonya Hart said the search for professional marketing services doesn’t necessarily mean that local shop owners have reached the end of their advertising talent. Most M2 members already have a full-time occupation and can’t always commit to creating new marketing efforts. Furthermore, Hart said the fact that a hodgepodge group of local retailers is shopping for professional advice is actually a credit to the success of their efforts.
Denise Dorman is the owner of WriteBrain Media, a Chicago-based PR firm that is the frontrunner for landing a contract with M2. Because Dorman has not received an official response from the Forest Park merchants she declined to comment on any specific marketing strategies. However, Dorman echoed Hart’s sentiment that M2 members have done well.
“The greatest challenge with M2 is that they’ve already done such a great job that it’s hard to improve upon what they’ve already done,” Dorman said.
She pointed to a recent segment of the “Hungry Hound” on ABC’s Channel 7 newscast that featured several Madison Street businesses. Editorial coverage, not purchased advertising, tends to resonate much more with consumers, Dorman said.
Village commissioner and president of the Chamber of Commerce, Mark Hosty, said that although a public relations push might leverage specific businesses to draw new customers to Forest Park, the benefits will be extended to everyone.
“I think everything that helps the street helps all of us,” Hosty said, who also manages a bar and restaurant. “They will probably target the boutique shops more, but once (the customers) get here they’ve got to eat.”
Often times, communities with a serious eye on redevelopment efforts will dedicate staff members to work with prospective entrepreneurs and promote the municipality as being business friendly. In Forest Park these responsibilities are shared by department heads, Village Administrator Mike Sturino said, and the village doesn’t appear to be any worse for it.
“We have a lot of that handled already,” Sturino said. “The mayor, myself and all the department heads really do try and bend over backwards [for the business community].”
Since M2 began promoting the greater Madison Street area, village hall has lent financial support to the effort as well.
Art Sundry is the president of Main Street and owns Caffe de Lucca with locations on Madison Street and in the 1700 block of Damen Avenue in Wicker Park. Sundry agreed that hiring a public relations firm is a logical next step for M2 and said the move lends further credence to the idea that Forest Park isn’t hurting for a centralized economic development office.
“Prime Madison Street is a success and has enough momentum that market forces will handle it from here on out,” Sundry said.