New way of looking at Fifth Avenue South
Robert Gibbs, retail consultant speaks to the ...
NAPLES — Fifth Avenue South in downtown Naples lost more than $57 million in potential retail income this year, and if no changes are made, the street could lose more than $100 million in retail income during the next five years, a consultant told city officials Monday.
To revitalize business on Fifth Avenue South, the street’s property owners hired Robert Gibbs, the president of Gibbs Planning Group — an urban retail planning consulting group — to re-evaluate the street and develop a merchandising plan.
Parking, street lighting and marketing are the primary needs of Fifth Avenue South to rake in more retail income in the future.
“I would like to see a campaign where (Fifth Avenue South) identifies (itself) as a brand (by) highlighting specialty retailers and restaurants,” Gibbs said Monday during a presentation of his market research to Naples City Council members.
The consultant found Fifth Avenue South to be one the best shopping districts in the nation, but said the marketing potential is artificially suppressed for non-market reasons.
“There’s very few cities in the country that have (Naples’) demographics, market, weather and charm,” Gibbs said. “We design a lot of lifestyle centers like Mercato, that’s one thing that we do, and we can’t duplicate Fifth Avenue.”
By developing a successful marketing campaign, which would create consumer awareness of stores, restaurants, sales and special events that might interest them, Fifth Avenue South could level the playing field with competitors.
During his research, Gibbs found that the epicenter of commercial retail is shifting north in Southwest Florida.
“You have some of the strongest competition in the United States, (and) it’s going to get stronger,” Gibbs said. “You no longer have an exclusive and captive market. Your shoppers are now getting intercepted on their way here to other destinations.”
He cited newer shopping centers in Southwest Florida such as The Mercato in North Naples and Gulf Coast Town Center and Coconut Point in south Lee County as examples of the competition that is keeping consumers from shopping downtown.
Gibbs also mentioned that the strip centers along Airport-Pulling Road were a main hub for consumers in the city and that The Waterside Shops also lures some potential consumers.
Parking poses an issue because all spots on Fifth Avenue South are usually filled by 10 a.m., and today’s increasingly time-pressed shoppers are forced to park farther away in the parking garages and on side streets.
Today’s average shopper, who is a busy woman willing to pay for the luxury of time, spends more in 10 minutes than her mother did in two hours.
“I don’t know who they are, but they are likely not shoppers and diners,” Gibbs said of the people taking up parking spaces on Fifth Avenue South. “This is important because we estimate that every on-street parking stall translates to about $200,000 a year in sales per stall.”
To create more parking space turnover, Gibbs suggested experimenting with parking meters and or time limits for on-street parking during tourist season.
Creating greater parking space turnover and increasing the lighting on the street were two main ideas that Gibbs believes will instantly help the street recapture some of the $57 million in retail sales going elsewhere.
Gibbs also found that the majority of shoppers do their shopping after dark, and said some research has proven that good lighting can improve sales in shopping districts by 15 to 20 percent.
“Your peak months are when it’s the most dark,” Gibbs said of the winter months. “Most shopping, 70 percent of shopping last year occurred after 5 at night, so the sweet spot of shopping is when it’s the darkest.”
Even though there are many different property owners on Fifth Avenue South, Gibbs said the street would benefit from a merchandising strategy: “Ideally we would like to see the west zone (of the street) be focused on purpose-driven destinations, businesses geared toward neighborhood goods and services (such as restaurants, art galleries and smaller apparel stores.”
Gibbs also suggested bringing in national retail chains.
“I think you should bring in the brands people are used to shopping at,” Gibbs said. “It should not dominate the street. Fifth Avenue has some great independent retailers, and it should remain a predominately independent retailer” occupied street.
Improving the visibility of Fifth Avenue South’s street sign and increasing the amount of outdoor dining and entertainment were two other areas in which he said the street could improve itself and attract more consumers.
Gibbs recommended that the business owners create an improvement district, or a self-funded authority that allows business and property owners to spend more on advertising and marketing.
He also suggested strategically placing a few anchor stores, or extremely popular retail stores, at the intersection of U.S. 41-Fifth Avenue South and the center of Fifth.
Pop-up stores, or temporary stores that go into underutilized space, could occupy vacant spaces during season. Improving landscaping also would attract more shoppers and diners.
“You’re going to have to change to keep what you have,” Gibbs said.
The average consumer is usually willing to walk 1,000 feet, so many people never travel the full length of the 0.6-mile street.
Aside from pointing out all the areas in which Fifth Avenue can improve itself, Gibbs emphasized the fact that Old Naples has a lot of potential.
“Old Naples is considered one of the top five cities for quality of life in the country,” Gibbs said.