How BIDs can bid on becoming downtown experience coaches
Experiences are not designed.
This almost contradicts my entire service offer, but it’s true. Experiences require spontaneity and thrive on the unpredictability of the user’s reaction.
What this means is that when we design experiences we offer a series of opportunities to have unforgettable moments and create happy memories that will be cherished forever.
We think of the details that each opportunity will be made of. The place, the sounds, the view, the smell, the colors. Also, the script and how the performers will interact with the users.
What we cannot design is the user’s response. We cannot have the happy memories for them nor can we tell them what those memories will be. This is why our role as designers is to create the conditions and not to design the outcomes.
Experience design may range from a simple small town escape room to the Star Wars resort in Walt Disney World, but the idea is the same: create a space where the user can be completely immersed and give each of the five senses something to process.
Small towns are natural experiences. Designing something that complex and beautiful would be incredibly difficult.
A typical small town experience would be spent walking from the old ice cream shop to the presidential birthplace house museum, to the baseball bat factory to the distillery, having dinner on a restaurant on the pirate’s lair and listening to live traditional music amidst old, crooked buildings and narrow cobblestone streets.
When I went to Historic Preservation school, we often heard the word “disneyfication” as a strategy to avoid. Downtowns should not become fake and produced like Disney World.
The rise of the Experience Economy tells us that Disney may have actually been right.
The public has avidly embraced the type of detailed experiences that they offer and pay handsomely for the privilege.
The value that experiences add to a simple meal or a theater play has built a $12 Billion worldwide industry.
So let’s zoom into our small town, our main street, and look at our local businesses. They can tap into this huge industry by contributing to the transformation of the neighborhood into an experience.
First, let’s examine the role of each business. Collaboration is key to the creation of a district-wide experience.
This usually comes in the form of support for each other’s activities and volunteering for downtown events.
Some, like a client of mine in New Jersey, will create specific offers that include local coffee, tea or wine pairings, with books suggested by local booksellers, mugs, candles and ambient fragrances all made by local artisans.
The partnership allows value to be created both ways. The store sells moments. The curated bundle and the creative way in which it’s decorated and offered plants images on people’s minds and creates the urge to be in a particular place and time.
Local partnerships can create experiences easier than a single store can, because the combined stories create a very complex offer.
Now let’s look at the role of the local organization: ideally it should be limited to facilitating connections and making the extra push so the conditions are optimal.
They are not going to be creating the experience, but it is totally in their power to facilitate it, by amassing a deep knowledge of each of their businesses’ offers, seeing the opportunity for pairings and finding the potential overlaps for collaboration.
They may offer programs that help connect dots and think of partnerships. They may see collaborative trends emerging in town and intervene with small urban comforts that may make those partnerships more visible.
Maybe putting a few benches between the restaurant with little waiting room and the wine store where they send their patrons to wait will create a fabulous walk that complements the evening.
The stitching role of the local organization is akin to a platform where people meet. To make a technological analogy, think of an online messenger service. That is the platform. The groups folks create and the chats that they have in there are facilitated by the platform’s features.
Local organizations that see themselves as platforms that bring people together to add value to their own and their combined offers, will create an infinite number of connections between local businesses.
A few features may have to be added to create unique experiences. Storefront Mastery can work with your local organizations to help small businesses in connecting dots, building partnerships and finding the perfect pairings to create your local experience.
Innovation emerges from connections. The solutions to local problems are local. Partnerships between businesses, collaboration, joint efforts and a little help from local organizations can go a long way.
This post was inspired by a conversation with a fellow urbanist and was informed by dozens of comments to a post I made on the Downtown Happy Hour FB group. Hop in if you are not a member already.
If you want to learn more about the aspects of store design that will prime the collaborative nature of local businesses, take a look at my book, The Ten No-B.S. Rules For Successful Storefront Design. I discuss the community building aspects of design, which go way beyond the decorative aspect.
If you haven’t already, please subscribe to The Vertical Sidewalk and share this post so more folks can join the more than 500 members of our community.