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Weekend edition July 15, 2022 | Tom Ballard

Retail topic of quarterly “Business Lunch Live” session in Oak Ridge

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

Ironically, on the last day of Amazon’s annual Prime Day “opportunity,” a consultant to cities and chambers of commerce shared insights into the changing nature of recruiting retail businesses in a virtual event hosted by two Oak Ridge organizations.

Mill Graves, Director of Business Development for Birmingham-based Retail Strategies, was the speaker at a forum co-hosted by the East Tennessee Economic Council and the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce (ORCC) under the branding of “Business Lunch Live.” It is a quarterly virtual offering, and the focus on Wednesday was, appropriately enough, “Recruiting in the Age of Amazon.” Retail Strategies has worked with ORCC for nearly a decade.

Noting that communities must take a holistic approach to their recruitment efforts, whether for retail, other businesses or talent, Graves (pictured right) said that “retail has come to the forefront in terms of things a community can do to have a competitive advantage.” It’s been a priority for ORCC for years, and the results are showing as evidenced by the retail stores that are now dotting the space that once housed the old Oak Ridge Mall.

Graves shared some macro trends that are noteworthy.

  • Holiday sales in 2021 were up 14.1 percent.
  • All categories of retail sales are up 18.2 percent compared to January 2019.
  • eCommerce as a percentage of sales has nearly tripled in a decade, rising from 7.1 percent in 2011 to 19.6 percent in 2020.

On the latter point, Graves made this observation: “The pandemic has accelerated this (trend). eCommerce really took off in the past couple of years.”

As with anything as impactful as a pandemic-fueled change, there are winners and losers. Not surprising were some of those retail businesses that struggled – department stores, apparel retailers, and beauty shops. Conversely, winners included convenience stores, restaurants with drive through and/or delivery options, and two other types.

“Dollar stores and pet stores continued to thrive,” Graves said.

He added several other data points:

  • Brick and mortar closings are expected to reach their lowest level since 2015;
  • Restaurants are expected to be 40 to 45 percent of the growth in retail this year; and
  • Retailers like Kohl’s and TJ Maxx are now considering smaller stores and communities that they had not in the past.

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