Georgetown business district looks to rebrand

By:
04/15/2010

After a year of financial difficulty in Georgetown, the Georgetown Business Improvement District has recently embarked on a “brand review” of Georgetown’s commercial area. The goal of the brand review process is to discover what Georgetown BID’s marketing director Nancy Miyahira calls “the essence of the Georgetown brand.” With that information, the Georgetown BID plans to help its members better target customers.

The Georgetown BID has brought in The Roan Group, an Arlington-based consulting firm, to help with the brand review. Neil Archer Roan, a principal of The Roan Group, said the firm wants to discover Georgetown’s brand, not create it.

“People who invent a brand don’t really understand branding,” Roan said.

As a result, Miyahira said the BID is currently interviewing a “cross section of over 40 key community stakeholders” to find out what residents already think of Georgetown.

Jennifer Altemus, president of the Citizens Association of Georgetown, said the group asked her, “’What sort of animal do you see Georgetown as?’”

They also interviewed Carol Joynt, a Georgetown resident and the former owner of Nathan’s restaurant. She wrote on her blog, Swimming in Quicksand, that the interviewer asked, “’If Georgetown were a color scheme, what would be the colors?’”

Roan hopes to incorporate Georgetown’s importance to the community, something he remembers from when he lived in Georgetown.

“Georgetown itself was like another room in my house that I loved to go be in,” Roan said.

The brand review comes after a year in which many businesses left Georgetown. The Georgetown Metropolitan reported in March that approximately one in ten businesses left Georgetown in 2009. The number of businesses in Georgetown that opened in 2009 was about half the number that closed.

According to a recent Washington Post article, the Shops at Georgetown Park will be put up for auction on May 5. Since the beginning of 2009, 56 percent of the property in the Shops at Georgetown Park has been vacated. After purchasing the property for $84 million, the current owner, Herb Miller of the Western Development Corp., defaulted on a loan worth at least $70 million.

Rokas Beresniovas, the vice president of the Georgetown Business Association, believes the recent rebranding efforts can help revive Georgetown’s economy.

“Georgetown has lots of vacancies, and ‘rebranding’ efforts would likely help Georgetown not only to bring new businesses into the scene, but also more visitors and customers for the current businesses,” Beresniovas said.

Business leaders are glad to see the brand review begin. Since the Georgetown BID caters to a diverse group of people, it is difficult to establish a brand, according to Susan Calloway of the Susan Calloway Fine Arts gallery. Georgetown has bars and late-night eateries, but also art galleries and antique shops.

“It’s a confused brand,” Calloway said.

James Packard-Gomez, CEO of Erwin-Gomez Salon and Spa, said he hopes the brand review portrays Georgetown in a way that will appeal to a changing consumer base.

“We really do need to set our brand as unique rather than historic,” Packard-Gomez said. “The emphasis needs to be on the uniqueness of each store.”

Some Georgetown residents are concerned about what the brand review means for them though. Joynt stressed the importance of including residents in the brand review process.

“I was a member of the BID board for a couple of years, and during that time I found very little connection between the BID point of view and the needs of residents and small businesses,” Joynt said.

Business owners and residents acknowledge that the University will be important in the brand review and in the future of Georgetown’s economy. They said Georgetown University students are important customers.

The Roan Group has been considering the opinions of Georgetown students and faculty. Linda Greenan, associate vice president for external relations at Georgetown, sits on the Georgetown BID’s board and has put The Roan Group in touch with students and faculty they could interview.

“Georgetown University is one of the village’s principal assets,” Joynt said. “It’s a quality component of the neighborhood and attracts not only the vast student body, but also parents and tourists … not to mention the many academic and other staff, many of whom live in Georgetown.”

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