As they put the finishing touches on the design of the apartments planned for the McMenamins entertainment complex, the developers are getting personal.
Grace Pleasants and Rick Moses want to hear from small groups of people who might live there after it opens in the fall of 2012. It’s not unusual for developers to do market research, but these invitation-only focus groups started a little more publicly than most.
Jim Goldberg of Seattle real estate consulting firm Red Propeller used Facebook and local blog Exit 133 to target a narrow group of people.
The developers will try to glean what renters want, from features such as fireplaces, carpeting, balconies and community rooms, to larger concepts such as floor plan design. Beyond the details, though, the focus groups are part of a larger marketing strategy.
“We really need to focus on those people and talk to them on, why Tacoma? Why our building next to McMenamins? And what makes them a happy tenant?” Pleasants said Thursday. “Ultimately, what we’re trying to accomplish here (is) buy-in for the lifestyle we’re bringing to downtown.”
Goldberg said the lack of new development in the past few years means this is one of the first times his firm has used social media this way.
“Most developers haven’t been in the position that these guys are in right now to start a project,” he said.
Current renters between the ages of 28 and 45 were asked to express interest, and those that did took a survey. Participants were chosen based on the survey results. Two meetings of about 10 people each are planned so far, one this week and one next, though Goldberg said more might be held because interest is so high.
Typical market research shows things like people’s income and spending habits, but Goldberg said those lack a “human touch.” These focus groups, he said, are targeting the people who might actually live there.
Part of the social media strategy includes managing participants’ expectations.
“Of course there’s constraints beyond what Consumer Joe sitting in the focus group can control,” Goldberg said, like a desire for slab granite countertops costing too much. “But if you communicate back – “this is what we’ve heard and this is how we’ve applied it” – you keep getting feedback and support.”
Pleasants said the process leads to smarter development. Exit133 commenter Heidi described why some public process was important. “Though we’re not all invited to the forum and may not ever live there, all residents have some vested interest in what happens to our historic downtown structures,” she wrote.
Pleasants said that she and Moses hope within the next 30 days to have updated designs, based partly on the focus groups.