Merchants survey lacks enough responses to ID desired businesses

At the Sept. 14 meeting of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA), the Economic Development Committee (EDC) provided a report (almost two years in the making) designed to identify desired businesses. The report was intended to identify brand-specific businesses to pursue for the Village, based on community wants and market research. However, a lack of responses led to a lack of enough data for the EDC to confidently proceed.

“Our primary goal was to bring new business to the Village, and not just get businesses to open here, but thrive here,” explained member Elsie Arredondo. “The problem was with lack of responses … if you don’t have locals participating with what they want and clear data, you don’t have a lot. We didn’t want it to be subjective, what I want or what any one individual wants. Without the tools, we couldn’t pick the types of businesses we could solicit.”

In February 2015, she sent out the three-question survey to 2,482 La Jolla and greater San Diego residents and tourists. The survey, for which there were 101 respondents, contained three questions: What is your top reason for visiting the Village of La Jolla? List three general business types you would like to see here, and List three established businesses you would like to see. Arredondo noted though there were 101 surveys returned, not all of them had all three questions answered (each question received between 89-96 responses). Although the data pool was small, the front-runner for desired businesses was restaurants.

“Even though we have a lot of restaurants in the Village, what we found in the first survey was that there is still demand for restaurants. It was surprising to us, but then we realized it was about restaurant options, specifically healthier options,” she said. “We took that information and created a more focused survey for our locals.”

The trick-or-treating event, Pillage the Village, which will be 3:30 p.m. Halloween (Monday, Oct. 31) could include a haunted house this year. The annual event includes Girard Avenue businesses giving out candy, a costume contest, and related activities.

Committee member Brett Murphy — who joined Arredondo on the project late last year along with Ike Fazzio — added that for the second survey, the group decided to focus on locals rather than tourists, because they “cannot be relied upon for year-round income.”

In the follow-up survey, which was presented to locals through online outreach and manning tables at the Farmers Market in July, 167 people responded. EDC member Fazzio said it was like “pulling teeth” getting people to complete the survey.

“We were intending for this survey to lead us to businesses that we could proactively seek out and pursue, but we don’t feel we have enough data or enough feedback,” he said.

The four-question survey asked: What kind of casual restaurant would you like to see? What kind of festival would you like to see (music, beer, health, etc.)? What kind of nightlife would you like to see? and the fourth question asked them to prioritize the preceding three.

With restaurants given the top priority, the survey found a healthy café-type eatery along the lines of Urban Spoon came out on top. In terms of festivals, the results suggested music festivals were most wanted. Similarly, when asked on the kind of nightlife residents would like to see, the respondents said they wanted live music venues, specifically a jazz lounge.

To give the research additional credence, the committee also gathered city data of current businesses in the area. But they soon realized the information might not paint a clear picture as to what might actually be successful. For example, Murphy explained, La Jolla has a surplus of restaurants but a shortage of motor part supply companies. He determined there are some categories of businesses that may be in excess, but also are in demand, and there are types of businesses the Village may be short of, but might not need.

Although it was not part of the initial research project, reviewing the city data provided the EDC with a new and unintended role (as Murphy put it): The Great Recommender. “If anybody wants to enter the La Jolla market, they are going to look at this data and be confused, so we want to be the recommender that people can come to, to shine light on public opinion and what this community is actually like,” he said. “We want to provide not just a statistical grasp, but the understanding we have of the Village.”

Shifting course to reflect their recommender role, the committee will create a data-based document and eventually a marketing package to post on the La Jolla Village Merchants Association website, along with a direct e-mail link to someone that could answer questions about the Village. “This is meant to be a living, working document, something we can hand off to the next committee to take to the next level,” Arredondo said.

In other LJVMA news:

A Halloween haunted house?

But for this year’s event, LJVMA executive director Sheila Fortune said she was meeting with potential hosts for the haunted house, and thought it could be for slightly older children who might not be interested in trick-or-treating. More details will be presented at the next meeting.

— La Jolla Village Merchant’s Association next meets 3 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 12 at La Jolla Riford Library, 7555 Draper Ave.