I read this story about how residents near the old Wilshire Village Apartments site, where HEB plans to build a new store, will be voting on possible designs for that new store, and I wondered what might have been.
Residents who live near the corner of Alabama and Dunlavy, the site of an H-E-B scheduled to open next year, also are having their say on other store-related matters, such as whether or not to have bold colors on the outside of the building or install a large canopy for shade in front of it.
The San Antonio-based grocer is going to unusual lengths in an effort to make people in the area comfortable with having an H-E-B as a neighbor.
“We always ask for community input, but this time we took it to a whole new level,” said Scott McClelland, president of H-E-B, Houston. The company has never before allowed residents to vote on their favorite design scheme, he said.
When the chain announced its plans for the store in April, there was opposition from some residents. A number of them had wanted a park on the 8-acre wooded site. A group called the Montrose Land Defense Coalition formed to champion the park idea.
H-E-B has been meeting with residents to hear their concerns. “We’ve been impressed with H-E-B — they have truly listened to the community,” said David Robinson, president of the Neartown Association, a collection of 21 Montrose area civic groups and other organizations.
Smart retailers encourage community involvement, said Kit Yarrow, a professor of business and psychology at Golden Gate University in San Francisco. It is more crucial than ever for companies to get the neighborhood on board, she said, because consumers have unprecedented voice today: “The Internet has given them the power to rally from their homes with minimal effort.”
The consumers’ ability to be heard by H-E-B gives them a sense of ownership for the project, which Yarrow said moves the dialog from defensive to collaborative: “It helped change the topic from ‘Should we build?’ to ‘How should we build?’ ”
Other retailers prefer the “We don’t care what you think” approach. I wonder why they don’t have as positive a relationship with the public as some other firms do. In the end, residents got to vote on the design this past weekend; see here for the winner.