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Bastrop Takes Proactive Approach to Strengthen and Cross-Promote Businesses as Must-Visit, “Texas-Friendly” Destinations

Online surveys, mystery shopper visits provide positive feedback plus actionable insights for local stores, restaurants and attractions to boost traffic and enhance their unique appeal

Bastrop, Texas, June 21, 2017 – This spring, Bastrop’s tourism business consulting firm, Cygnet Strategies, conducted an online survey asking participants what to see and do in Bastrop’s downtown, culinary and cultural arts districts. The survey, which was promoted via multiple channels, also solicited comments on respondents’ customer service experiences at area restaurants, attractions and stores. Based on the results, Cygnet recommended conducting mystery shopper research to identify downtown businesses’ strengths and areas for improvement. These research initiatives were an outgrowth of planning by the City of Bastrop Main Street Program in partnership with the Bastrop Economic Development Corporation. They were also an important precursor to establishing a new “Visit Bastrop” destination marketing organization charged with advancing and promoting the city’s cultural and culinary districts.

From late March to early April, experienced “secret shoppers” made visits to nearly 60 restaurants, shops and attractions in and around Bastrop’s downtown district. The businesses, which were all rated on the same criteria for their category, were unaware this research activity was occurring. In addition, digital assessments of these businesses were completed between February and early April to examine and evaluate their online presence.

“In today’s highly competitive marketing environment, with every destination going after its share of the tourism economic ‘pie,’ the visitor experience is paramount,” said Dale Lockett, interim president of the Visit Bastrop destination marketing organization under development. “The far-reaching impact of social media compels destinations to perform – not only every day, but every hour – in satisfying and surpassing visitor expectations.”

Assessment process and outcomes 
Visited businesses were evaluated and scored on multiple facets of relevant criteria: Restaurants were judged on their appearance, staff, food, restrooms and overall appearance. Reviews of shops addressed their appearance, merchandise and sales staff. Attractions were analyzed based on aspects of their general appearance, gift shop, overall appeal, staff and restrooms. Digital assessments encompassed the businesses’ own websites, their use of social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), and activity on online review sites, such as Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor. Digital assessments were undertaken because oftentimes, the first and last experience a visitor has with a business is online. What’s more, these channels are indispensable no- or low-cost ways for restaurants, shops and attractions to market themselves.

Most restaurants made a good first impression and many scored well on general customer service. Overall, half of the restaurants provided very enjoyable experiences and instilled a desire to return. However, at some, food did not meet expectations for quality and value received. And, the cleanliness of some restaurant restrooms left much room for improvement. Secret shoppers also gave high marks to stores for their appearance and merchandise mix, but the biggest challenge identified for downtown shops was customer service. Reviews of attractions suggested making improvements to entrance areas to make them more appealing.

Otherwise, most scored well in all categories, except for restroom cleanliness and needs for better maintenance. Secret shoppers also advised improving communication by staff, including simply inviting guests to return.
However, one business owner truly stood out by recommending multiple places to go and cross-promoting other merchants in town without being asked. The secret shopper stated, “Every merchant in town could learn his techniques!”

“A key imperative to becoming more attractive and successful as a destination is helping business owners see themselves as part of a greater, interdependent community,” said Vicky Soderberg, principal at Cygnet Strategies. “Working collectively toward continuous improvement benefits everyone. The ultimate goal is for every customer, whether a resident or out-of-town visitor, to have a positive experience in Bastrop so they encourage others to visit and continue to return.”

In terms of online presence, Cygnet’s research found that most of the businesses have active Facebook pages and 70 percent have websites, but about half were dated. Beyond keeping content fresh, recommendations included upgrading to websites that optimize viewing on smartphones and tablets, and capitalizing on Google, Yelp and TripAdvisor listings, as well as utilizing Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Action items delivered with supportive resources
The overall research findings were provided to the Main Street Program and Bastrop EDC in late May. (See summary, attached). In addition, each business received a confidential individual report of their secret shopper’s findings, which included recommended improvements, many easily implemented. Business owners were also given the opportunity to discuss their results further with the review team so they could ask questions and obtain additional suggestions. While some businesses clearly were caught off-guard by the project and input, others welcomed the insights delivered with specific action steps. To further support community businesses, the Bastrop Main Street Program and Bastrop EDC are hosting Customer Service Excellence workshops on July 10 at no cost to businesses within the targeted destination districts. The morning session, specific to restaurants, and the afternoon workshop, for retailers and attractions, will take place at the Bastrop Convention & Exhibit Center.

“Bastrop has so much to offer visitors and residents alike, from our unique location on the Colorado River to our historic downtown and growing cultural and culinary districts,” said Sarah O’Brien, director of the Bastrop Main Street District. “It’s vital that we support our hardworking business owners with the tools and resources to build on their strengths and provide the best possible experience to every customer.”

“If their destination experience is not good, visitors will pivot from brand advocates to brand opponents, which can negate the benefits of any positive, well-targeted marketing,” Lockett added. “That’s why conducting a completely independent visitor experience survey was crucial to understanding how to improve Bastrop as a destination. With this information, our community partners have the tools to better focus on anticipating and exceeding customer expectations, which ultimately helps us drive even more visitors here.”

About the Bastrop Main Street Program
A department of the City of Bastrop, the Main Street Program fosters downtown revitalization within the context of historic preservation. It focuses on economic development and historic preservation projects in the community’s downtown core, spanning 62 blocks centered on the axis of Main and Chestnut Streets. Visit https://www.bastropdowntown.com/mainstreet.

About the Bastrop Economic Development Corporation
Established in 1995, the Bastrop Economic Development Corporation (BEDC) enhances the quality of life in Bastrop, Texas by advancing the investment, development, growth and relocation of companies within the area. In addition to providing appropriate infrastructure, it promotes and supports economic development in the community that offers the people of Bastrop sustainable, meaningful and rewarding employment opportunities, and greater access to desirable goods and services. Visit http://bastropedc.org.