Mandan News

Ellen Huber: A behind the scenes look at retail recruitment

How do you know if a retailer or restaurant will consider locating in Mandan, North Dakota? There are a number of factors that determine if the company will be a fit including existing locations, site criteria, market demographics and spending patterns, and presence of competitors. Whether the entity is corporately- or franchisee-owned also makes a difference.

It helps if the desired retailer or restaurant already has a location within the general trade region, a 200-mile radius, for example, to maximize efficiencies in shipping, training and oversight. When someone suggests an Old Spaghetti Factory for Mandan – and believe me, I love pasta – a look at their website reveals that they have a void throughout the entire Midwest. They tend to go into markets with a population of 1 million or more, or a major tourist attraction.

Retailers and restaurants have site criteria such as population, traffic counts, tourism numbers, median household income, education levels and more. For example, no matter how much we may want Nordstroms or Neiman Marcus department stores in Mandan, we fall short in both population and median household income.

Some retailers and restaurants will operate in a freestanding environment; many others will only locate near another major shopping anchor or within a mall or shopping district, something we don’t really have yet in Mandan. And it’s not just a “build it and they will come” situation; creating a shopping development like Pinehurst in northwest Bismarck takes a private developer and brokers who can recruit, wheel, deal and make it happen.

The Woodmont Company was the original developer of Pinehurst. The Visconsi Companies have marketed the open-air center on Bismarck Expressway anchored by Walmart and Sam’s Club. While we make retail contacts ourselves, we don’t claim to have the relationships with retail clients and contacts that a professional developer does.

The city of Mandan has assisted owners of property in and around Mandan who wish to commercially develop land. This assistance has been through attending trade shows, providing demographics, car counts, marketing materials and any information we can provide in helping the developer and client reach a positive decision on locating in Mandan.

Spending power originating from a market area is another thing. As part of the Memorial Highway corridor study currently underway, the firm RDG Planning & Design has been updating a market study for the community. They reviewed our retail gap analysis from Nielsen Claritas market research, which shows demand generated by Mandan consumer expenditures and sales generated by current category businesses in Mandan.

I’ll provide a summary in the next column. For now, it might suffice to report that RDG Planning says we don’t have enough demand in Mandan for big box retail and the Bismarck market is largely saturated. We do, however, have enough demand in Mandan for a hardware store, unique clothing stores, a smaller to mid-size general merchandise store, more businesses in the restaurant and entertainment category and more neighborhood retail.

What can Mandan do? We have been working these angles, trying to recruit a smaller Walmart, Pamida or Alco store. Trying to find someone to invest in and open a hardware store. And encouraging restaurant operators from both within and outside our community to open here. We are focusing on what “fits” for Mandan’s market profile.

We are also helping existing businesses stay in business and expand. And more recently we have begun efforts to foster entrepreneurism from within our community. Community leaders are also working to increase our residential population as well as our daytime population (jobs in Mandan) and tourism and visitor attraction so that our retail “numbers” improve.

A local connection to the decision-making process is always a plus. If you have an “in” through a relative or friend with owners, managers or other leaders within the retail or restaurant industry, be it local, regional or national, please let us know. Contact the city of Mandan business development office at 667-3485 or send an e-mail to