OCEAN CITY – Councilman Joe Hall is traveling an alternative avenue this week seeking support for ways to retain existing Ocean City customers.
Simultaneously, the City Council voted Monday for the 64th Street water tower to have its regularly scheduled maintenance and to combine that effort with the placement of a “Welcome and Thank You” message on it.
The council approved the low bidder of D & M Painting to repair, paint, and apply a vinyl decal welcoming and thanking Ocean City visitors set at a price close to $368,000.
In the past, water tower logos have always been painted on but the council opted for the cheaper selection. The option to try out the vinyl decals follows in the Dew Tour’s footsteps that recently posted the same message on the downtown water tower, just adding “Home of the Dew Tour” to it.
The “Welcome and Thank You” message to be added to the 64th Street water tower was just one suggestion in the town’s revival of the 1980’s “thank you” campaign.
Last week, Councilmen Brent Ashley and Joe Hall pushed the idea of distributing silicone wristbands to Ocean City visitors as a thank you gift but also to be utilized as a tool in a customer retention plan.
Joe Hall’s idea is to include the town’s website, ococean.com, on the bracelets to motivate vacationers to visit the site and fill out a survey on their stay in Ocean City. He wants the local business community to buy in on the bracelets to be distributed in their stores and restaurants.
A majority of the responses from the business community during an informal poll were not in favor of buying into the bracelet concept, and a majority of the council also felt the peak of the summer was not the best time to initiate a customer retention plan.
There was no defined conclusion on where the customer retention plan would head by the end of last week’s meeting, only an approved motion to have city staff and its partners work with the business community to develop a “thank you” campaign that transitions into a comprehensive retention program.
Joe Hall submitted a letter to The Dispatch this week in hopes to gain immediate support from the community. The letter was addressed to the taxpayers and business owners in Ocean City.
Joe Hall said since the past municipal election sustainable decisions have been made including the elimination of the government’s sub-committees and changes in town employee pay and benefits.
“Millions of dollars’ worth of future liabilities were erased from future budgets,” he wrote. “Now there is a new discussion on our marketing programs and whether the expenditures currently being made are supporting the whole business environment or disproportionally favor only part of the overall town market.”
According to Joe Hall, over the last 15 years, Ocean City’s tourism officials have been working with new markets focusing on heads in beds in order to gain new visitors to town. He noted that while that aspect is important so is retaining existing customers.
“A sustainable economy can only occur if you maintain your base and grow new business on top of that base,” he wrote. “If we continue to take our loyal customers for granted and replace them with new customers that are not always as loyal as the past customer at best we only stay even.”
Joe Hall added that Ocean City has not reached a sustainable future yet and will be in need of additional taxpayer money to maintain the town if the economic conditions of the local business community are not addressed.
“The numbers no longer add up to be sustainable, that’s why so many new businesses have chosen west of the bridge to open their doors, its simple return on investment is better on the west side of the bridge than in town,” he said.
Joe Hall, whose family owns a mid-town restaurant, believes something needs to be done now rather than later to motivate customers to stay longer and repeatedly, along with acknowledging “day trippers”. He said the time is now to regain the 110 day profitable summer season that lived in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In those summer seasons over 99 percent of businesses were open and staffed full time.
“Support a comprehensive retention marketing plan that utilizes traditional marketing tools as well as nontraditional methods that will make us stand out in a crowded field of summer tourism destinations,” he wrote. “The town should market that we are the best summer family beach resort, not what some want us to be (a year round visitor destination). If and when we become year round is the time when to market us as that.”
Council President Jim Hall said Wednesday that further discussion of a customer retention plan has not been scheduled but will be soon, probably around September. He wants to schedule a time when all tourism partners are available to meet.
“We are always looking for more customers needless to say,” he said. “I didn’t agree with the … wristband plan, and I think it came so suddenly that nobody really had time to react to it.”