The purpose of the Fort Langley Business Improvement Association (BIA) is to create, enhance and promote a vital downtown business area within in the village of Fort Langley. This mandate includes marketing and promotion, improving the streetscape, generating visitation, and the overall encouragement and development of business within the Business Improvement Area. The BIA assumes responsibility for a variety of work items that no single merchant or property owner would typically assume, such as maintaining a central website for all merchants, social media promotion, visitor maps, coordinating special events such as the Cranberry Festival, and so on.
However, the Fort Langley BIA has very limited financial resources with which to attempt any substantial initiatives. With the annual levy of the BIA set at only $51,500 and $53,045 for 2013 and 2014, respectively, very modest revenue continually constrains the BIA's options. With few other revenue sources, the BIA has an net operating budget of $55,000 or so for 2013.
A very constrained budget forces the BIA to make tough decisions. One of the most difficult is whether or not to hire an Executive Director. With an Executive Director, wages and additional operating costs, such as an office, supplies and equipment, and internet and telephone service, can combine to consume up to 75% of the annual levy, leaving little money left over to do much with. However, without an Executive Director, the BIA is dependent on volunteers for basic operations, such as governance, bookkeeping, grant applications, and day-to-day marketing, which has tended to not be sustainable over the long-term due to a low-level of interest within the general membership.
For 2013-2014 the Board of Directors intends to not hire a replacement Executive Director, will close the current BIA office, and discontinue all related expenditures. This is not an easy decision, as there are merits and drawbacks to both options. But with more money the BIA, under the Board's direction, will be able to complete more substantial work items as part of a general long-term plan.
The first step in focusing the BIA with documented, endorsed planning is this work plan for 2013-2014, to outline in advance the key work items the Board will attempt to achieve over the next two years.
For 2013-2014, the BIA will work on a series of specific deliverables based on the upcoming utilities conversion, the Board's decision to not hire a replacement Executive Director, and to develop and execute refreshed marketing efforts. To further improve operational efficiency and transparency, the BIA's bookkeeping will move online. The BIA office will close in 2013. And the Board will complete an update to the BIA's Streetscape Plan from 2001, to help guide and inform streetscape improvements after the utilities conversion project is completed.
Events continue to be a challenge for the BIA, but the Cranberry Festival is the exception because of its rising popularity and high attendance. Over time, it makes sense for the BIA to develop additional events, but perhaps not on the scale of a Cranberry Festival. While not specifically mentioned within the BIA's constitution, events are an effective way to market Fort Langley, and generate general repeat visitation by event attendees. They can be an excellent way to promote Fort Langley as a destination.
But creating more successful events will require additional subsidy from general revenue, which requires the acceptance of a relatively high opportunity cost. For 2013-2015 the BIA will focus on cautiously developing BC Day and a coordinated Christmas event. It will also transition the Cranberry Festival to an event planner, with better integration with fortlangley.com, online vendor management, and a mandate to decrease its operating budget deficit.
During 2013-2015 the BIA will develop and execute two marketing plans, one specific to the duration of the utilities conversion construction, and a second more general marketing plan that will follow in 2014.
The foundation of these two plans will be an expanded, heavily-customized fortlangley.com website. The BIA's volunteer-based website will become the most effective, low-cost tool for promoting the commercial area of Fort Langley available to the BIA. The website will outline events, activities, and customized merchant details, and show custom information based on a visitors location, for example. Facebook and other online advertising will become the primary advertising expenditure of the BIA, which can target people based on demographics, location, time of day, and so on. The BIA will formalize a "South of the Fraser, East of the Pitt River" strategy targeting people within 45 minutes of Fort Langley, from Delta to Abbotsford, and Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge.
In addition to more defined marketing plans, the BIA will also transition to coordinated promotional materials that match the website, such as visitor maps, banners, and new village directories. This will require the replacement of some of the existing inventory. Each aspect of these branding materials will have consistent messaging, colours, and objectives. New banners will be designed for after the utilities conversion. The BIA will attempt to maximize the return of its very limited marketing budgets with well defined objectives, and documented plans to meet them.
The BIA has often been faced with the impossible task of satisfying unrealistic expectations after paying for the Cranberry Festival, basic necessities, visitor maps, advertising, and banners, and a staff person, all of which have typically consumed its limited net operating budget. A work plan for 2013-2014 will help guide the Board, and inform the membership. A solid work plan based on additional financial resources with a leaner operational model, attempting fewer, but more impactful work items is the start of refocusing the BIA on delivering quantifiable, noticeable results to the membership, and for Fort Langley.