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Herberger's closes in Butte

Customers pick through clearance items days before Herberger’s in Butte closed its doors permanently in August 2018. With a new partnership with Buxton Co. in hand, Butte's "economic development team" hopes to recruit to Butte retailers like the former department store. The Butte Local Development Corp. recently entered into a one-year $50,000 contract with the Texas-based analytics firm.

After introducing Mining City residents to Buxton Co. a little less than a year ago, Butte’s economic development team has hired the Texas-based analytics firm to, among other things, help local leaders recruit retailers to Butte.

Last September, the economic development team held a public meeting exploring the possibility of hiring the firm, which aggregates hundreds of data points on consumer habits to help retailers find new locations and to help local leaders recruit new businesses and strengthen existing ones.

The economic development team is an informal group consisting of Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive Dave Palmer, county officials, economic-development advocates, representatives from NorthWestern Energy and other local leaders.

The Butte Local Development Corp. signed on the dotted line with Buxton in mid-August and is the entity that’s officially under a one-year contract with the company, whose services cost $50,000 per year.

Joe Willauer, BLDC executive director, said the BLDC was awarded $31,000 in grant funds for the project from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Butte’s Tourism Business Improvement District, the latter allocating a $6,500 grant to the economic-development organization. The remaining funds were raised from Northwestern Energy, Butte’s Tax Increment Financing Industrial District, and the Butte Chamber of Commerce, which provided matching funds, Willauer said.

The official launch date of Buxton’s services begins Oct. 1, at which time the BLDC and other members of the economic development team will have access to detailed information on the local market.

Based on this information, Buxton will provide 20 leads on companies, retailers especially, that Buxton believes would do well in Butte. Members of the economic development team will be able to give feedback and reject a lead in exchange for a new one if they feel, for example, a company isn’t a good fit or their market is already saturated in Butte.

Buxton will also train local leaders on how to use the company’s technology and will provide what Willauer called “pursuit packages.”

Willauer said the packages will help local leaders present data to retailers and reach out to their decision makers in what Buxton believes are the most effective ways.

During a previous interview with The Montana Standard, Buxton Vice President of Sales Robb Miller said the work the company does is all about making matches.

The company works by making use of around 300 different data sets, which contain information from a range of sources, including credit-card transactions, mobile-phone data, loyalty cards and more, to group consumers into more than 70 different categories.

This information helps the company’s clients identify retailers whose existing customers look similar to the residents living in their communities.

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“We’ve got the ability to go down to the household level on over 115 million households across the country. It gives us the ability to understand how people behave as consumers and use that information to identify (whether there are) enough of those right types of customers in certain markets,” Miller said in January.

But the BLDC and other members of the economic development team don’t just plan on using Buxton’s technology for recruitment purposes.

Willauer said Friday the contract includes 25 licenses for local business owners, who can use the data to see which products residents are traveling out of town to buy. This can help local businesses better stock their shelves with products local consumers are looking for, Willauer said.

Local businesses interested in getting one of the 25 licenses should contact the BLDC on its contact page at bldc.net/contact-us. The licenses will be awarded on a first-come-first-serve basis.

Julie Jaksha, regional director of Headwaters RC&D, expressed excitement about the partnership with Buxton, calling the service a “valuable new tool” whose insights will aid in recruitment and “will also help our existing business owners evaluate their own small business and identify the products and services that consumers are purchasing outside of our area.”

Willauer said Friday that the BLDC has already gotten a sneak peek at some of the data, which shows that car sales, home furnishings and hardware are strong sectors in Butte and are even drawing shoppers from other communities. However, Butte is leaking local sales in the realm of men’s clothing.

“There’s a need for more men’s clothing,” said Willauer.

He added that Buxton does not provide data on the individual level, so those with access to the service won’t be able to look up profiles on specific people.

Willauer said the BLDC has a goal of strengthening Butte’s retail scene, including landing a department store, through its partnership with Buxton.

However, he cautioned that recruitment doesn’t happen overnight, even with data in hand. In fact, he said, it took about a year of behind-the-scenes work to recruit to Butte FCR, a call center that recently opened up shop in the Butte Plaza Mall and has plans to employ around 300 people.

Butte Community Development Director Karen Byrnes said she believes the new tool will help economic development advocates be better prepared to meet with companies considering Butte as a location. When companies have questions about the local market, they’ll be able to answer those questions with detailed responses backed by data.

“It’s just going to allow us to have a lot more information,” she said.

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