When your potential customers live anywhere from rural Iowa to Brazil, you need to use a variety of traditional and state-of-the-art marketing tools to bring them to your doorstep.
No one probably understands that any better than Theresa Phillips, general manager of Tanger Outlet Center in Williamsburg.
“We use television, newspaper inserts and a few billboards along Interstate 80,” Phillips said. “We also have rack cards in hotels and visitor’s centers.
“We’ve been successful with email blasts to students at the University of Iowa. Of those, we had 91.9 percent new customers.
“We’re also starting to use social media with Facebook and Twitter. We are constantly challenged by our corporate office to find new marketing opportunities.”
Tanger Outlet Center has its own Facebook page — Tanger Outlets, Williamsburg — separate from North Carolina-based Tanger Outlet Centers’s corporate page. Phillip said the mall, with 56 stores, uses its Facebook page to tell shoppers about special events as well as provide specific store information.
Although the 21-year-old shopping center attracts visitors from the United States and abroad with its central location along I-80 — the transcontinental highway that runs from New Jersey to California — Phillips said point-of-sale ZIP code data shows many shoppers live in rural Iowa.
“Cedar Rapids and Des Moines are our primary markets, but we draw from Omaha to the Quad Cities and north to the Twin Cities,” she said. “When do our zip code studies, we break out Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Iowa City, Waterloo, Quad Cities, Williamsburg area, other USA, Nebraska, other Illinois and other Iowa.
“‘Other Iowa’ is always very high because of our location. We have people who travel for their job and they stop as they are driving back and forth.”
During the recent Farm Progress Show, Phillips noted, the mall was “inundated by tour buses with gentlemen from Brazil. They were really shoppers, and we alerted the stores that we knew they would be patronizing so they would have enough staff on hand.”
Phillips, who worked for the city of Williamsburg when the shopping center was first proposed in June 1990, said tour buses are very important to Tanger Outlet Center.
“We have a lot of coaches that come from the Chicago area,” she said. “They do side trips here after they’ve visited the Meskwaki Casino and Hotel in Tama.
“We have incentives for motor coach tours if they have at least 15 people on the tour bus. We request a 24- to 48-hour notice.
“They get an incentive from VF (Vanity Fair), which is our ‘meet and greet’ store. We give the tour director and the motor coach operator a Tanger gift card.”
Tour bus riders receive a shopping bag from Vanity Fair and a Tanger coupon book, she added.
Phillips said the Tanger Trolley is popular with motor coach passengers who like the convenience of riding from one area of the shopping center to another.
“Weekends are very busy, regardless of the time of year,” she said. “It tends to slow down in January and February, when we have shorter operating hours.”
In a May 1992 interview, Stanley Tanger, founder of Tanger Outlet Center, recalled that the overwhelming response to the Williamsburg outlet center persuaded him to more than double the original size of the project.
“It’s been far better than I originally anticipated,” Tanger said then. “When I first started talking about building an outlet center in Iowa, people told me that Iowa was a pass-through state. Obviously they were wrong, and we found that out after we opened the first 100,000 square feet.
“The Tanger Outlet Center in Williamsburg has been very successful for us.”
Phillips attributed the Williamsburg retail center’s success to the tenants it’s attracted over the years.
“We have a really good mix of tenants for the whole family,” she said. “With a new tenant that will be joining us very shortly, we will be 100 percent leased.”
Phillips, who has helped open Tanger Outlet Centers in places such as Long Island, N.Y., said her colleagues do not understand how the Iowa property has been successful.
“The number of cars in our parking lot is kind of amazing when they understand that we’re located next to a cornfield,” Phillips said. “It’s really surprising to a prospective tenant visiting from another part of the country.”
Thanks to the shopping center, taxable sales in Williamsburg rose from $34.4 million in fiscal 1991 to $66.1 million in fiscal 1992, according to the Iowa Department of Revenue.
More recently, Williamsburg generated $105.2 million in taxable sales in fiscal 2011, accounting for 60.9 percent of Iowa County’s $172.8 million in taxable sales.
Phillips said the Iowa County community has benefited from more than just higher sales tax receipts.
“The outlet center has put Williamsburg on the map,” she said. “We hope to continue to be quite an important part of the Williamsburg community.”
Tanger Outlet Center in Williamsburg is one of two factory outlet shopping centers in Iowa. Factory Stores of America operates a nine-store facility near Interstate 35 in Story City.