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  • Article
    Learn the importance of having a wayfinding system in your community. see more

    In this video blog, Roger presents the importance of having a wayfinding system in your community. Frustrated visitors spend less time and less money and they seldom come back for repeat visits. You can spend millions of dollars marketing your destination, but if we can’t find what you’re selling, we say one word – “Next.” And we’re gone. Find your way by watching this video!

    Ready to start wayfinding in your community? Check out this article about issuing a Wayfinding RFQ

  • Article
    We don’t have a comprehensive list of reputable wayfinding companies, but here are a few. see more

    When you look for a company to design your wayfinding/wayfaring system, make sure you issue a Request for Qualifications, not a Request for Proposal (See more about Wayfinding RFQs here). You can issue an RFQ in just a page or two, then select the best of the best and then negotiate with them. Ask what their methodology is, have provide you a sample scope of work, project examples, and references. Let them know what you want included in your wayfinding system. Elements often include:

    – Vehicular wayfinding

    – Pedestrian wayfinding in downtown core areas

    – Trail system wayfinding

    – Pole banners (sometimes seasonal)

    – Visitor information kiosks

    – Community and downtown gateways

    – Place signage (marquee signage at parks, attractions and public facilities like parking, public restrooms, city hall, etc.)

    – Working with state/provincial transportation agencies for freeway and highway signage changes and/or additions.

    Once you get their qualifications, pick the top three and interview them. If you don’t like their work, their methodology, or price, then go to number two on the list.

    You are looking for a company that specializes in exterior wayfinding, which is an entirely different discipline than “institutional wayfinding” – directional signage in a hospital, mall, college campus or other large buildings or campuses.

    Once you select the best company for your particular project, make sure they design the system to a pre-determined budget, which may include some phasing. You can spend a million dollars on a gateway or $20,000. Always start with a budget. That will also determine how much the company will charge you. The more creative or custom the system is, the higher the price for both design and fabrication.

    We don’t have a comprehensive list of reputable wayfinding companies, but here are a few (our list of favorites) to get you started:


    Axia Creative

    Based out of Wellington, FL

    Cloud Gehshan Associations

    Based out of Philadelphia, PA

    Corbin Design

    Based out of Traverse City, MI

    Merje Design

    Based out of West Chester, PA

    Hunt Design

    Based out of Pasadena, CA

    Ambrosini Design

    Based out of Portland, OR

    Two Twelve

    Based out of New York City

  • More than a third of all suburban malls in North America, are in danger of closing. see more

    Bellevue, Washington, just across Lake Washington from Seattle, has become the Northwest’s most affluent city. But the “Crossroads area,” about five miles east of the City Center, is home to an amazingly large immigrant population that has little in common with the upscale shops and eateries in downtown. 

    By the mid 1980s, the Crossroads Mall, in the heart of east Bellevue, was pretty much dead. It was a place locals steered clear of. But Ron Sher’s development company had an idea. Half of the firm wanted to just cut their losses and let the mall die, but the other half, which included Ron, wanted to turn it into something great – a risky play to be sure. They went for it – starting by creating a gathering place in the center of the mall, full of small ethnic eateries sharing a common dining area. Then they added a central stage and programmed it with live music, added game tables and other forms of entertainment, and then orchestrated the business mix. 

     The mall was transformed into a neighborhood “living room” and is an amazing case history – a model for both suburban malls and downtowns everywhere.



  • 7 things you need to know about promoting the “Best of the Best” of your community. see more

    When putting together a marketing plan, we tell communities to promote the best they have to offer. Always. When it comes to print materials, one of the key pieces we recommend is a Best Of guide, promoting the best attractions, restaurants, and retail shops. Putting together this kind of marketing piece can ruffle some feathers, (“why wasn’t I included?”) but there are important reasons to focus your message on the best of what you have to offer.

    Here are the seven things you need to know about promoting the “Best of the Best” of your community:

    1. Always promote your “anchor tenants.” Shopping malls don’t exist without anchor tenants; in fact, they don’t begin development until anchor tenants are signed to long-term leases. We go to the mall for the big stores, but while we are there, we stop at the numerous other stores as well. Similarly, would you go to Orlando if Disney World wasn’t there? Most people say no, insulting 140 other attractions. But those other attractions have no problem with Disney getting all the glory; Disney is Orlando’s “anchor tenant” and all 140 attractions benefit from them being there. And Disney is thrilled they are there making Orlando one of the world’s most visited destinations.

    The same applies to downtowns. Your “anchors” bring people downtown, but everyone around them benefits from the increased foot traffic and spending. This held true in Ottawa, Illinois; when they produced their best of brochure some people complained that they weren’t included. But they soon realized they were getting more business because the anchor tenants brought the customers downtown to their storefronts.



    2. Ottawa, Illinois saw their hotel occupancies increase dramatically as a result of handing out their Best Of brochure at the nearby state park. People at the park chose to spend the night in Ottawa rather than heading back home to Chicago – the major market they were trying to attract. And EVERYONE, not just the anchor tenants benefited. Alpena, Michigan just followed suit with their Best Of brochure to great success. Let us know and we’ll send you a copy or a PDF file of what their brochure looks like.

    3. The vetting process is very deliberate and everyone, if they raise the bar, can and should be included. In Ottawa, non-selected businesses said, “That was the best money I never spent!” When people came into the shops featured in the brochure, they went into their shops as well, even though they weren’t featured. Here’s a sample of the criteria you might use:

    – They must have good curb appeal.
    – They must be open at least six days a week and the day they can be closed is Monday.
    – They must have good curb appeal.
    – They must be open until at least 7:00 pm. (70% of retail spending now takes place after 6:00 pm).
    – They must be highly regarded by someone other than themselves: 80+% positive reviews on TripAdvisor, UrbanSpoon, Yelp, and other peer review sites or have been written up in regional magazines and a “must visit” place to shop, dine or see.

    4. Even with restaurants, visitors will choose a variety of establishments; they won’t always eat at the same place three meals a day. If people see there is a good selection of restaurants, and more people are coming downtown, every restaurant will benefit from the increase in visitors.

    5. Promoting anchor tenants brings people into town that might not otherwise go out of their way to visit your downtown. Once people come and get out of their cars, you have a four times greater chance of getting them to spend money. That’s why you promote your anchors; they are the “teaser” to entice people downtown, just as in a shopping mall. Most people don’t head to the mall specifically for Radio Shack or a Hallmark Store, but once there, they will easily stop in. These merchants ride the coattails of the anchor tenants! Think Orlando and Disney World.

    6. No mall, and no downtown, can survive without anchor tenants. We know, we’ve worked in thousands of towns and the ones that are dying have no anchor tenants – a business where people will go out of their way, specifically, to visit.

    7. In your Best Of guide, make sure you ONLY promote your anchor tenants, not everyone in town. It should include your top three to five restaurants, your top three to five retail shops, and your top three to five activities. Each of them MUST be worth a special trip of perhaps 45 minutes or so. Your guide might include anywhere from a dozen Best Of establishments, on up to perhaps 24 or so places. Do NOT include lodging since you want them to hand the guide to their guests and they don’t like promoting their competitors. Remember that the number one asked question at any front desk is “where’s a good place to eat?” Sometimes that’s followed up with “And don’t just hand me a list. Where would you eat?”

  • Roger Brooks posted an article
    Disney are the masters of branding and product development – and with good reason. see more

    In a lot of my speaking engagements, I use examples from Disney to illustrate points about branding and product development – and with good reason. Disney simply knows how to get it done. They are kings of branding, their marketing is spot on, and when it comes to product development, they have proven time and time again that they have their finger directly on the pulse of what visitors want.

    Never content to rest on their laurels, Disney is at it again, making dramatic changes to their Downtown Disney complex in Walt Disney World, Florida. Already an economic powerhouse, Downtown Disney is capitalizing on the fact that the number one activity of visitors is shopping, dining and entertainment in a pedestrian-friendly setting. In fact, this is where 80% of all non-lodging visitor spending takes place. Even with all the other mega-attractions of Disney World, Downtown Disney has been an economic hit for the company. And it is about to get even better.

    The shopping and dining complex will be renamed “Disney Springs,” and will be designed to evoke a sense of life in the early 1900s. According to Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Park and Resorts, the project will include about 150 world-class stores and restaurants.

    Disney Springs will be divided into four neighborhoods: The Landing, Town Center, WestSide and The Marketplace. As I’ve always said, name your downtown districts. It makes them destinations, not just geographic designations.

    The inspiration for Disney Springs comes from the look and feel of small Florida towns at the turn of the past century. Walt Disney’s parents met and married in the town of Kismet, in Central Florida, in 1888. Staggs said, “In our story, Disney Springs grew up around a series of natural springs here in Florida. It became a thriving community,” and added it will be a place where guests “feel instantly at home.”

    Notice he said, “In our story…” Disney didn’t just throw together a redevelopment plan around the layout of the buildings or the names of the restaurants. They started with a story. One thing Disney is especially adept at is creating an all-encompassing ambiance. They transport you to another world. They are experts at making their attractions and amenities part of an overall experience, and their changes to Downtown Disney will be no exception. They understand well how to make an exceptional “downtown,” and Disney Springs will take their already successful Downtown Disney concept and make it even better.

    Downtowns take note: Disney sets the standard for ALL downtowns. Few of us can spend hundreds of millions of dollars to redevelop our downtowns, but we can learn from Disney’s successes. Disney clearly realizes the value of a pedestrian shopping and dining district. They make the experience as friendly, warm and inviting as possible; this gets people to stay longer and spend more money. Their shops are open well into the evening hours. They include excellent wayfinding. Their downtowns are beautifully landscaped. They orchestrate the business mix. They employ every one of the 20 Ingredients we use in our presentations. And they are putting even more resources into their Downtown project, showing the rest of us a thing or two about where we ought to be putting our own resources.

    A thriving downtown is the heart and soul of a community, and gives both residents and visitors what they really want – a great place to hang out, spend time, and money. Disney knows it and they are working to make their “downtown” even better.

    What about yours? What kind of story does your downtown tell?

  • Article
    Get started on designing a powerful wayfinding system for your community see more

    Here is criteria to consider when issuing a Wayfinding RFQ:

    – The more experience a firm has in designing wayfinding programs for cities (specifically) the better. If they provide city branding services, that’s even better because they will understand the link between wayfinding devices and supporting a brand. More importantly, if a wayfinding designer understands how to support a brand within the signage this will help create a sense of place for the visitor.

    – Avoid advertising agencies. They will claim to know how to do city branding and/or wayfinding and can be very convincing. Print designers are accustomed to working in 2 dimensional formats. It is rare they understand how to apply graphics to a 3D element that appropriately conveys the right message to the right audience. For this reason, it is best to avoid designers who only specialize in print and web-based design.

    – Avoid architects for this same reason. Some have inhouse wayfinding departments, but your best bet is working with a design firm that offers branded wayfinding as their specialty.

    – Avoid fabricators who offer design build services. Fabricators will design a system that is within their ability to fabricate and not to best represent the needs of the city and their brand.

    – A wayfinding designer should be fully versed with the MUTCD guide book used by the DOT.

    – They must be collaborative and be willing to bring the client into the design process.

    – The more a designer is familiar with fabrication techniques, the better.

    – A competent designer will be able to provided several preliminary concepts for consideration.

    – The designer should be bonded.

    – If possible, make sure that a senior designer with 10+ years is on the project and driving design. Wayfinding is not learned in college, nor is it learned in just a few years on the job.

    – Look at the designer’s portfolio of work. See if the samples clearly convey a brand. The more diverse their portfolio, the better they will work to find a solution that is specific to your needs.

    – A wayfinding designer should have experience in dealing with the public. Sometimes the public has to be won over or consensus has to be achieved.

    – The designer must be accessible, not necessarily geographically, but within a quick email, phone call or video conference.

    – Ask a prospective designer about their wayfinding process. They should practice the basic 5-step approach:

    1. Research/Planning/Programming
    2. Concept Generation
    3. Design Development
    4. Documentation
    5. Production Management

    Within this process, they should recommend the creation of one or more full size mockups prior to documentation.

    They should also include an Estimate of Probable Cost in their process.

    View a sample of Holland, Michigan’s RFQ

    View a sample of Glen Ellyn, Illinois’ RFQ

    This should help you get started with designing a powerful wayfinding system for your community. If you have any other examples, thoughts or questions, let us know!

  • What is the first impression you give to visitors when they come into town? see more

    Gateway Signs are road signs that border your community or downtown district and introduce and welcome visitors. They are typically placed at the city or county limits and, more often than not, are in locations that offer a less-than desirable first impression of the community. When we see that sign, we’re going to judge you by what we see around it, and just after it. What does that “first impression” say about you?


    Rule: Put your gateway signs where you will make the best first impression. Rarely is that at your city limits.

    Have you ever wondered why residential sub-division developers spend so much money on their entrances? Look at the photo below. Are you thinking “Oh, another mobile home park”?




    Probably not. But let’s address WHY they would spend this kind of money on an elaborate gateway when they are in the business of selling lots or homes. Signs like this:

    • Create a sense of place and quality—you obviously didn’t think was a mobile home park.

    • Creates pride of ownership. When you come home, you’re proud to live here.

    • Gets your attention as you drive by—and that sells real estate faster.

    • Conveys the community’s image—a high-quality place to live.

    • Increases property value—it elevates your “perceived value” of the lots and homes here.

    • It helps the community stand out from others.

    Every single one of these reasons applies to your community gateways signs. They don’t have to be expensive, as in this example, but they do need to be attractive, well maintained, large enough to make a statement about you, and introduce the community as a great location where the response is automatic: “Wow. This is a nice place!”

    And, by the way, these rules also apply to all of you in business. Your business sign is your best introduction to potential customers. Make it count!

  • Why should you want to be known as a great destination for multi-generational travelers? see more

    Why should you want to be known as a great destination for multi-generational travelers?

    No traveling family group spends more and stays longer than multi-generational travelers. And this group spreads the word about their plans and experiences via social media faster and more frequently than any other set of travelers.

    By 2020 there will be 90 million ACTIVE grandparents in the U.S. and Canada alone. And, more than ever, grandparents are making time with their grandkids their top priority—including vacation trips, shorter day-long excursions, and weekend getaways.

    Typically, the grandparents and their kids select the destination, and then grandma does the bulk of the planning. You can guess who’s footing the lion’s share of the bill.

    When you cater to this incredible trend (which will be around for the next 20+ years), here are some rules to use in your marketing and product development efforts:

    • Make sure your experiences are kid-friendly. These travelers want unforgettable adventures for the entire family to enjoy together.
    • Outline kids’ activities by age group: age 2-5, age 6-8, age 9-12, and age 13-17.
    • Opportunities to learn something needs to be a key factor in what you offer.
    • Make it easy to plan with customizable, multi-night itineraries, package deals, and most importantly—“All Inclusive” options.
    • Brainstorm itinerary ideas like river or lake cruises, adventure trips—rafting, ballooning, jeep tours, fishing, interactive science exhibits or wildlife safaris. The more detailed the itinerary, the more likely you are to immediately close the sale.
    • Offer different lodging options—grandparents may want upscale resort amenities while parents might need condo or AirBnB type facilities.
    • Provide bikes, rafts, canoes and other recreational equipment at lodging facilities.
    • Create photo and video libraries geared to the kids.
    • Your website should include “while you’re here” itinerary suggestions, links to accommodations/restaurants, and activity duration estimates.

    It takes a lot of effort, schedule managing, and coordination of individual preferences to plan a multi-generational trip. The easier you make it, the more effective your success will be. Check out the Road Scholar website under Intergenerational to get ideas to help create effective itineraries.

    Start your multi-gen marketing efforts by developing these “transformative” experiences and formulating itineraries for each season. Build excitement by developing short videos and photography showcasing the primary activities. Work with your local businesses to develop packages (with a range of options)—make sure pricing is transparent.

    Give those who visit your website a “Chat Now” or “Live Chat” option to assist with travel planning, especially during evenings (at least a few days a week) and weekends when most planning is occurring.

    Multi-generational travelers spend more, stay longer, accommodate more rooms, and tell more people via social media than any other travel group. And, in the process, they also introduce a new generation to you so that when THEY grow up, they can take THEIR kids and grandkids to the places they remember from their youth. A true win-win.

  • What do you do if your downtown looks as if it ought to have tumbleweeds rolling down the street? see more

    The heart of a community is downtown, but what do you do if your downtown looks as if it ought to have tumbleweeds rolling down the street, rather than a steady stream of people? It can seem overwhelming at first, but the truth is, injecting life into your downtown can be broken into some simple steps, each of which will lead you towards creating that vibrant, exciting downtown that attracts the locals and brings in visitors.

    Here are 3 “first steps” to bringing your downtown back to life:

    1. Start by developing a plaza area, a central gathering place. Then use it – program it with activities, events and vendors. Make sure there is something to do. This will start bringing people downtown.

    2. Add a permanent, year-round public market – and make sure it is open during evening hours. Farmers markets are HUGE right now, with growing demand for local and organic food, and a market can provide opportunities for more than just selling produce. Entertainment, gifts, and events will help round out the dynamic experience of a great market.

    3. Start recruiting restaurants. Food is the number one draw to downtowns, after activities and events. Get people coming downtown, and add in some great restaurants, and more people will follow.

    How do you deal with the fact that people aren’t downtown now? It is a bit of a cliché, but its truth holds – if you build it, they will come. Banks don’t like this philosophy, but it’s true. We’ve seen it everywhere we go. If you give people a reason to go downtown, they will look for places they can spend time and money.

    Focus on after work hours and weekends to start. It is critical that there be things to do when people are out and about, enjoying their leisure time. Once people are downtown, they will start looking for places to eat, play and spend time. The retail will follow. Great businesses to start with include:

    – A couple of coffee shops

    – A small bookstore that also sells magazines, floral arrangements, and some gifts. It should have seating areas and should sell coffee, tea or drinks and small food items.

    – A deli (for the lunchtime crowd)

    – A baker or butcher – these are very popular and are coming back to downtowns

    – A stationary store

    – Then a couple sit-down restaurants that serve inexpensive meals that will attract people downtown for all three meals. We’re not necessarily talking fine dining, but a great gathering place.

    – Invite food trucks and similar vendors downtown to get it all started.

    If your downtown is faltering (and so many of them are) it can seem like a daunting task to get things turned around. But we’ve seen it time and time again – if you give people a reason to come, they do. People are looking for great places to hang out and feel connected to their community. Activities and events in a central gathering place, a permanent market and some great places to eat are a great way to get started. They’ll attract people to your downtown and get the ball rolling – and once it starts, you’ll be surprised at how much momentum will build and how quickly that ball will fly.

  • Here are four things to consider before you spend big resources on your visitor information center. see more

    Does your community sport a fancy visitor information center? Are you thinking about remodeling, revamping, or rebuilding yours? Here are four things to consider before you spend big resources on your visitor information center.

    1. With the abundance of cell phones, smart phones, tablets, and mobile computing, visitor centers are becoming less relevant. People can do so much of their planning and research online and stay connected even when they’re away from home. There is less of a need for a physical building with staff for people to get information;  it is all at the tip of their fingers wherever they are.

    2. Add up all the costs of your VIC, including staffing, insurance, taxes, rent, Internet access, utilities, supplies, everything. Then divide by the number of visitors that use the center. In many cases, about half the people using the VIC are locals using it to get information about other areas. Eliminate this group and then calculate your cost per visitor. Chances are pretty good that the cost far outweighs the benefit.

    3. However, there is still a need for visitor information services! There are other ways to keep information available and easy to access for visitors, while freeing up funds and resources for other things. Visitor information can be available in a retail store or in kiosks. Check out the portable, seasonal kiosks used in Banff – they can use these during the summer and store them in the winter.

































    4. Definitely utilize visitor information kiosks, whether permanent or seasonal. These can include brochure distribution and QR codes. These should be in various locations, and ALWAYS in the heart of the spending district(s).

    Bottom line? Invest your money where you will get the most return on that investment. In most cases, that will be in product development, rather than visitor information centers. Make your community stand out and deliver on the promise of your brand – that will do more to encourage visitors and spending than any visitor information center could.

  • Article
    A well-designed system lets your guests know what you have to offer and how to find it, day or night see more

    “Christopher Columbus did not stop at convenience stores for directions, and neither will we.” Everyone knows real men don’t ask for directions! These days we use GPS. Technology is cool. Having to actually ask someone for help is embarrassing, and at times even finding someone around to ask is difficult.

    Having worked in nearly 1,000 communities, we can tell you that finding places is by far our biggest frustration. What should be a pleasant experience becomes an exasperating exercise as we drive around, map in hand, wondering why so many communities treat their top amenities as “hidden treasures.”

    Frustrated visitors spend less time and less money than those that find the places they are looking for, and they seldom come back for repeat visits. You can spend millions of dollars marketing your destination, but if we can’t find what you’re selling, we decide to move on to the next thing. And, we’re gone.

    We don’t have much patience in this world of immediate gratification, and why should we waste our vacation or business trip time wandering around in uncharted territory, desperately trying to find our destination?

    Visitor centers are one answer. But national statistics show only five percent of visitors ever stop at an information center. That is, IF they can find it and IF it happens to be open.

    Enter the age of 24/7 “Wayfinding”—a system of signs, gateways, banners and kiosks that helps visitors connect the dots and find their way around, making for a pleasant experience, extended stays in your community and additional spending.

    A well-designed system lets your guests know what you have to offer and how to find it—day or night. Your front-line employees will also benefit from your visitors being able to find directions with ease. Their interactions will be with visitors who are not frustrated and angry from arriving too late for the last tour.

    A comprehensive wayfinding system includes the following:

    • Pedestrian wayfinding signage at key locations—downtown districts, attractions,etc.
    • Vehicular or roadway directional signage
    • Decorative pole banners
    • Decorative crosswalks
    • Visitor information kiosks and displays
    • Community and downtown gateways
    • Amenities signage—restrooms, parking, information
    • Services signage—police, fire, hospital, municipal offices
    • Marquee signage at specific locations—attractions, parks, museums, cultural arts facilities, government offices,etc.

    The best wayfinding systems do much more than simply guide people to their destinations. They make locals and visitors feel at home and welcome. Great wayfinding enhances the ambiance and attractiveness of your community, and it builds and promotes your community’s brand or theme.

  • Article
    The best brands are built on product, not marketing. see more

    Brands are built on product, not marketing. Think for a minute about the automobile that best goes with the word “safety.” Which manufacturer would you think best goes with that word?

    If you thought Volvo, then you’ve just dated yourself, but you are also correct. In the 60s and 70s Volvo was highly regarded as the safest car on the road. And it had earned that brand. When it was crash-tested and rated by the federal government and consumer organizations, it got top honors. Volvo jumped on that as a point of differentiation and it set the car maker apart from everyone else.

    Volvo was able to “deliver on the promise.” The shining ratings it had received meant this claim was more than justified.

    Brands are ALWAYS built on product. Great product sells itself. Think the shops in Carmel, California. The wind surfing in Hood River, Oregon. The golf at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Theater in New York City. Music in Branson, Missouri. Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Wine in Napa Valley. Water parks in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin. Warm beaches in Hawaii. Skiing at Lake Tahoe.

    Everyone of these areas is built on product and well known for their product—not their marketing.

    A brand is a promise, and that promise is built on product—what it is you are selling or promoting. You must have the activities, amenities and ambiance that fulfill your brand promise. Would Napa Valley be the winery capital of the U.S. if it didn’t have a large number of excellent wineries and other activities and amenities to back up that claim?

    The bottom line: You have to BE what you say you are. You MUST deliver on the promise. And, by the way, you can never rest on your laurels. Product development never ends. If you own a brand, you can bet that someone, somewhere is gunning for you.

  • An example of taking the experience from great to unforgettable see more

    When you can “evoke emotion” you’ll never be forgotten. And it increases the value of the experience. As long as it’s safe!

    Mounted to the face of a sheer cliff 3,900 feet from the valley floor (1,180 meters), and nearly 900 feet long (266 meters), is a glass walkway that has a little extra zing, making an already terrifying experience one you’ll never forget. And, in the process, it creates a social media frenzy. This one-minute video has been seen by nearly ten million viewers. Now that’s an amazing marketing program that didn’t cost a dime!


    Hang on to your chair and watch this one in full-screen mode. Then make your reservations for an experience you will NEVER forget.


  • Article
    Anchor tenants make you worth a special trip and an extended stay. Everyone will benefit from them. see more

    In this video blog, Roger presents the rule of anchor tenants. You must have anchor tenants in your community or downtown if you want to be a destination. They make you worth a special trip and an extended stay. Everyone will benefit from them. Think Orlando and Disney World. Enjoy and apply!