Pinehurst Off Course - In a Good Way
Tim and Carla St. Germain moved to Pinehurst a few years ago from Vail, Colo.
When people think Vail, they think skiing, and indeed it once was a winter tourist town. But that city has transformed itself into a year-round destination by thinking outside the ski slopes.
"People came for the winter and stayed for the summer," Carla St. Germain said.
The two believe that Pinehurst, similarly, has much more to offer than just golf and, in that respect, are seeking to chart a different course for the village.
"Our goal is we want people to come here almost any weekend and be able to have fun, interesting events that are tailored to the personality of the area," she said.
Right now, they say, "There are not enough activities to do if you are not a golfer.
The St. Germains are working in concert with Natalie Dean, assistant village manager, and others to help promote Pinehurst as a destination that has more to do than just golf.
Obviously golf is a well-served market. Pinehurst is, after all, the "Home of American Golf." And it will make golf history in 2014 when Pinehurst Resort's No. 2 golf course becomes the first to host the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open in back-to-back weeks.
But the rest of the Pinehurst's rich history and unique facilities - think Harness Track, village center and the Arboretum - have been overshadowed a bit.
Dean is spearheading a multi-pronged marketing and advertising campaign at the behest of the Village Council that she hopes will be able to showcase Pinehurst as more than a golf destination.
"We allocated $100,000 to marketing this year," said Village Manager Andy Wilkison. "We have not budgeted anything in the past, so this is all new money."
That money has gone to photography, partnering with the Convention and Visitors Bureau and the resort to promote the village.
The village of Pinehurst is working with the CVB, a local advertising agency, a video production crew and local volunteers who generate ideas like a local walking tour booklet featuring historic sites in the downtown area.
Dean admits that the village is trying a variety of strategies in hopes of finding a few successes.
"This year we are just kind of figuring it out," she said. "We rely on the CVB and the resort to bring in golfers. Our purpose is to market our village center as a retail and historic center."
The village started to zero in on its marketing message thanks primarily to two events that happened last year, Dean said.
One was a report by the North Carolina Downtown Development Association that indicated the village of Pinehurst should do more with its downtown center. The second was the village's long-range planning efforts.
"Both of those processes pointed us in the direction we are going now," Dean said.
Dean said the village council and the village staff recognized that the Pinehurst name is a great asset.
"We realized we needed to brand ourselves," she said. "We had to determine our image and determine what makes us special. It's more than just marketing and advertising; it is about the image we are presenting. When people see it they'll say, 'There's that special place.'"
Since those meetings, the village has created its own brand and now includes it on all marketing and advertising pieces.
Dean said that in the next fiscal year, marketing efforts will focus on reaching statewide residents from the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte, which is where most of the area's in-state overnight guests come from.
"We also want to expand our marketing efforts to including marketing the Fair Barn and the Arboretum to be consistent with our overall village marketing strategy," she said.
Key to marketing the village successfully is having access to quality shopping and more quality events.
Dean said consultants have told the village it lacks the critical mass in its business community to be a regular draw for locals and guests. The village is currently working with a consultant on a strategy to revive the area just outside downtown known as Village Place. One key piece to that puzzle could be bringing in a business - a microbrewery is being pursued - to the old Steam Plant building. An announcement on a new tenant could be forthcoming in a matter of weeks, Dean said.
She has also worked to develop relationships with the business community and the downtown merchants to let them know that the village has their best interest at heart, and do things that will make people say, "I want to come back."
There are now quarterly merchant meetings that are used primarily to provide information and gather feedback. That is something that hasn't occurred previously.
"I can't say interactions in the past were bad," Dean said, "but I can say the village just didn't take a proactive role in development."
Tim and Carla St. Germain are two key individuals who aid Dean's efforts by bringing folks downtown through a variety of events.
The St. Germains are history buffs and have, with the help of funding from the village, tried to create events in town that can sustain themselves and grow over time. These events include Annie Oakley Days, the Carriage Horse Parade, Wine Walks in the spring and fall, and a Stocking Stuffer event over the Christmas holidays.
"We (Pinehurst) have our own unique brand of charm, and we want to share that with everyone," Carla St. Germain said.
Last weekend, the St. Germains helped put on the Wine and Chocolate Affair, an event that featured wine and food flavored with chocolate. The event, like many the St. Germains organize, was held in downtown and built around the downtown businesses. The events are aimed at drawing locals and tourists to town for an extended weekend.
"We try to do events after 5 p.m.," Tim said. "That way it's new business and the evening entertainment that we lack. And we don't want to cannibalize the good things. We want different ideas so we can draw a different crowd of people."
Getting the downtown merchants to buy in and open their stores up later in the evening and on weekends wasn't easy.
"We had to paint a picture of success that we hoped would entice them to participate," Carla St. Germain said. "Many were very skeptical at first, but they were willing to take a leap of faith with us ... in the end it turned out fabulous for them."
Said Dean, "The benefit of these local events is that it gets people downtown and into buildings like the Theater Building, and gets them into local shops. The basic objective is to increase exposure and hopefully create some repeat customers."
Pat Corso, executive director of Moore County Partners in Progress, called the work the St. Germains are doing "bootstrap marketing," and said their efforts, combined with the work of Dean and so many others, should have a positive impact on Pinehurst.
"If you have a tie-in with the right things, that helps draw that younger demographic, and the more of those things you do, you get more of that desired demographic to come here and ultimately want to live here," he said.
Corso said it is imperative for the everyone in the village to promote it because the days of sitting back and waiting for folks to come is over.
"You can't live off your laurels; you have to keep changing to adapt," Corso said. "It's not easy. You have to work at it."
One of the first events to bring people downtown, Pinehurst Live After 5, was organized by a group of business owners. The monthly event, patterned after Southern Pines' successful First Fridays, is a family-friendly event featuring music from local bands, and it has grown steadily since it started three years ago.
"That event was really a catalyst that showed us if you bring a quality event downtown, people will come," Tim St. Germain said.
Another event, Taste of Pinehurst, also brought people into the village.
Mayor Nancy Fiorillo said things in Pinehurst are changing.
"We used to be a community where they rolled up the sidewalks at 6 p.m. every weekend," Fiorillo said. "Not anymore. The community has really bought into all the things we are doing.
"I think our efforts (to market the village) have been very successful. The merchants are never going to be 100 percent happy with all the events we hold, but overall I think they are happy because we are bringing people into their stores."
Another pleasant marketing surprise was the historic walking tour booklet that was the idea of Pinehurst resident Jack Farrell.
Farrell worked with the Tufts Archives and the village to create a booklet that highlights numerous historic buildings in and around the downtown area. It also has a map and a walking tour route.
"Those booklets have been very, very successful," Dean said.
Dean and the St. Germains said they have plenty of plans to expand marketing efforts through the use of technology in the future, but for now they are concentrating on delivering a clear, simple message.
"If you like golf, great, but if you don't like to golf, this is a historic community. If you're not a history buff, then there is the Arboretum and our walking trails, or the Fair Barn or the Harness Track," Dean said.
"There is plenty to do."
Contact Tom Embrey at (910) 693-2484 or tembrey @thepilot.com.
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