Wilde Lake merchants seeking help from their customers

September 25, 1996|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

In its first customer satisfaction survey, the Wilde Lake Village Center Merchants' Association is seeking customers' opinions to find ways to bolster the shopping center.

The survey, to be distributed beginning this week in the center's stores, will ask such questions as: Do you feel safe at the village center? Is the parking area well-lighted? What do you like about the center?

The effort comes with merchants' revenues shrinking and 20 percent of the center's storefronts vacant, vacancies that will grow after the planned closure of a NationsBank branch at the end of October. The center is Columbia's oldest.

"There is a feeling that this village center is in trouble," said Bill Miller, owner of Today's Catch Seafood and treasurer of the merchants' group. "We need to go to the customers and find out what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong. There is a strong sentiment that we don't want to end up in the same situation that other village centers are in."

Steve Girard, owner of the Bagel Bin which has been in the Wilde Lake Village Center for 15 years, said revenues at his shop have leveled off in recent years, indicating that customers are taking their business elsewhere. This year, his profits have fallen for the first time.

"Some merchants are concerned about this," Girard said. "Some are hesitating about renewing their leases."

The customer satisfaction survey, developed by a professional marketing group that was hired by the merchants, will provide hard data about customers' desires -- data intended to replace the pool of anecdotal information business owners now have, Miller said.

The survey will seek answers from all customers, not just those who live in Wilde Lake village. It can be returned to merchants between now and the end of the year.

In terms of square footage, the village center's vacancy rate is just 9 percent, according to Wayne Christmann, general manager of Columbia Management Inc., which handles the property. Christmann said that an undisclosed renter has indicated interest in the location to be vacated by NationsBank.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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