Tupelo — Texas native Kelly Cofer never intended to settle down in Tupelo. But the small Northeast Mississippi city turned out to be very fertile ground for growing a thriving national consulting firm — and for raising a family.
Soon after Cofer earned a business degree from Texas A&M University, he headed to Dallas to hone his skills in retail real estate, where he met Tupelo native Kathy Godwin. After the duo wed, Cofer received an offer to handle retail real estate site selection and market analysis work for Tupelo-based Hancock Fabrics (NYSE: HKF), which now has more than 400 stores in 42 states.
“It turned out beautifully for us to move to Kathy’s hometown,” said Cofer. “Tupelo is such a great place to live.”
In 1995, Cofer established The Cofer Group, a commercial real estate firm specializing in the retail sector. Two years later, Cofer earned the prestigious CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) designation. (Only approximately 6% of the nation’s commercial realtors hold a CCIM designation.)
Cofer continued expanding the consulting side of his business — helping communities define their trade area and recruits retailers — counting Tupelo’s Community Development Foundation as a client. The city of 35,000 has attracted a bevy of national retailers and restaurants that continue to crop up around the Mall at Barnes Crossing, one of the top revenue-generating shopping malls in Mississippi.
“I use Tupelo as an example of a community that has had great success growing its market,” said Cofer. “I tell community leaders not to underestimate their community’s potential because if they can justify a trade area that’s much larger than their city, county or zip code indicates, they too can be successful.”
Five years ago, Cofer met developers Greg Haag and Roddy Thrasher of Jonesboro, Ark., at a trade conference in Atlanta and “knew immediately that professionally, we clicked,” he said.
“We worked together on several projects regionally and nationally, and about eight months ago decided to form a partnership,” said Cofer. “By combining their development experience and my retail background, we established an incredible and immediate network.”
From its offices in Tupelo and Jonesboro, Ark., the new firm, Cofer Haag & Thrasher (CH&T), primarily handles community analysis and development for local governments and economic development organizations representing communities with populations ranging from 4,000 to 60,000.
Among the firm’s services: retail trade area determination and analysis, psychographic and demographic profiling, community marketing and packaging, community presentation to targeted retailers and development and redevelopment analysis.
“We found that many communities do a great job recruiting industry, but because it’s such a different business, they’re challenged when it comes to recruiting retailers and restaurants,” said Cofer. “They don’t know the correct procedure, and that’s where we’ve stepped in. For example, in Angleton, Texas, near Houston, we identified about 50 retailers and restaurants the community could pursue, and we were able to help them land Chili’s restaurant, which will open by December. Another seven or eight retailers are really excited about coming to the marketplace.”
A common mistake that communities make is accurately determining its trade area, said Cofer.
“You’d be shocked at the number of communities that are underselling themselves,” he said. “For example, a community of 35,000 may tell restaurants and retailers that their trade area is 35,000 when, in fact, it’s much larger when you count the people who drive in to work, shop or go to school.”
For example, in The Colony, Texas, the population is 37,452, but the primary trade area population is 64,450. Further research by CH&T showed the average household income was $95,285, and per capita income was $31,699. With a median age of 31.1, the trade area population by race/ethnicity was 79% white, 5.25% black and 16.6% Hispanic.
“The larger the trade area, the more retailers and restaurants the community can support,” he said. “However, community leaders need to quickly be able to justify the numbers. If a retailer with an office in the Northeast calls to ask specifics, they’ve got to be able to rattle off the geographic boundaries of the trade area and all other relevant data.”
Many communities are benefiting from CH&T’s retail leakage analysis, which analyzes 52 retail sectors — from shoe shops to lumber and building supply stores — to determine where retail dollars are being lost, said Cofer.
“Then the leakage analysis is used by economic developers as a tool to recruit retailers and by lenders to make good decisions on business loans,” he said.
After analysis work is completed, CH&T contacts national retailers and restaurants on behalf of the community “and can usually get an immediate yes, no or maybe,” said Cofer. “We can determine rather quickly the potential for a community and because we know the retailers and restaurants and they know us, we can get through quickly where others cannot. That separates us from the competition.”
Cofer, who grew up in Corsicana, Texas, a community of 34,000 located between Dallas and Houston, has been racking up mileage on his automobile touring south Texas, an area that “has grown like crazy,” he said. His wife, Kathy, and their nine-year-old son, Kyle, a fourth grader, joined him for a working vacation just before the fall semester started.
“It’s hot in Texas, that’s for sure,” he said with a chuckle, adding that the temperature was 99 degrees on August 2.
In Mississippi, Cofer continues to help Tupelo recruit retailers and restaurants, and has worked with several Mississippi Main Street communities.
“We’re filling a huge void,” said Cofer. “We haven’t run across any community large or small that is not trying to increase its sales tax revenue.”
CH&T has already expanded its list of services. When the trio saw the need for a shopping center in Angleton, they began building a 35,000-square-foot retail facility to attract retailers and restaurants.
“Nobody else was able to step up as quickly as we could,” he said. “We don’t go in every community expecting to do this. We go into a community wanting it to be self-sufficient when we leave, and when we do leave, we give them 12 months of access to us to make sure the transition is smooth.
“We’re retail guys in the consulting business, not consultants in the retail business. And we’re having a ton of fun.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at email@example.com.