Editorials by Robert Kirwan

Opening of Hart Department Store Is A Perfect Example Of The Tipping Point Philosophy And Helps Explain Why Valley East Is Poised For Even More Growth In The Future

Years ago a social scientist by the name of Malcolm Gladwell, identified "The Tipping Point" philosophy to explain a number of major trends which had profound effects on society. Gladwell explained that the Tipping Point philosophy is based on the belief that changes in behaviour or perception can reach a critical mass and then suddenly create a whole new reality. The most important thing in trying to analyse whether something is at the verge of a tipping point is whether it (an event) causes people to reframe an issue.

At this time I would like to submit that the opening of the Hart Department Store on March 30, 2005 in the Hanmer Valley Shopping Centre, will in fact be identified as a "tipping point" in the history of Valley East. To understand why I make this suggestion, you only have to examine what has happened in this community as it has grown over the past thirty years.

Since 1971, the total population of the Sudbury Region has declined by about 10%. During that period of time, however, the population of Valley East has increased by 25%. By comparison, the population of the old City of Sudbury has dropped by 15%.

Also, since 1971, the number of households in the entire Sudbury Region increased by 48%. Valley East, however, experienced an increase of 106% in the number of households - more than double that of the region. The old City of Sudbury grew by only 37%.

Today Valley East has the largest average household size in the entire region with 2.9 people per household. This is directly related to the fact that a large number of young families have chosen Valley East as the ideal community in which to raise their children.

There are a number of social science explanations for the growth of Valley East in terms of population and households while the economic expansion in terms of retail centres seems to have been focused in the old City of Sudbury. In fact, the more big box retail expansion the City of Sudbury experiences, the faster its population declines as people, especially young people, move outside to the "satellite" communities like Valley East to get away from the congestion.

The reasons are obvious. People want space. They are tired of feeling crowded. They are tired of constantly being tied up in traffic jams; bumping shoulder to shoulder with thousands of shoppers in the large retail outlets; and getting the sense that they are merely a number in the scheme of things.

People also want to be recognized! They want others to accept them as a real person with real needs and feelings. You donít get that in larger cities or in mega shopping centres.

Michael Hart, President and CEO of Hart Department Stores saw this. Val Mazzuca, owner of the Hanmer Valley Shopping Centre saw this. And after I read Malcolm Gladwellís book, I could see it plain as day. The critical mass had been reached in Valley East. The community is filled with people who are fed up with the hustle and bustle of big cities and big stores where you lose your identity and become a number. Todayís generation wants to experience the "good old days" of their parents where store owners knew your name and would spend time talking to you about just about everything. The "good old days" where you felt like the store owner truly "cared about you as a person", not just for your money.

But todayís generation also wants the benefits of the "big stores". They want to have plenty of selection, low prices and high quality. In other words, they want "good old days" treatment with "modern day" mega-store pricing and selection. This was the illusive dream.

Up until March 30, 2005, residents of Valley East had been lukewarm when it came to supporting retail outlets in the community. The predominant trend was to shop locally when all other options were exhausted, or when time simply didnít permit anything else. The bulk of shopping dollars still flowed to the big retail centres in the City of Sudbury, much to the dismay of small business owners in Valley East.

It only took a single day in the hundred year history of Valley East to change everything. On March 30, 2005, the people of Valley East suddenly "reframed the issue of local retail shopping". Suddenly, their behaviour has been changed to create a whole new reality. That reality is that the retail choices in Valley East are indeed excellent. The selection is tremendous; the quality is great; and the prices are the best around. Furthermore, many residents are shocked to discover that the excellent selection, quality and prices are not limited to this one new store, but that all stores in Valley East do the same.

Therefore, what Hart Department Store has done for Valley East is force people to take a good, hard look at the entire retail business community. What people have found is that Valley East is not only the best place to raise a family, it is also the best place for them to do the majority of their shopping. The slogan, "If you canít find it in Valley East, you donít need it!" will soon become a rallying cry. People will shop locally if they can get what they need. Valley East has always offered people what they needed, but residents couldnít see this. The opening of a major chain like Hart was all that was needed to "draw the attention" of residents. Now that they have seen the whole picture, the flow of money outside Valley East will be greatly reduced. The support of local businesses will lead to more expansion in the near future and Valley East will thrive.

The timing for introducing the Hart Department Store couldnít have been better. The population in Valley East is growing. The growth is being driven by young people who are searching for a better quality of life and who want to feel as if they are valued as individuals when they shop. The rapid, almost out of control growth of the big retail centers in the central core of the "City" will actually drive consumers away to outlying communities like Valley East when they discover there is an alternative option.

The opening of the Hart Department Store is the "tipping point". Valley East will no longer be perceived as a community where you can live comfortably, but where you canít buy the things you need to survive. The new reality is that Valley East has everything you need, and, moreover, you feel like your business is valued.

Now that we have pushed past the "tipping point" the economic expansion will explode. Within the next several months, we will be hearing about a number of other major retail outlets which will be setting up in Valley East. The future looks good.

The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Read it if you can. It makes sense.

Until the next time...


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