Jackson County

Gautier is ‘tracking your phone’ to see how you shop, mayor says

Gautier Mayor Phil Torjusen discusses the value of older but popular retail developments. This one houses DeLo’s Coffee, Freckles Ice Cream and Bakery, Baywood Travel and Tux near the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College campus.
Gautier Mayor Phil Torjusen discusses the value of older but popular retail developments. This one houses DeLo’s Coffee, Freckles Ice Cream and Bakery, Baywood Travel and Tux near the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College campus. klnelson@sunherald.com

When fishing for retailers, you can go prepared with data or you can just hope something jumps in the boat, Mayor Phil Torjusen said.

Gautier has gotten prepared.

The city hired R360 Consulting out of Birmingham, Alabama, to do what it calls a super study of the city’s shopping habits — a total analysis on where Gautier residents go and how they spend their money.

And now they have a target list of retailers to go after.

The company charted just how much money is leaving Gautier — $52 million a year for groceries elsewhere, $19 million for restaurants, $19 million for clothes, $15 million for sporting goods, $11 million for furniture and so on.

A total of $214 million leaves Gautier every year, when its residents shop elsewhere.

Since Gautier is sort of a bedroom community, some of that is expected, especially since the Singing River Mall closed.

But by breaking down the data, R360 and Gautier are able to compile information retailers need to make investment decisions.

They’re using facts to lure retailers.

“We can show a retailer, ‘We have a market for your product,’” Torjusen said. “Here’s the location that’s perfect and this is the traffic count out front.”

“It’s like no other retail demographic study I’ve seen,” he said. “They’re tracking your phone morning, afternoon and night ... tracking your spending habits. It’s called UberRetail mobile data. It’s legal.”

“It’s the tool that you need to do true economic development,” he said “It’s the tool we’ve been missing.”

A little side fact they learned — Ocean Springs residents shop the Gautier Lowe’s instead of the Lowe’s in D’Iberville.

City Manager Paula Yancey found the firm and presented it to the city. The study was done during the last election and a first pass of the report was finished within 60 days, Torjusen said. The initial cost, $25,000, was covered by a grant. The city has also contracted with R360 for $10,000 to promote the city this year and has options to rehire the company for $30,000 a year in the coming years.

He favors staying with the consultant professionals.

“They know a lot of retailers and they pitch our city,” Torjusen said. “They know who is on the move and who’s not, much better than we do.”

It’s much cheaper than hiring a part-time economic development person.

Any incentives or developer commissions the company might make won’t be paid for by the city.

Torjusen has high hopes the consultants will lure retailers to the old Singing River Mall property, which is now vacant.

He said the city will share the retail data it has with developers as well. (Torjusen, who is a Realtor, said he consulted state authorities on how to legally keep his real estate business separate from any city development.)

It’s the most positive and hopeful thing that has come to Gautier economic development in years, said Councilman Casey Vaughan.

And it makes Gautier look good.

Gautier by the numbers:

  • 19,400 population
  • 7,555 households
  • $61,140 average household income
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