Developers Use Street Festivals To Attract Business
CHICAGO — It is a Sunday afternoon and Lincoln Avenue is shut down for six blocks from Fullerton and Halsted, north to Wrightwood and Sheffield for the 35th annual Taste of Lincoln Avenue. Over the course of the weekend the festival — one of the largest in the city — transforms Lincoln Avenue into a concert venue, outdoor dining pavilion, retail shop and community gathering space.
Underneath a canopy tent a block from the festival’s southern entrance is a table manned by two young women, loaded with beer koozies and sunglasses, while a cornhole set bakes in the afternoon sun, waiting for people to play.
This is all to promote Duet, a 31-unit luxury apartment building at 904 and 909 West Montana St., situated along the festival route. A man sees the tent, then stops to chat with the women about the development. He is at the festival for good food and a good time, but he might leave with plans to rent a new apartment.
Chicago is home to over 400 neighborhood festivals from May to September. These festivals highlight the city’s depth of food, music and ethnic customs. They also capture huge audiences, and real estate developers, brokers and property managers are using festivals to promote their upcoming developments, current listings, services and platforms.
Taste of Lincoln Avenue attracts over 70,000 visitors annually and had two developers on its vendor rolls. In addition to Duet, Spaces Real Estate set up a tent at the northern end of the festival. At this year’s Printers Row Lit Fest, an annual book fair in the South Loop, Lendlease had a tent promoting The Cooper at Southbank, a 29-story, 452-unit rental property opening in September. That festival attracts over 100,000 people each year.
Sponsor Chicago President Noreen Smyth, whose group produces Taste of Lincoln Avenue, said having a presence at a street festival is more effective than a TV, radio or internet ad campaign.
“No other form of marketing allows you to talk directly to an audience,” Smyth said.
Susan Beyler, a principal at 33 Realty, said her firm will participate at street festivals near one of its upcoming developments.
“That’s where we see the most value. The majority of people attending street fests live in the neighborhood. They’re familiar with the neighborhood and they’re in our target demographic,” Beyler said.
Beyler said Duet, which 33 Realty is handling leasing and management for developer Blitzlake Partners, will welcome its first wave of renters this week. The representatives manning the tent worked 10-hour shifts handing out branded giveaways and marketing materials, answering questions about Duet’s amenities and unit features and assuring interested renters the building would be ready.
At Taste of Lincoln Avenue’s northern end, Spaces Real Estate had a tent promoting its brokerage services. Spaces Director of Marketing Cory Hanlin said the firm participates in three or four festivals every summer. A combination of marketing reps and brokers work four-hour shifts. For a three-day festival, as many as 20 brokers will work a booth.
“We choose festivals in neighborhoods where we have enough listings to make sense to be there,” Hanlin said.
In addition to leveraging a captive audience, the cost of setting up shop at a street festival is a creative way to stretch a marketing budget. A simple booth sponsorship can run in the low four figures and come with added perks such as preferred placement on-site, or a link to the company on the festival website. Sponsorships at larger festivals like Do-Division in the Ukrainian Village, Taste of Randolph Street in the West Loop and Halsted Street Market Days in Lakeview — which bring in big-name music acts — run into five figures. Hanlin said Spaces prefers to buy booth sponsorships at smaller fests like Taste of Lincoln Avenue because they are quieter and allow for more valuable face-to-face interactions.
The potential return on investment of a booth sponsorship is another contributing factor in real estate firms’ decisions to work a street festival. If a real estate firm pays $2K for a weekend booth sponsorship, and is able to sign two leases at $2,500/month, the firm comes out ahead.
Sometimes companies are simply looking to build ties to the community they call home. McCaffery Interests Marketing Manager for Property Services Megan Warmouth said the firm had a behind-the-scenes presence at Taste of Lincoln Avenue this year, feeding volunteers. McCaffery plans to market Lincoln Common, its redevelopment of the Children's Memorial Hospital campus, at Taste of Lincoln Avenue when it is delivered next year.
McCaffery used All Things Go, a street festival in Washington, D.C.’s Yards Park with an annual attendance of 12,000, to market F1RST Residences, a 325-unit apartment building with ground-level retail across the street from Nationals Park.
“It’s a great way to solidify the relationship we have with the neighborhood. We look at our participation in street festivals as a friendly partner, rather than promoting ourselves,” Warmouth said.
Using Swag As A Lure
But it isn't enough to simply set up a tent. Real estate firms come to street fests armed with free giveaways for people who stop at their booths. Warmouth said McCaffery gave away F1RST-branded sunglasses, koozies, pens, collapsible water bottles and dog bandannas (to highlight F1RST as a dog-friendly community) at All Things Go. At Taste of Lincoln Avenue, McCaffery gave Lincoln Common-branded sunglasses to volunteers. Warmouth would not say how much McCaffery spends on branded swag.
Beyler wouldn't disclose specifics on how much 33 Realty spends on its swag, but said any leftovers would be used for open houses and placed in new tenant move-in bags.
"It helps that the giveaways we buy are thoughtful. We think about what people need at the moment," Beyler said.
Spaces had branded sunglasses and credit card holder attachments for smartphones at its booth. Hanlin said the price broke down to about $1 per piece, and Spaces spends between $10K and $12K for giveaways annually.
Tracking Emails And Raising Brand Awareness
Street festivals are good opportunities for real estate companies to expand their email lists, though representatives Bisnow spoke to admit there is a law of diminishing returns.
Beyler said 33 Realty tags new additions to its email list by how they were sourced so that, in the case of Duet, the company can track someone interested in renting an apartment from the moment one first hears about the project to the moment that person signs a lease. It also provides another data point for 33 Realty to track return on investment on its marketing dollars.
Hanlin said Spaces does not track emails based on where they are gathered as the company's email list is too large and the majority of recipients treated Spaces' announcements like spam.
"We would use the emails we initially gathered to promote seminars or events, but found it wasn't worth it," he said.
The main purpose of participating in street festivals, he said, is in raising awareness of the Spaces brand to people looking to rent or buy, or for landlords looking to sell a building or find a property manager for a building. Hanlin said Spaces had a couple of buyer clients last year as a result of working the festivals.
"We even marketed a building in Wicker Park where the landlord remembered us through a chance meeting at a festival," Hanlin said.