Audrey Jensen, Phoenix Business Journal
The city of Surprise is using an international holiday dedicated to meatballs to court one of the city’s top-requested retailers: IKEA.
“When we discovered there was a Swedish Meatball Day, we thought, ‘Let’s just have some fun,'” said Surprise’s economic development director, Jeanine Jerkovic.
The West Valley municipality, which has a population of more than 160,000, launched a campaign video this week highlighting the city’s love for the furniture store’s popular meatballs in addition to its other products.
IKEA was named as one of the top three retailers requested by more than 5,300 residents who completed a survey by the city this year. And with recent news that IKEA is on the hunt for 17 new locations in the U.S., Surprise decided to take a unique approach to capture the Swedish retailer’s attention.
“We looked across the spectrum of most-wanted retailers and that was one where, immediately we felt a lot of kindred spirit of creativity. We felt there was a real opportunity to be appealing to them and reach out in a very personal way,” Jerkovic said.
This is the second year in a row that IKEA has been voted as a top-requested retailer by Surprise residents. The furniture giant is already familiar with the Phoenix market — it has a store in Tempe and previously planned for another within the city of Glendale’s sports and entertainment district, though those plans were later scrapped.
In its “Surprise Loves IKEA” campaign video, the city touted its population growth and proclaimed Aug. 23 as Swedish Meatball Day.
Neil Board, a partner at Western Retail Advisors, didn’t rule out Surprise as a potential destination for IKEA. He noted that the West Valley overall has experienced a lot of retail growth including SimonCRE’s Village at Prasada and the planned Prasada North just east of the Loop 303, which at full build-out could see more than 1 million square feet of new retail and restaurant space.
“I think Surprise would be an obvious choice,” Board told the Business Journal. “There’s a lot of new families moving into the West Valley. The other retailers we represent — and are also the ones we’ve helped SimonCRE land at Prasada — they’re impressed with the median income, the job growth, the infrastructure, the highways, there’s nice communities being built.”
Board said an ideal location for a destination or regional retailer such as IKEA could be along a major highway or interstate. He said retailers are typically synergistic and will follow other successful retailers to areas like the West Valley.
One of the new retailers moving into the Prasada area includes a planned American Furniture Warehouse, but Jerkovic said there’s enough demand from residents for competition because of the housing growth in the city.
“Everything we’ve gotten in the market, because of our growth even when we get the retailer here and we get them to open, there’s a line out the door,” she said. “We’ve got this pent up demand for everything in Surprise.”
Other campaigns helped city land Costco in past
Jerkovic said the IKEA campaign is also a way for them to personalize and create name recognition for Surprise while slowly building a relationship with IKEA. So far, Jerkovic said they’ve only had initial outreach to IKEA with hopes to turn it into serious discussions in the future.
“We like to convey to retailers that we’re open for conversation, we’re friendly and we’re fun,” she said. “They should feel very welcome should they start looking at our market.”
The city successfully landed a new Costco store along the Loop 303 in the Prasada area after it spent years wishing the company a happy birthday.
“As the campaign escalated, that was I think the motivation behind one of the first phone calls we received from one of their decision makers,” Jerkovic said. “Even though it opened a door, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. It really did take a lot of follow up and more conversations with our residents.”
Other cities in the West Valley such as Goodyear have also tried this approach with popular retailers such as Trader Joe’s. Goodyear last year held a happy birthday event for the grocer and in 2019 held a “We Want Trader Joe’s Day” with hundreds of residents.
“Communities want to find ways to stand out in the crowd of communities vying for the attention of desirable retailers, and sometimes this takes a creative spin,” said Wendy Bridges, Goodyear’s economic development director in a statement. “These efforts are ideally in alignment with the reality of where that business is in their expansion planning.”
Typically, the city of Surprise sends a personal video from the mayor, a phone call and certificate of congratulations to its top-requested retailers, but retailers like IKEA create a unique opportunity for this type of campaign, Jerkovic said.
“It’s an important way for us to convey this is an authentic campaign, it’s not something we made up or pulled from a stoic data analysis,” she said. “It’s a very different approach than what a lot of cities might take in reaching out to a retailer or restaurant.”
Surprise is poised to growth even further northwest with new master-planned communities, logistics hubs and commercial centers such as the planned HonorHealth hospital campus and retail center in Asante.
Originally published by the Phoenix Business Journal on August 25, 2023.