Turnaround Artist

Newly appointed executive director Jim Browder is revitalizing Tamarack with big ideas and small changes.


Written and photographed by Zack Harold

 

During his decades-long career in the hotel industry, Jim Browder became known as the guy you called when a property needed to be turned around. He did it for struggling properties all over the country, from Seattle to Washington, D.C., Buffalo, New York to Orlando, Florida.

He says there are three keys to success in any hotel: people, product, and location. “If I have two of those three things, I feel very comfortable I can make the situation work,” says Browder, who became the new executive director of Tamarack last October. He is now applying the strategies he learned from a career in hospitality to reenergize West Virginia’s 20-year-old artisan showcase.

So how does Browder feel about Tamarack’s blend of people, product, and location? Very confident, actually. “This place has all three,” he says.

That’s not to say Tamarack doesn’t have a few problems. The state always intended for Tamarack to be revenue-neutral but it has never reached that point. Last year, the artisan center generated around $9 million from its food and retail operations, but it had to rely on $1.2 million generated by interstate travel centers for the remainder of its budget.

Browder’s working on it. His first goal as executive director is to get more shoppers through the doors. Visitors to Tamarack have dropped by 25 percent over the last five years, even while traffic on Interstate 64 has increased. “The people are going by, we’re just not getting them up the hill,” he says.

He has a two-fold plan to fix this. Step one is an advertising overhaul. He has hired a new advertising agency to help, but Browder himself came up with a new series of interstate billboards to promote Tamarack. Each features a short, pithy review Browder personally culled from websites like Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Urbanspoon.

Second, Browder wants to make Tamarack look more appealing from the road. Lots has changed since the space first opened in 1996. Traffic is faster and new development surrounding Tamarack has partially hidden it from view. “I think we’ve lost a little bit of luster,” Browder says. He has brought in a new landscaping company and is looking for ideas to increase the building’s visibility from the interstate.

In addition to bringing more visitors into Tamarack, Browder also wants to make sure they spend some money while inside. It starts with simple things, like the way aisles are laid out.

Browder is constantly walking heelto- toe, marking off distances between objects in Tamarack’s retail space. “We have a four-foot rule. If something is within four feet of something else, we move it,” he says. This reduces the chance of what Browder calls “butt rub”—the awkward problem of bumping into something or someone while trying to navigate the aisles. Shoppers are less likely to go down an aisle if it looks too crowded or leads to a dead end.

He has also reduced the number of items on display, putting a few products on the shelves and leaving the rest in the warehouse. Customers are more likely to purchase items if there appears to be a limited supply.

Browder has big changes in mind, too. When he arrived, Tamarack’s collection of artisan goods was mixed in with less expensive items. Browder is reorganizing the retail space, separating handcrafted items from mass-produced souvenirs. He is also working to create a series of miniature galleries for selected artisans around the building’s interior courtyard. Increasing the artworks’ visibility, he hopes, will also increase their sales.

Tamarack is already seeing the benefits of Browder’s smaller tweaks. When he arrived last fall, the average shopper spent around $30 per visit. The average is now up to $35.

Browder plans to continue building on that success. He hasn’t set any deadlines, but by his estimation Tamarack could be self-sufficient in four or five years. “It’s like turning a ship. It’s going to take a little bit of time,” he says.

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