Loads of business owners are blaming the new pedestrian zone of Brussels for their decreasing revenue. The pedestrian zone is often framed as an apocalyptic monster that is making Brussels die. The truth is we had the 'lockdown', the attacks, a way lower number of tourists than usual, and so on. From a communication point of view the city of Brussels has clearly failed to meet the expectations of many Brusselers and business owners, it seems that there was no real communication plan in place and that backfired quickly.
Business owners are completely unhappy, which is partly understandable, but also have the responsibility to communicate themselves about the change in the centre of Brussels. Imagine that I opened a webshop without marketing it on social media and Google Adwords? I would be bankrupt within weeks.
A major change happened in your area, your city? Smile! Show your customers that you support the project, hand-out flowers on the day of the 'grand Piétonnier opening' and explain to your loyal customers how they can reach their favorite shop easily.
2. Don't only complain
What's more annoying than people that complain about everything all the time? Stay positive, find solutions together with the City of Brussels (which made a huge mistake not communicating effectively at all about the pedestrian zone). But don't get carried away by hate and anger because you will scare people away.
3. Think visual
Create a leaflet explaining what is about to change or what is changing in the area. Give your shopwindow extra visibility by adding some nice slogans or sentences like: 'The coolest t-shirts of #pietonnierbxl!".
4. Provide incentives
Pay back the parking ticket of your customers, and if you can, try to even customise the parking reduction ticket with the logo of your business so your customers will remember you - a kind of partnership could be easily set-up with parking providers. Alternatively you could give people that come by bike or public transport a 5-10% reduction on their purchase.
5. Invest in digital communication
An investment of 100 EUR of paid advertising per month can already make the difference. Advertise to your (potential) customers how they can reach you and spread positive vibes via social media channels and Google Adwords for example. A minimum effort can help you to boost numbers again. Privejoke for example does an excellent job on that front, it's the only business in the centre from which I saw ads passing by!
EXTRA: Ask your colleagues!
Ask business owners in other parts of the city what they've done when a part of their area was pedestrianised! The Grasmarkt for example has been car-free for more than 4 years now, and businesses are florishing, and what about business owners from other cities like Ghent and Namur for example. What have they done to anticipate to the pedestrian zone?
The perception war pro-contra Piétonnier needs to stop, it's time for both business owners, citizens and the City to get its act together and to change the negative perception about a project that will increase our quality of life. Complaining will only make us more unattractive!