Develop your own brand, Bob Rennie tells New Westminster crowd

If New Westminster can do a good job rebranding itself, the city will be attractive to young homebuyers, says renowned Vancouver condo marketer Bob Rennie.

The owner of Rennie Marketing Systems made the comments in a keynote speech at a one-day New Westminster economic forum, titled The New New West held at the River Market on Thursday.

Rennie told the lunch-hour crowd transit accessibility is something New West can market to young people who don't want to give up their skateboards, their $3,000 bicycles or their lifestyle.

"Thirtysomethings love what New Westminster has to offer," said Rennie.

He said those under 28 are foregoing the automobile. Their social life revolves around smartphones and iPads, not their cars, which makes residential development near SkyTrain desirable.

Rennie said the condominiums have to be designed for that demographic. He said more developments are providing less parking for their units, and that's a trend that will continue. Instead of having developers meet parking requirement guidelines, he suggested the city impose, for example, a surcharge of $5,000 per unit that doesn't have parking, and then using the money to create more parking in the area. The developer can also pass on the savings it gets from having to build less parking to its buyers.

"It's a creative way to create affordability and make it attractive to young buyers," said Rennie. "The younger consumer won't trade lifestyle for debt, and New Westminster will win out. It's what this demographic will crave."

He also suggested New Westminster look at how density evolves in the city.

"New Westminster can be anything it wants to be. Now is the time to act on it. Do not just do density, plan it," he said.

Rennie the city's decision to build an office tower above the new civic centre—despite original partner Uptown Property Group backing out—a "brilliant business risk."

He said he shocked city officials when he recommended they go with Uptown's offer instead of accepting many of the residential proposals made to the city.

"To me it's one of the more brilliant moves being done around the Lower Mainland," Rennie said. "You have to take the first step and they will come. This will be a catalyst."

He also applauded New Westminster for looking to attract to health care jobs.

"You've already cornered the wedding dress market, so you can take the same attitude over to [attracting health care jobs]," said Rennie.

Rennie tells his staff that businesses survive because of their similarities to others.

"But you will only be known for our differences," he added. "The question to ask is 'Is New Westminster to Vancouver what Brooklyn is to Manhattan? Is it what Marin County is to San Francisco?' The quick answer is no, and no. What does New Westminster want to be, and is the council prepared to do what it takes to do so?"

He suggested a good place to start was with the NW acronym which can stand for so many things, including Northwest.

"You can take [NW] in many different directions," he said before jokingly adding, "If you use it I want $500,000."

One place the city could start, he suggested, was to ditch the Royal City moniker for something more contemporary.

"For some reason, maybe it's my age, but it reminds me of a can of peaches," he said referring to a company that used to package fruit in royal blue tins. "You're not Brooklyn, you're New Westminster. Develop your brand. Protect your brand."

When he thanked Rennie for his appearance, Mayor Wayne Wright laughed as he said getting rid of the Royal City is "blasphemy" in New Westminster.

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