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4 Tips For Doing Retail And Restaurant Deals In Baltimore

With reports of store closures and restaurant sales' decline, executing successful retail deals can be challenging for even the most skilled operators. Industry experts offered these four tips on how to survive in the industry today.

1. Get Good Food, And Make It Local

MacKenzie Retail's Tom Fidler, MCB Real Estate's David Bramble and KBE Building Corp.'s Eric Brown

Three years ago, half of Tom Fidler's leasing activity in the Baltimore and Washington region was food related. But the MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate Services principal and executive vice president encountered even more tacos, steaks and pastas last year. Restaurants and other food businesses accounted for 70% of his deals.

But diners favor locally owned, unique concepts over chains, Fidler told attendees at Bisnow's Baltimore Retail & Restaurant Revolution event last week at the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore.

"They're not looking to go to Chili's or [TGI] Friday's," Fidler said. "They're looking to go to a local operator and enjoy that experience."

2. Create Experiences

Downtown Partnership's Davon Barbour and Newmark Grubb Knight Frank Retail's Glenn Ulick

In order to compete with the internet, retailers have to create experiences that attract people to your store and get them to stay, said MCB Real Estate managing partner David Bramble.

If, for instance, store staff interact with guests and know them by name and offer intriguing displays, customers are more like to stop in. Customers also need to feel like the retail establishment is authentic, said Glenn Ulick, managing director of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank retail.

"Authenticity is critical in an urban environment," he said. He cited food market Mount Vernon Marketplace as an example of a retail establishment that offers an authentic experience as it is full of unique, local small-business owners.

3. Offer Design At A Discount

A view of the Inner Harbor from the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore meeting space.

News of retailers shutting stores dominates business headlines these days. But shoppers are still gravitating toward discount stores like Burlington Coat Factory and T.J. Maxx, Bramble said.

"Retail is in the middle of a sea change," he said. "You have to find the opportunity and turn that into profit."

Goodwill is another discount retailer that is expanding and is attracting a younger crowd after refreshing its interiors, Ulick said. "Millennials have discovered it."

4. Think location, location, location

Iron Rooster's Kyle Algaze, Delaware North's James Obletz and Starbucks' John Bell

One thing has not changed when it comes to opening a successful shop or restaurant: location, location, location. Starbucks' mid-Atlantic director of store development John Bell looks for areas that are dense with offices and residences and attract tourists. The coffee chain recently opened an East Baltimore store that provides training and career opportunities for youths in underserved communities.

Food service provider Delaware North, which serves Oriole Park at Camden Yards, analyzes everything from which escalators are used the most to which concession stands attract the most traffic on game days, vice president James Obletz said.

Iron Rooster, which has four locations in Annapolis and Baltimore, looks for existing stores rather than brand-new ones as they are cheaper to open, founder and chief operating officer Kyle Algaze said. The all-day breakfast restaurant also seeks out neighborhoods with a strong sense of community where other restaurants are busy at night.