Authenticity: Retailers' New Weapon In The Struggle For Customers
Retail's been hit hard in recent years, but retailers are making a comeback as important components of mixed-use—and as stand-alone product that adds to the authenticity of a neighborhood. Those were a few key takeaways at our Boston Retail 2016 event at 44 Thomson Place.
It's still true that retailers large and small need to hunt for the best spaces in terms of traditional metrics such as household income and traffic counts, our speakers explained. Those are necessary conditions for retail success, but not sufficient to catch on with the public and grow.
In an age of instant information and social media, success in retail is about the thoughtful curation of space—how you program your retail, restaurant, entertainment and more to make it an experience. A mixed-use environment helps achieve that goal, but stand-alone retail properties can as well.
The event kicked off with a "fireside chat" by Carpenter & Co CEO Richard Friedman, who was interviewed by Marcus & Millichap regional manager Tim Thompson.
Richard told stories of his long career and the many developments he's done since his early days as a retail space broker. He's now at work on One Dalton mixed-use in Back Bay, the tallest building in Boston since the John Hancock. A new Four Seasons is one component of One Dalton, and Richard notes Boston is about to become one of only a handful of cities worldwide with two Four Seasons Hotels.
"It's an indication that Boston has emerged as a world-class city," he said. The condos in the building will be managed by Four Seasons as well.
The key strategy for retailers today involves fostering a sense of authenticity in their locations, our speakers noted. That's especially true in mixed-use city locations, but increasingly so in the suburbs, since suburbanites want what city dwellers have, except for actually living in the city.
Retail space thus needs to be customized, especially among restaurants, and even among chains—which might best be thought of as "collections" of locations. The most successful retailers are more nimble than they used to be. A retailer needs to be recognizable, but not cookie-cutter, and ready to change with changing consumer tastes. As tenants become more creative, they're more successful, and that helps their landlords as well.
Snapped: Samuels & Associates COO Leslie Cohen and Whole Foods executive coordinator Robert Donnelly.
One reason pop-up tenants are increasingly important, our speakers said, is because they not only fill vacancies, but also add to the experience of the property. Also, sometimes an entrepreneurial tenant can evolve into a more permanent fixture. Thus, pop-ups can be opportunities for landlords, especially if they represent local flavor. In an urban setting in particular, local is cool, and can provide as much business as a national tenant.
It takes foresight among landlords to find and nurture the best local tenants. There are some new retailers who are worthy of the investment, because they will grow. Developers need larger credit tenants, of course, but forward-looking landlords want unique retailers as well.
Here are Prellwitz Chilinski Associates principal & partner Eric Brown, who moderated, Retail Resource president Deborah Byrnes and the Wilder Cos principal Tom Wilder.
As always, a Bisnow event offered morning-time schmoozing and breakfast. Also speaking at the event were WS Development VP Kerry Dowling, Waterstone principal Josh Levy, Legal Sea Foods director Edward Mitchell and Goulston & Storrs director Karen O'Malley, who also moderated. Newmark Grubb Knight Frank executive managing director Ted Chryssicas gave the welcoming remarks.