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Community-Minded CRE Company Helps Strengthen Traditional Retail Through Creativity And Collaboration

Edwards Realty Co. President Ramzi Hassan (second from left), business owner Sami Mauer (center) and civic leaders at the grand opening of Pop Local winner Series Six in Richmond Heights, Missouri.

Online shopping may have skyrocketed throughout the pandemic, but brick-and-mortar retail is holding strong, especially in the suburbs. With the rise of remote and hybrid work, many suburban neighborhoods saw an influx of retailers hoping to bring their products and services closer to where people are living and working.

This has left suburban areas with an interesting dilemma: How can they choose the right retail tenants for their community?

To help answer that question, communities can partner with a property management company to determine the most lucrative opportunities for tenants and residents.

Edwards Realty Co., a family-owned property management, investment and development firm, has been focused on enhancing retail in the suburbs of Chicago.

Edwards Realty Co. President Ramzi Hassan said that within the retail sector, the company invests in distressed assets — or properties that are typically priced below their worth. Within the suburbs, these assets are often strategically located in the center of downtown areas, in spaces that are adjacent to public transportation.

That makes them prime spots for the right retail tenants. 

“Retail is one of the fastest-changing sectors, with many new and innovative businesses coming to the forefront, and while online sales have been growing exponentially year-over-year, people still like to have that in-store experience,” Hassan said.

“When real estate owners are intentional about where they are leasing, are involved in the community and facilitate relationships with small-business owners, they can figure out what kind of tenant mix may work or not work, and why.”

If a suburb has a strong sense of community and high tenant retention, it should be focused on growth, Hassan said. For Edwards Realty Co., one of the benefits of having properties within suburban markets is being able to form collaborations with local officials to determine what types of retail would be most attractive and beneficial to its residents.

“It’s easier to form partnerships within the suburbs because we can develop a good professional relationship with the municipality and include them in the process of finding quality tenants to fill the commercial spaces,” Hassan said. “When considering tenants, we bring the district officials into the process early on and say, ‘Here’s why this type of retail business will or won’t be beneficial to the community.'”

Edwards is focused on the synergies between tenants and creating a tenant mix of businesses that have different uses. That can mean the difference between success and failure, especially for some of the smaller retail centers, he said.

“For instance, having a medical tenant between two clothing boutiques may not be the best synergy, whereas we may suggest putting a flower shop next to a train station because there are always people walking to and from the train,” Hassan said. “With some of our centers, we created a template with a vision for the uses for that space and worked off that.”

Upon securing a space, Hassan said suburban small-business owners should be embracing creativity to draw more customers into the store, using social media and email marketing to advertise promotions. Owners should also come up with in-store experiences, including showcasing products through Instagram Live or sponsoring an event that would be relevant for customers. 

Edwards brings forth a creative approach when working with clients, he said. One example is its signature program, Pop Local, in which the company hosts a contest for small-business owners to compete for three months free rent to test-drive their product. The program was launched in three markets nationally and each of the winning businesses has since become a long-term, paying tenant.

Hassan said Edwards also embraces innovative solutions within the boroughs where the company's open-air centers are located. The company collaborates with municipal Chambers to bring opportunities for retailers, such as hosting events around the holidays or organizing meetings where tenants can share successful marketing efforts and brainstorm initiatives to engage customers. 

When neighborhoods are in close communication with retailers willing to learn from and support one another’s businesses, it helps with business growth and tenant retention, he said.

“While putting on events is enjoyable, they ultimately have to lead to sales and bring in more customers, and feedback is needed because the retail tenants know their customers best,” Hassan said. “We’ve seen the participation from our retail tenants increase exponentially, and when they partner with us, they can go a long way.”

Learn more about Edwards Realty Co. here. For more information about its open-air centers, visit Burr Ridge Village CenterOrland Park CrossingThe Boulevard and Town Center Holland.

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Edwards Realty Co.. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.

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