Contact Us

Dene Oliver On What Makes Retail Successful

When it comes to retail, Dene Oliver is considered a legend.

As CEO of San Diego's OliverMcMillan, he oversees a company that has developed more than 8M SF of projects with a value of more than $3B since its inception 38 years ago.


Oliver spoke at Bisnow's National Retail West Coast Series on Tuesday. He said his firm emphasizes placemaking and retail being about the experience. The key is starting from a "heart approach," according to Oliver.

"Everything we're doing, we're focusing on 'how does it make you feel?'," Oliver said.

His firm has always been interested in art and design, he said. Oliver came from an art and design background and attended business school and law school.

"When we started, it was all about architectural design," he said.


Oliver, who was interviewed by Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce director of economic development Blair Schlecter, told the crowd the discussion on e-commerce and its impact on retail is nothing new.

"This dialogue has been going on for 20 years about the impact of internet shopping," he said.



Oliver said retail sales and sales/SF are a problem right now for most in the business.

"I can't tell you how much of the time we're focused on that," he said.

Despite the optimism around the economy, Oliver said it is not being reflected in the sales figures retailers are returning. Creativity is part of the answer.

"I think more innovative companies like H & M are going to continue to have a big footprint," he said.

He said creative, young brands, such as Warby Parker, are doing well.

Those retailers who deliver experience and something where they connect with the consumer in a heart-centric way will have a higher probability of succeeding, according to Oliver.


24 Hour Fitness head of real estate Jane Borden said the central focus should be on listening to consumers and finding out what they really want.

"We're not trying to be one-size-fits-all," Borden said.

24 Hour Fitness tries to make sure its locations are convenient and stay open for 24 hours everywhere, she said. Locations also offer group fitness classes to appeal to a variety of customers.


Capital Realty president Garry Adams said he tells his clients they have to make a compelling reason for customers to come in and then keep coming. He said the space needs to be inviting and compelling.

"The first thing [customers] say should be 'wow,'" Adams said.


Retail Design Collaborative principal Sean Slater said nobody does luxury better than Caruso CEO Rick Caruso.

"Nobody makes their customer feel more luxurious and more pampered," Slater said.

Caruso's popular property, The Grove in LA, is an outdoor shopping mall that focuses on well-lit spaces, trolley car rides, offers customers concierge services and has fake snow falling from the sky at Christmastime.

There is also a Tesla gallery in the center's Nordstrom.