Florida's 'Canvassing Queen' On How To Lease Up Retail This Summer
Some drivers will rip a U-turn, pull over in the middle of a busy road and switch on Instagram Live to capture an accident scene, a sudden tornado or rogue wildlife. Beth Azor does it when she spots an incredible leasing opportunity.
During one such dispatch, she was excited because she had just gone into a tennis store and discovered it was a chain with eight locations.
“How many places do you think we’ve knocked on doors today?” she asked the intern strapped in her passenger seat.
“Ten to 15,” the intern replied.
“Ten to 15!” Azor repeated excitedly. The call-and-response happened again when she asked her intern how many retailers were looking to expand or relocate.
“I would say six,” her intern said.
“Six!” she echoed, her excitement contagious.
A CRE leasing agent, leasing coach and investor, Azor rose in the ranks at Terranova Corp., eventually becoming president, then founded her own consulting company, Azor Advisory Services, in 2004. She also owns six shopping plazas worth $79M in the suburbs west of Fort Lauderdale, which she leases and manages herself.
She has become known as “The Canvassing Queen” because of her willingness to knock on doors to know her market and find new opportunities.
Azor’s willingness to share what she’s learned over the years, as well as explain her current thinking processes in real time while she puzzles out how to fill spaces, has endeared her to her peers. She leads training courses around the country and online, runs a book club, and she has been a featured speaker at the International Council of Shopping Centers conferences.
Azor took a break from Instagramming to share with Bisnow a few tips for leasing during the coronavirus-challenged summer ahead:
Ramp Up Social Media Prospecting
Azor started aggressively using social media to scout for leads a few years ago, but since the pandemic started, she ramped it up.
“I’ve been getting more responses than ever because people are not busy,” she said.
She’s been using her YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn channels to do one-on-one interviews with small-business owners to give them exposure. She tries to ask positive questions like what they were like as a kid and what lessons they have learned from the coronavirus?
“Thirteen questions of positivity,” Azor said. “Everyone was drowning in negativity.”
At the end, she lets interviewees nominate another small business for the series. And yes, one of her subjects signed a lease with her.
Azor is currently in negotiations with three national tenants, but for sites that were approved before the pandemic began, she said. Other national retailers have told her that staff can’t travel for site selections because of the virus, so except for lining up some Halloween stores to fill space this fall, she has shifted her focus to area small businesses.
She said she doesn’t waste people's time, but rather, gets to the point: “I own shopping centers,” she says. “Are you happy with your landlord? Your rent? Your location? “
Lately, she has said landlords are looking to the “five new F-words”: food, fitness, fun, furnishings and “ph”ysicians … plus anyone who can provide frictionless commerce.
Go After Mall Tenants
With some malls not reopening and anchor stores going vacant from bankruptcies, retailers may be wanting to get out of the malls and into open-air spaces. Don't overlook kiosk owners either, she said.
On a normal day, Azor might pop into a shopping plaza in East Fort Lauderdale, 20 miles from her properties, eyeball the storefronts and check out their websites from her phone.
It’s more reliable to find a business that is already operating in a similar space and been successful there versus leasing to an untested concept, she said.
“I don’t think you can convince anyone of anything,” Azor said. “I believe that when any one of these retailers opened their storefront, they believed in the American dream and that they were going to be a chain.”
Get Creative With Concessions
Azor said if landlords cut base rents, it can create a vicious cycle with competitors undercutting one another. She tries not to let rents drop, but rather, will offer extra incentives, such as paying for half of the signage.
“Help them in their capital investment versus reducing rents,” Azor said.
If ‘Location, Location, Location’ Doesn’t Work, Try Synergy
Azor said her shopping centers in Davie and Plantation always had healthy demand, but the one in Sunrise struggled, with vacancy around 70%. She brought on a broker to help — even though “I’m supposed to be the leasing queen!” — but he only leased one 15K SF deal in a year.
They brainstormed a marketing plan and eventually brought together several design clients, including a kitchen remodeler and a seller of windows and blinds. Now, it’s 90% occupied, Azor said.