09:58 pm
14 June 2016

The Value of Activation

The Value of Activation

PLACES sat down with Meredith McCreary, Madison Marquette Associate, Marketing and Business Development, to learn more about the benefits of property activation. 

Q: What does it mean to activate a property? 

MM: Activating a property is the key mechanism for drawing people into the site. Before we can make a site a shopping destination, it needs to become a known entity. The goal is to make the property a part of the community and a place where people want to go.

With customers more frequently shopping online, visiting a shopping center needs to become more of an experience.  It’s not about just picking up a pair of jeans; you need to offer something more. Ideally, activation of a property will start before any development or leasing, and it should continue throughout the life of the property. When a new property is in development, for example, we engage the community right away and get them accustomed to coming to that space in their neighborhood. We do this by creating a thriving atmosphere with community open houses, pop-up stores in temporary spaces, music series and food events that play off the existing neighboring tenants. 

Q: What are some of the top trends in retail activation? 

MM: One of the biggest trends in retail activation right now is pop-up stores. This is a way for retailers to test a new concept on a much smaller scale, but it can also be used as an incubator to see what resonates with the public.

Because pop-up retailers bring a tremendous amount of authenticity and originality to the projects in which they are featured, shopping center owners use this as a way to create buzz about the property and draw traffic. Ideally, a shopping center would do this with multiple pop-ups – which can range from a week to several months each – throughout the year.

Another trend we’re seeing is online retailers creating variations of traditional brick-and-mortar stores. They’re finding that this is one of the best ways to test products with what is essentially a real-time focus group. One example is Birchbox which opened a successful brick-and-mortar store in SoHo in addition to its online platform. Previously, companies were solely brick and mortar with a minimal online presence; now, businesses are exploring a mainly online footprint with a sampling of brick and mortar. 

Q: To what extent are social media and other technologies used in activating a property? 

MM: In its simplest form, technology can be used to communicate anything out of the ordinary.  These messages can range from featured pop-ups to events and new promotions to the announcement of retailers, restaurateurs and services.  Social media is a great way to communicate key messages to the surrounding community and social influencers in your market.

In addition, technology can play an important role inside the shopping center.   No one shops alone; they always have their phone with them. Therefore, we are exploring ways to use cell phones and other mobile devices to bring people into our shopping centers.  Once they’re there, we want to help them navigate through the center, help them decide which stores fit their personalities, and answer any questions they have either through social media or specific “text for answer” applications on their phones.

Interactive information is also of significant interest. Kate Spade was recently constructing a new store, and on the store’s barricade, they installed touch screens that engaged shoppers to explore which product lines were coming and to promote the brand. The interactivity tracked shoppers’ likes and dislikes, something which played a role in helping Kate Spade merchandise the store and gave the brand strong information about the market’s demographics and tastes prior to opening.

Q: Can you describe an example of an activation success story? 

MM: LaBrea in Los Angeles is a great success story.  Madison Marquette purchased a group of buildings, along La Brea Avenue just before the recession hit. One of the buildings included the former Continental Graphics building, previously a premier print shop and Los Angeles-area icon. The group of buildings had been targeted with graffiti, and the structures were being sold as a teardown. Because the property was closed off from the street, you couldn’t see the potential for retail. However, once inside the buildings, there was amazing existing architecture, beautiful vaulted wood ceilings and fabulous existing flooring. Despite its unrefined state, we saw the potential to create a unique urban shopping street that would offer Los Angeles something it had never seen before.

A big part of what made the property activation so successful was the informal LaBrea district business association Madison Marquette created to collaborate with surrounding tenants. We coordinated the activation and used carefully curated events and programming to bring the block alive. The efforts were timed so events would coincide with other in-market promotions, and we took the lead in communicating district-wide happenings to the public via social media and email blasts.

Madison Marquette also brought in a famous muralist, Shepard Fairey, the same artist who designed the famous Obama “Hope” poster, to paint an 8,800-square-foot mural.  The mural wraps around a corner of the property and really gives it a unique identity.  During the creation of the mural, we hosted a social event to further engage the community, and it continues to be a great story for us today when people ask about the mural’s origin.

After the mural was completed, we hosted a two-week art show on site that also included food trucks and pop-up stores. All of these events took place prior to leasing the spaces.  Even though we were making an investment in the location before even having operating tenants, we knew the type of retailers we wanted to attract and the merchandising vision for the property, and we had already begun communicating that vision to the public.

Q: Does the activation attract tenants as well as customers?

MM: Absolutely, yes. In an existing center, the activation increases current customer sales, but it also attracts new tenants. Ideally, we will have a strong enough vision and activation plan to allow ourselves the opportunity to be selective about which tenants we want, choosing the ones that best fulfill our vision and merchandising strategy.

Q: How is activation different in a mixed-use property? 

MM: Madison Marquette owns a mixed-use property called Bellevue Connection in Bellevue, Wash. The top floors are office space, while the lower floors are retail.  The property had an outdated traditional coffee shop on the ground floor.  We were able to replace that tenant with an attractive new food concept growing in popularity within the Seattle market.  Known for quality sandwiches and great breakfast options, the restaurateur also offers coffee, wine and beer, all of which make it a more desirable destination for on-site office workers and the surrounding community.

The key with activation for mixed-use is to find the synergies between the different groups. The retailers, restaurants and services have a captive audience, and the office workers are searching for destinations that offer them not only convenience, but also an engaging and unique experience.