PLACES sat down with Madison Marquette Senior Vice President John-david W. Franklin to discuss the steps he says are critical to a successful retail redevelopment.
Q: You’ve got a stellar reputation for helping numerous retail centers revitalize, reinvent and get back on track. Where should a center in this position start?
JDF: Start small. You don’t need a big budget to dramatically improve the “curb appeal” of your property. A few hundred dollars’ worth of paint and a day or two of work by your maintenance staff can make your entrance look brand new. A small investment in landscaping can give a property an updated look and feel. Something as simple as repainting curb cuts with yellow paint or adding lighting to the “eyebrows” above the windows at a mall entrance can dramatically refresh your look. At one mall, we got positive customer comments for weeks by adding $50 of pink dye to one of the water fountains to promote breast cancer awareness month.
Q: If you gathered everyone together to discuss potential changes, who would you want at that table?
JDF: The lead investors and other important stakeholders, of course, but you might also want to include more junior people as well. Once you have all the stakeholders around the table, make sure everyone – not just the lead investors – gets a chance to speak. This isn’t just about being polite. Sometimes the most junior person at the table has the best idea. Maybe it’s the part-timer in the food court who notices that young moms tend to leave when they find out your center lacks a family-friendly bathroom or a store specializing in gluten-free baby food. If they don’t speak up, you’ll never learn you need to do more to attract and keep this key customer segment.
Q: Do you need to re-staff in order to redevelop a property?
JDF: No, the people you need to successfully redevelop your property are already all around you. Now is the time to get to know them – or to know them better. The trash collectors might tell you which tenant is tossing out the loose paper that makes your parking lot look like a dump. Someone on the zoning board might tell you about a new municipal parking garage the city would help pay for that could attract new and different types of customers to your mall. A congressman might alert you to a military recruiting center or post office that can drive traffic as well.
And, of course, don’t forget your merchants and customers. Too many center managers spend too much time in their offices. You need to get out and learn the strengths, weaknesses and future plans of every business under your roof. Knowing that your anchor department store underperforms others in its parent company gives you an early warning to line up a replacement in case they close. Finding out which of their departments performs the best (athletic gear or children’s clothes, for example) signals there may be room for another specialty tenant selling that merchandise. To find out what shoppers want, consider posting an online customer service poll or having your service desk keep a log of customer requests, then pay attention to them: The unfilled requests tell you what customers want but aren’t getting.
Q: Who else should you talk to?
JDF: A great resource is the brokers who sell retail space. To cut costs during the last two recessions, many mall owners outsourced their real estate function to outside brokers. Because the same broker may now represent multiple centers, the best of those brokers has a stronger understanding of industry trends, the market climate in your area and the best practices in retail real estate management. Interview every retail brokerage company in your area and ask them to prepare merchandising plans and creative uses for your center. Challenge them to identify specific, measurable goals and objectives for their redevelopment plans, and press for details such as their fees and whether they are willing to do short-term or temporary tenant placements. Worst case, you’ve gotten an outside perspective. At best, you’ve found a real partner who can creatively and proactively locate quality tenants for you.