May 2024

Convention-al Wisdom

The list of things I know now that I wish I knew before my first ICSC Las Vegas conference.

My first shopping center and proud to say my very first tenant, Choony’s Donuts, is still in business in the same location in Sylmar, California.

The annual ICSC spring conference in Las Vegas is a highlight for any commercial real estate professional. It’s the one item on everyone’s professional calendar that gets marked as a “can’t miss.” And because seemingly everyone is there, the opportunities—to tell your story, learn from innovators, to rub elbows and trade contact info with peers and partners, or to simply catch up on the latest scuttlebutt and take the pulse of the industry—feel equally limitless.

My mentors and real estate heroes – Lou Berkowitz and Bob Miller. They taught me real estate but, more importantly, the impact that mentorship makes on young people.

But a few days in the desert (especially in a place like Vegas) can go by in a blur. This once-a-year event is also a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it opportunity that you literally can’t afford to squander. With that in mind, here are a few things I’ve learned over the years about how to make the most of my time at ICSC-Las Vegas. This is my 35th Las Vegas ICSC, but these are some of the things I wish I’d known before my very first one.

1. Don’t be shy.

Find interesting people and introduce yourself. Explain who you are, what you do, and why you want their help, their time, or their business. This is a people-driven business, and the people you talk to at an ICSC event are generally very nice, as long as you understand they are busy and you are respectful of their time.

2. Do your pre-work.

A lot of the legwork is done long before you arrive in Nevada. One thing I’ve started doing is to make a list of 10 interesting things I want to learn and a list of people I want to connect with—and I reach out and set-up meetings ahead of time. The actual conference can be a whirlwind, and two or three days can fly by. Pre-planning will help you make the most of your time.

3. Don’t forget about the vendors and service providers.

We’re in a business where service providers work across many platforms. Because of that depth and diversity of experience, they often know more about the industry then any individual company. I’ve found vendors and service providers to be an outstanding resource for information and insights that may not be easy to find anywhere else.

4. Give in to peer pressure.

Identify the best operators and make a concerted effort to learn from them. Recognize that it probably wasn’t dumb luck that led them to the peak of the industry. Ask about the strategies, tactics, and tools they use, do your research, and consider whether any of their work applies to your own business.

5. Don’t just go for the “glamor.”

National tenants, big-name developers, and prominent lenders are all important contacts. It makes sense to make sure you connect and engage with those individuals. But it’s a mistake to limit yourself to the All Stars.  Make a concerted effort to seek out the up-and-comers and spend time with them. Not only do they usually have more time, but they also often have some of the best and most inspired ideas. The next wave, tomorrow’s All Stars, can sometimes be the most interesting.

6. Party smartly.

Vegas is a social event as much as a professional one. Some of the best conversations and most important connections are forged outside the convention center at one of the many parties, dinners, and social gatherings that surround the conference. But make sure you pick your parties wisely. Don’t just RSVP to the big parties, especially the loud and chaotic events where you can’t hear anything or have any conversations of substance. You can party like that at home. Instead, try to find parties that promote networking and bonding and are more about connecting than cacophony.

7. Don’t skip class.

Make sure to check out some of the ICSC educational offerings and attend them. You can review the presentations and instructional opportunities ahead of time and pick the ones that appeal to you the most. The best part of those events is that they aren’t just great learning opportunities, they might allow you to make a connection with the subject matter expert, as well as others who are attending the session. If you can take those lessons (and those connections) back with you, you’ll be going a long way toward making sure that your time in the desert was well spent—and that what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas.

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