Why the Right Thing is the Smart Thing
In developing great retail centers, sentiment isn’t sentimental, and transforming communities is the definition of a win-win outcome.
At NewMark Merrill, we are committed community builders. We create and sustain memorable and engaging retail environments and elevated experiences specifically designed to not just empower tenants and inspire our team members, but also uplift communities.
That mindset is part of our professional DNA. And that’s not just because it’s the right thing to do. Operating with integrity, serving the community, and prioritizing people first is absolutely part of our core values. But in an industry where lots of real estate professionals talk a big game, it’s critically important to walk the walk. But NewMark Merrill’s willingness—or, perhaps more accurately, our eagerness—to tackle projects in underserved communities or socioeconomically challenged neighborhoods is both a transformative force for good and a lucrative business opportunity. By embracing this approach, we not only maximize financial performance, we unlock lasting civic value that extends well beyond the bottom line.
In other words: it’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do.
A community-first approach starts at the top, with leaders who not only understand the market and the demographics well enough to appreciate what’s working and what’s missing, but are fully committed to addressing those shortcomings. Understanding community needs might be Retail Development 101, but a willingness to commit to uplifting underserved communities takes resolve.
Investing in communities doesn’t just mean addressing a lack of retail asset, but ensuring that a center serves as a comprehensive community resource: not just a commercial component, but the social and civic heartbeat of a community. That means making space and time for concerts, holiday celebrations, and other public events, as well as popular and impactful programs for kids and families. Back-to-school school supplies giveaways, after-school programs, and other family programs can elevate a retail center to a place that local residents start to view as an important part of the community.
Building a tenant roster of brands and businesses that are civic- and community-minded is also important. Tenant synergy and support for community outreach and community-centric programming and promotions is essential. Commercial real estate owners and operators would be wise to consider reserving space for community centers and other public-facing organizations—or positioning tenants with a community service focus more prominently within the center. Even if that tenant pays a slightly lower rate, they will be adding enormous overall value to the center in terms of forging the kind of connections that keep people coming back.
Don’t be afraid to make bold leasing and merchandising decisions. If it serves the community, the project will be stronger for it. At Anaheim Town Center, replacing a more prominent national grocery chain with a Latin-focused grocery brand was responsive to community preferences and ultimately had a game-changing impact on the bottom line that rippled across the entire center.
Finally, don’t just invest money, but also time. Make time to talk to members of the community. Ask them what they need, what they want, and what kind of concerns and suggestions they might have. Building productive relationships with local community leaders and civic officials establishes mutually beneficial lines of communication that further enmesh the center in the hearts, minds, and wallets of the community. Keep those channels open over time. As communities change and evolve in the years ahead, understanding the community you’re serving will continue to pay both literal and figurative dividends.
Tools of the Trade
Innovative and impactful new tools and technologies can be a difference-maker for commercial real estate professionals.
Retail center owners and operators have access to exciting new data—and new ways to analyze that data—that can yield important insights that lead to difference-making results.
When it comes to measuring center traffic and gauging tenant and center performance, NewMark Merrill uses three primary technology solutions:
Placer.ai is an incredibly advanced foot traffic analytics platform that allows NewMark Merrill team members to gain a deeper understanding of tenant performance that impacts everything from leasing to marketing. The ability to gauge the volume of traffic tenants and bringing in—and to sort that data and compare to competitors and sales reports—not only generates great insights, it sparks productive conversations with tenants that can
Merchant Centric is a tool that delivers full visibility and aggregate analysis of all shopping center and online merchant reviews. By collecting and connecting consumer feedback, it provides enormously valuable information that empowers tenants to quickly address issues and optimize performance.
Springboard is a live counting technology solution that creates custom pedestrian and vehicular traffic reports based on customer movement throughout a center. With real-time volume and demographic information, we can better support our tenants with meaningful insights, and can glean extraordinarily valuable data that helps with everything from budgeting and staffing to leasing. It even lets us look at other centers and get important insights about the regional competitive and leasing landscape.
As powerful as these tools are, however, it’s important to note that none of this exciting technology replaces the hands-on work, in-person conversations, and boots-on-the-ground visits with tenants and customers that defines great property management. The data these tools provide is just a starting point for productive conversations and deeper, more personal connections that strengthen relationships and have a lasting positive impact on tenants, communities, and professional partners.