Celebrating Female Entrepreneurs during National Women’s Small Business Month

October is National Women’s Small Business Month – and a great time to focus on the success of female entrepreneurs. Did you know? Woman-owned businesses comprise nearly 39 percent of small businesses in the U.S., support nearly 9 million jobs and generate $1.6 trillion in annual revenues, according to SCORE.

Further, 41.8 percent of retail businesses are women-owned, which hits close to home here at Levin Management. Every day we see our growing roster of female shopping center tenants infusing creativity and a “women’s touch” to create quality, inviting experiences for their customers, while making notable economic contributions in their communities.

That’s not to say that male entrepreneurs aren’t doing things right as well, but since October carries a decidedly female designation, let’s look at just a few of the qualities that – scientifically speaking – make women entrepreneurs so great.

Women are better at multi-tasking, making them well-suited for juggling the many aspects of running a successful business.
Women rate higher than men in many leadership qualities, including taking initiative and driving for results.
Women’s intuition is a real thing, enabling them to pick up on subtle cues that help them make the best decisions.

The list goes on, but the proof is in the day-to-day achievements of women who start and grow their own ventures. In fact, three of the newest tenants at Bradford Plaza in West Chester – where LMC serves as leasing and managing agent – are female business owners.

We caught up with them recently to talk about their experiences and perspectives. Here’s what they had to say about finding success.

“I try really hard to provide a great environment for my employees and customers. Maybe it’s not so much a woman’s touch but being maternal. We have mostly younger people working in the shop, and I want them to be happy – just as I do my kids at home. They are encouraged to work hard, have a positive attitude and feel good about being here. That reflects directly on the customer experience.” – Brandy Bell-Truskey, Fractured Prune Doughnuts

“In our society, women tend to make their household healthcare decisions, and I do believe we have different perspectives and motivations than men when it comes to shopping for eye care and products, and higher expectations for customer service. As a woman, I understand this and have been able to shape my business accordingly. In that sense, being female is an advantage in earning satisfied customers – both male and female.” – Olayemi Swindell, New Vision Family Eye Care

“Becoming a full-time studio owner (after being a part-time yoga teacher) is a complete life change. But right from the time I started teaching I knew I wanted to do this – and if not now, when? It is such a luxury to be here and, especially, to be able to give back. From hosting donation classes that benefit charities to workshops that introduce people to new things – this is all deeply gratifying.” – Jaki Reynolds, Inspire of West Chester yoga studio

Need we say more?

Annual Poll Shows Our Retail Tenants Are Optimistic Increased Hiring, Expansion and Continued Momentum Expected in 2018

The results of our annual Outlook Retail Sentiment Survey are in and, from the standpoint of the retailers within our 100-property portfolio, 2018 is looking like a very good year. Strong sales in 2017 plus a healthy holiday season, combined with current economic conditions and continued industry evolution, are fueling their optimism. As regional leaders in retail commercial real estate, we share their positive outlook.

Bricks and Mortar Locations Turned in Strong Performances in 2017
By the numbers, 64.1 percent of our survey participants reported 2017 annual sales at the same level or higher than 2016. This compares to a five-year trailing average of 57.5 percent. And, for the holiday season, 66.2 percent of respondents reported same-or-higher sales compared to the 2016 holiday season, while 67.0 percent reported same-or-higher in-store traffic. This compares to five-year trailing averages of 62.7 and 60.4 percent, respectively.

“These statistics all are historically strong and indicate retailers had a very good year in 2017,” noted our president Matthew K. Harding. “We are particularly encouraged by the 6.6 percent positive differential in year-over year holiday traffic as compared to the trailing five-year average. At a time when news headlines are focused on the growth of e-commerce, this shows that consumers continue to value the experience of shopping in bricks-and-mortar locations.” This is positive news for retail real estate.

Findings by trade and governmental organizations mirror our survey results. The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) recently reported 90.0 percent of consumers made purchases in physical stores during the 2017 holiday season. The National Retail Federation (NRF) reported a 5.5 percent increase in holiday sales year- over-year, with Kiplinger reporting a 5.9 percent increase. Overall, 2017 retail sales were up 4.2 percent from 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Within this context, 68.1 percent of our survey respondents indicated they are feeling optimistic about 2018 store performance. “A relatively strong economy, historically low unemployment and growing consumer confidence set the stage for ongoing improvement for retail in 2018,” Harding said. “Kiplinger anticipates in-store sales will grow 2.4 percent in 2018, the strongest advancement since 2014. With no foreseeable major changes on the horizon, we, too, anticipate another year of continued momentum.”

A Welcome Retail Trend for 2018: More Hiring and Additional Stores
We asked the retail tenants in our survey if the current low unemployment rate has brought noticeable changes to the hiring climate. More than one quarter (28.1 percent) of the participants reported observing some shifts. Of those respondents, 63.3 percent are seeing fewer qualified job candidates in their applicant pools. Additionally, 53.3 percent saw demand for higher starting salaries, with 20.0 percent reporting demand for more employee incentives.

Our survey also asked tenants whether their companies anticipate opening additional stores in 2018. A healthy 30.4 percent answered in the affirmative. “We continue to hear about planned store closings, yet this is an important reminder that retail is an industry of constant evolution,” Harding said. “As some concepts reach their end, others expand and thrive. It is encouraging to see so many of our survey respondents fitting into the latter category.”

Retailers Are Responding to E-commerce with a Focus on Tech and Service
It’s an increasingly digital and mobile world and savvy retailers are responding with shifting strategies. Nearly half (49.6 percent) of our survey respondents indicated they have adapted their business models in response to the growth of e-commerce. The most popular changes involve heightened focus on technology and service.

Of those survey participants whose companies have made changes, 54.3 percent have increased their use of technology-centered marketing tools in-store, while 56.3 percent have upped technology-centered marketing to reach customers outside the store. Other strategic shifts embraced by more than half of those that have made changes include increased training and focus on customer service (58.9 percent), and added in-store services and incentives (51.0 percent).

“Our survey indicates retailers are using multiple avenues to distinguish themselves and win business,” noted Melissa Sievwright, our vice president of marketing. “It has become clear they are leveraging technology to get consumers’ attention and enrich the in-store shopping experience. There are elements of touch, feel and interaction in a physical store than cannot be duplicated online. The emphasis on training and service reflects that our tenants understand what is important to their customers today.”

Nearly half (48.7 percent) of our survey respondents report measurable benefits stemming from their business model adaptations.

Our next Retail Sentiment surveys will be conducted in May, exploring year-to-date performance and technology issues, and in October/November, gauging expectations and plans for the 2018 holiday season. We’ll share the results here on our blog.

Our Pre-Holiday Survey Shows Positive Outlook For Retail

Bricks-and-Mortar Focuses on Engaging Consumers in a Digital World

The results of Levin Management Corporation’s (LMC) annual Pre-Holiday Retail Sentiment Survey are in and the outlook is optimistic. Retailers in our 100-property, 14-million-square-foot shopping center portfolio are coming off a generally positive year to date and expect sales to remain strong throughout the holiday season.

Retail Real Estate Trend: A Positive Year is Expected to End on a Positive Note
For the majority of LMC survey participants, year-to-date sales and shopper traffic have been similar to or better than last year at this time. Notably, the percentage reporting same-or-higher sales (62.4 percent) through late October jumped nearly 6.0 percent from the findings in LMC’s mid-year 2017 survey and is 2.8 percent higher than the trailing five-year average in LMC’s pre-holiday surveys.

“From a ground-level perspective, 2017 has been a positive year for retailers within the LMC portfolio, and the survey findings support our observations,” noted Matthew K. Harding, president. “Busy shopping center parking lots and more than two dozen new store openings testify that the economy is strengthening, and consumer confidence is rising. In fact, The Conference Board reported that in October consumer confidence registered at its highest level in nearly 17 years.

“It comes as no surprise, then, that more than three-quarters – 76.9 percent – of our survey participants expect sales to be the same or better than last year’s holiday shopping season,” noted Harding, adding 41.7 percent of respondents plan to add seasonal staff. “This optimism is reinforced by projections from our industry’s largest trade organizations.”

Research from Major Retail Trade Groups Reflects LMC Survey’s Findings
The National Retail Federation anticipates 2017 holiday retail sales to increase between 3.6 and 4.0 percent, a forecast that would meet or exceed last year’s growth of 3.6 percent. The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) predicts a 3.8 percent year-over-year growth in retail holiday sales, with 46.0 percent of shoppers indicating they will spend more this holiday season. Further, the ICSC study shows 91.0 percent plan to shop at bricks-and-mortar stores.

A Retail Trend Will Continue with an Early Start to Holiday Shopping
Nearly half (48.7 percent) of LMC survey respondents expect their holiday sales to peak before and during the Thanksgiving/Black Friday weekend. “Our retailers anticipate consumers will shop early again this year,” Harding said. “Interestingly, this is the first time in five years there are four pre-Christmas Saturdays in December, which expands the season and provides an opportunity for additional sales. We look forward to seeing if this changes the dynamics. Analytics firm Shoppertrak expects Saturday, Dec. 23, to be the second-busiest shopping day, after Black Friday.”

Tech-Centered Marketing Tools Will Play a Major Role This Holiday Season
The LMC Pre-Holiday Survey results emphasize retailers’ plans to engage customers and enhance their in-store experiences during the 2017 holiday season. Continuing an established retail trend, tech-centered marketing is playing a key role as bricks-and-mortar stores strive to compete in an increasingly digital world.

More than half (52.3 percent) of respondents who use tech-centered marketing tools report their efforts have boosted holiday sales in prior years. To that end, 96.2 percent of those respondents will employ the same or more technology-centered marketing this holiday season.

Email remains the favorite avenue for reaching customers outside the store. This tactic is used by 80.2 percent of survey respondents who employ tech-marketing tools, with social media/social marketing in second place at 73.7 percent. Also popular are text messaging (32.4 percent), and banners or other internet ads (29.8 percent).

“There is no doubt today’s consumers are influenced by information they receive digitally,” noted Melissa Sievwright, LMC’s vice president of marketing. “In fact, some of the latest research is turning out incredible numbers. ICSC’s Holiday Shopping Intentions Survey found 85 percent of shoppers will research products online before making in-store purchases, and nine of 10 will visit retailer websites or apps to get product information.”

Retailers Will Use Tech to Engage Shoppers and Enrich the In-Store Experience
The need to engage customers digitally does not end when they enter a store, and LMC retailers are providing a variety of tech-centered incentives and conveniences this holiday season, Sievwright noted. In fact, of LMC survey respondents who are employing tech-centered marketing tools, 75.8 percent offer digital coupons, discounts and/or loyalty points; 37.2 percent provide in-store, online ordering (with free shipping) for out-of-stock items; and 34.6 percent have an option to pre-order items online for in-store pick up. Other popular conveniences include free Wi-Fi (29.0 percent) and electronic receipts (28.6 percent).

“Shoppers today use their mobile devices in-store to access coupons, check availabilities and compare prices – so offering digital incentives and strong Wi-Fi signals is smart practice,” Sievwright said. “We also know consumers who buy online and pick up in-store often make additional purchases during their visit. We are encouraged by our survey’s indication of strong coordination between our tenants’ physical stores and online counterparts.”

Retailers Ready to Try New Tech-Based Enhancements This Season
The LMC survey shows nearly one-third (32.7 percent) of respondents are planning to try new approaches this year to enhance the in-store experience. And while some are tied to tech-centered marketing, many others say they will take advantage of aspects of the physical store to create an environment that cannot be duplicated online.

“Our tenants recognize that consumers want more out of the shopping experience than simply purchasing gifts,” Sievwright said. “In addition to traditional sales and specials, we are seeing everything from in-store fashion shows, performances and demos, to CPR classes and fundraisers for local charities. The survey also revealed a strong emphasis on enhanced customer service – the cornerstone of successful retail.”

In-Store Events Open the Doors to New Business Hyper Local Focus Gives Independent Retailers a Competitive Edge

National chains and big box stores have superior marketing muscle, but independent retailers have one unique advantage: they’re insiders. Indies are part of the community and that identity goes a long way toward building new business and retaining customers. One marketing tactic that maximizes your community connection is the in-store event – especially when it has a hyper-local focus. A hyper-local focus can involve anything from showcasing area artists to partnering with a community cause to featuring a local influencer or celebrity at your event.

Doing marketing for a regional leader in retail real estate, I talk with many indies who consistently score big with in-store events. Read on for some ideas I’ve picked up about the good things that happen when you open your doors for a special happening – especially if the focus is hyper-local.

1. Know Your Target Audience
Stick to this basic marketing principle. Know who you want to reach. Is the goal to build your current base or add a new kind of customer? When you have a clear picture of your target, you’ll be able to create an event that will draw them in.

2. Establish Your Event Budget
How many dollars can you devote to promoting and executing your event? Note: a successful event doesn’t have to be lavish. A modest one that’s repeated regularly can deliver results. Real life-examples: a wine store that does a small sampling event every Friday or a cafe that celebrates every “Hump Day” with a free cup for its first 25 customers.

3. Event Ideas with Proven Results

You’ll want to put your own creative stamp on your event, but here are some concepts you can build on:
-Demonstrations and how-to’s (local experts are a plus)
-Mini-classes (how to mix a cocktail, design a centerpiece, pair wine and food)
-Showcase of local artists or craftspeople
-Concert by local musicians
-Causes and charities (be an event host, donate a portion of your sales on a designated day, or serve as a collection point for contributions)

4. Essential Ingredients of Successful Events
Each successful event is unique, but there are some common elements:
-A fun atmosphere – no hard selling
-Free samples
-Refreshments
-Coupons for purchases or services
-Door prizes
-Photos and videos for social media
-Data collection: get contact information from your guests for future promotions

5. Promoting Your Event
Even the best planned event can’t succeed if no one knows about it. Include these proven tactics (both high-tech and low-tech) in your promotional plan:
-Facebook invitation with RSVP
-Boosted Facebook posts
-Instagram and Pinterest posts
-Flyers
-Banners, balloons, and signage
-Email outreach (especially if you want to build on your current base)
-Special invitations (phone calls or post cards to top customers)
-Local media – including your local online platforms. Events connected with
community causes tend to attract media coverage.
-Facebook Livestream: demonstrations and how-to’s are ideal for streaming.

6. Following Up on Your Event
The event isn’t over when the door closes. Continue the momentum with:
-Social media posts featuring your videos and photos
-Thank you emails to attendees (include a coupon)
-Local media: send images of your successful event to print and online outlets – having a local “name” present will help get placements.

The holiday shopping season is just around the corner. That’s a perfect time to stage an in-store event. Think about connecting to a community cause or tapping into special holiday concerns: decorating, fashion and beauty, entertaining, or maybe just how to shed stress (free chair massages or chocolates, anyone?) For more hints on staging in-store events, you might want to check out these two articles:

https://blog.vendhq.com/post/64901826781/step-step-guide-hosting-store-events-generate-foot-traffic-loyalty-sales

https://snapretail.com/blog/be-the-host-with-the-most-and-stay-under-budget/

Indie Retailers: Here’s How to Get More Out of Social Media

Beat the 5 Major Roadblocks to Online Success

As an executive with a regional leader in retail real estate, I chat with many independent retailers. Some are our tenants; others are attendees at various trade events. They’re in all kinds of retail businesses, but they share one thing: they want to get more from social media. They’re on board with it, but not entirely satisfied with what it’s delivering. Their concerns commonly involve five key “challenges.” Here are the answers I share with them.

1. Making Time for Social Media
Yes, social media is free – like a free puppy. It doesn’t require money but it demands time. And time is in short supply for any independent retailer. Here’s what I suggest for making the most of that valuable resource on social:
-Focus! Limit yourself to a few platforms. Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram are where most of your customers are.
-Create a monthly calendar for posts, so you aren’t scrambling every few days.
-Free yourself from the task of posting day-by-day. Use Facebook’s scheduling tool or Sprout Social, Hootsuite or Buffer. Input a batch of your social posts, specify their publishing dates and times, and let these tools do the posting.
-Schedule too packed? Delegate social to a staff member.

2. Creating Compelling Posts
“I don’t know what to post,” is probably the complaint I hear most from indie retailers when we talk about social. I always respond with the 80/20 rule. That is: only 20 percent of your posts should be your special offers and promotions, while 80 percent should be content that entertains or informs. Bottom line: people don’t like to be “sold to,” what they like is useful information. Examples of alternatives to the hard sell:
-Trends about the products/services you offer
-Advice on using the products you offer
-Staff “picks”
-Local events (local businesses like yours are community boosters)
-Product spotlight (what’s new, what’s popular)
-Meet the Staff (introduce your employees)
-Fun polls and quizzes (good way to research your market)
-Endorsements of neighboring businesses
Remember you don’t have to be the originator of all your social content. Link to relevant online articles or sites.

3. Engaging Your Audience
Many of the retailers I talk with tell me they’re discouraged because their social posts seem to just “go into the air.” No one engages with them. There are a number of ways to tackle this problem. I suggest:
-Get visual. Images, graphics, and especially video are the main drivers of social engagement. Put your iPhone or camera to work and include an image or video with every post. Explore using free or low cost stock photos, too.
-Respond to all posts. After all, social media is about being social.
-Post frequently (3x per week minimum). You have to be seen often to get noticed.
-Include a question in your post to encourage response. How about staging a
contest to get the audience involved?
-Study your analytics to see which posts “work” and which “don’t.”

4. Building a Following

“How do I get more followers?” That seems to be on every indie retailer’s mind. Some ways to build your followers include:
-“Boost” your posts on Facebook to reach more users.
-Consider a sponsored post on Facebook or Instagram or a promoted pin on
Pinterest for wider reach.
-Make sure to include an invitation to “Like” or follow your business in the
signature block of your email.
-Follow the advice in Points 2 and 3 above.
-Be patient. Big followings are not built in a day.

5. Using Social to Build In-Store Traffic
Although they appreciate its reach and power, many smaller retailers have trouble seeing exactly how having a social media presence drives traffic and ultimately sales. As a marketer, I think this question is similar to the ones raised about the impact of brand advertising on sales. It’s hard to make a direct connection, but we do know that recognizing and feeling positive about a brand does influence purchasing decisions. That said, I recommend that indies do some of the following when looking for a link between social presence and the bottom line:
-Compare your analytics with sales during those periods when you’re promoting heavily on social.
-Ask your customers how they heard about your store or your special sale.
-Extend exclusive offers to social media users and track the results.

Retailers – large or small – have an edge on the social platforms. According to a recent survey by Sprout Social, retail is one of the most liked industries on social media. So, indies, take advantage of that popularity and get your social going.

It’s Back to School for Walmart Managers Nationwide

# 1 Retailer is Betting on Staff Training to Lift In-Store Experience and Sales

It’s the season when students of all ages head back to the classroom. But education today isn’t always limited by subject matter or by the calendar. Since February 2016, supervisors and managers of the world’s leading retailer have been heading to the classrooms of Walmart Academy in droves – over 150,000 so far – as part of one of the nation’s largest in-house training programs. An additional 380,000 entry-level employees have passed through the company’s Pathways Foundation training. This mandatory program, which uses computer modules, guarantees a pay increase of $1 per hour to each staffer who completes it within 90 days.

What’s behind Walmart’s investment – $2.7 billion so far – in staff training? Besides the positive publicity and image enhancement, is this top player setting a retail trend that other bricks-and-mortars will pick up on? A retail trend that might provide a much-needed edge against onliners? (Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/08/business/walmart-academy-employee-training.html?_r=0)

Developing Skills to Meet the Shopper’s Needs
Clearly there’s a need to upgrade the basic skills of the retail workforce. The non-profit National Skills Coalition, in a study funded by Walmart, found that 60 percent of retail workers lacked reading proficiency and 70 percent had difficulty with numbers. The Pathways Foundation program aims to correct these primary deficiencies. Walmart Academy takes on a higher challenge in a classroom setting: how to improve the customer experience by fielding a knowledgable and motivated in-store management with well-developed people skills.

“They’re helping transform our shopping experience,” said Doug McMillon, President and CEO of Walmart Stores, Inc., of the Academy’s graduates, who attend a commencement ceremony in cap and gown on completion of their studies. Many aspire to executive roles – although future promotions are not guaranteed. (Read more:
http://blog.walmart.com/opportunity/20170417/what-is-a-walmart-academy-how-theyre-building-confidence-and-careers)

The retailing giant has concerns beyond the experience shoppers get in their own stores. Walmart has teamed with the National Retail Federation to help develop standards for a certification in customer relations skills that eventually would be available to all retail workers.

Retail Trend to Watch: Is Training the Best Defense Against Online Competition?
Among the top drivers of Walmart’s recent focus on training is doubtlessly the relentless rise of online retailers, especially Amazon. Now the third largest US retailer and expected to be number one in apparel sales by year end, Amazon is on the march. The best basic defense for bricks and mortars, according to current thinking, is to offer an in-store shopping experience providing physical access to merchandise plus personal interaction with knowledgeable store associates – an experience that can’t be duplicated online.

A Wharton Business School Study Says Retail Training Delivers Measurable Results
A team at the Wharton Business School, headed by Marshall L. Fisher, professor of operations, information and decisions, in collaboration with a leading consultancy, studied data from 300,000 sales associates in 330 stores of a major retailer over a three-year period. In comparing the associates’ sales before and after training, they found that their sales volume improved by a minimum of 23 percent per hour post- training, with highly motivated associates, who volunteered for training, improving by 46 percent per hour. Read about the study and view a video with Professor Fisher at:
http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/why-training-your-employees-will-increase-sales/

Can a Well-Trained Sales Staff Reduce Showrooming?
Showrooming – shoppers browsing a physical store and then purchasing online – is the bane of many retailers. Professor Fisher maintains that behavior is often due to a poorly trained staff. “I think customers often times don’t intend to showroom, but end up shopping online because they get better information online than they’re getting in the store,” he said.

The key takeaway from the Wharton study? Fisher advises: “It pays to invest in your people. It pays to have the store adequately staffed, to hire talented people, pay them well and train them well.”

Improved compensation and training – that might be a retail trend to watch.

Amazon Rocks Retail Again with Announcement of Prime Wardrobe

Bricks & Mortars Must Step Up Their Game in New, Competitive Environment

Within one week this June, Amazon made two stunning moves: the $13.7 billion purchase of Whole Foods Market and the announcement of its new Prime Wardrobe service. The latter sent share prices of Nordstrom and Macy’s tumbling and prompted the media to deliver more dire pronouncements on the future of bricks and mortar retailers. “Another potential nail in the coffin for the department store sector,” wrote Wells Fargo managing director and senior retail specialty analyst Ike Boruchow. (Read more: https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/news-analysis/fashion-sellers-reel-as-amazon-aims-at-its-next-retail-target)

It’s interesting that Amazon’s recent moves involve expansion in both online and bricks and mortar. We are doing business in interesting times.

Retail Trend: Online Retail is Moving into the Physical Realm
Prime Wardrobe, currently in test mode, effectively erases two long-standing friction points in online apparel sales: no physical experience of the merchandise and the hassle of returning purchases that don’t fit. Warby Parker, Stitch Fix, LeTote and Nordstrom’s Trunk Club have been succeeding with the try-before-you-buy model, but Amazon with a million-piece inventory, many top labels and a base of 80 million Prime members in the U.S. alone, is in a whole other league. By now, you are doubtlessly aware of their program’s key features, but for a quick refresher, watch Amazon’s own story on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIQh0O3wOdM

Will Prime Wardrobe Make Amazon the Death Star?
By year’s end, Amazon is expected to surpass Macy’s as the biggest apparel seller in the U.S. and to command 8.2 percent of the market by 2018 and 16.2 by 2022. TJ Maxx will hold the number two spot, with Macy’s in third place. (Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-becomes-the-biggest-clothing-retailer-in-the-us-2016-10) Amazon’s numbers and growth projections are formidable, but there’s still a lot of turf where smart retailers can thrive.

Molly Nichols of Independent Retailer summed up this perspective: “Retail stores need to focus on the main reason customers come through their doors and how to enhance and personalize that experience by offering stellar customer service. Prime Wardrobe is not something to be afraid of, but something from which to learn.” (Read more:
http://independentretailer.com/2017/06/21/key-takeaways-from-amazon-prime-wardrobe)

Creating the Optimum Customer Experience
Since Amazon’s announcement, industry experts have unleashed a flood of advice about how traditional retailers can stay competitive. The tactics range from high-tech to traditional, from data mining to staff training. But the bottom line – whether high-tech or low – is bricks and mortars must deliver the kind of positive customer experience that draws shoppers in and brings them back again.

As regional leaders in retail real estate, we keep a sharp focus on what the experts are saying about the customer experience. Their advice falls into four categories that both chains and independents can scale and implement.

1. Understand Your Customer: Data is the best friend of today’s retailer. A good shopping experience is based on delivering what the customer wants. That can’t be done unless you know what that is.
2. Reach the Customer: Customers need to be made aware of their local retailers and what they are offering. Newspaper advertising once did this. Now it’s email and targeted social media which actually costs far less. Our recent Retail Sentiment Survey shows our retail tenants are embracing social media in a big way. That’s something we applaud.
3. Serve the Customer: There are lots of tempting bells and whistles here: navigation beacons, specialized apps, smart fitting rooms, mobile pay, same day delivery and in-store drive through for pick-ups. But even more critical is customer service. Human interaction is something Amazon can’t provide yet – even with its Echo Look camera to support Prime Wardrobe. Put smart, motivated sales staff on the floor and “arm” them with tablets or mobile phones for accessing information.
4. Entertain the Customer: Give people a reason to get out of the house with in-store events. Recently, National Lipstick Day giveaways brought big lines to shopping venues nationwide. Social media helped drive that traffic. Older stores may need an interior update to provide an inviting environment for events and promotions.

And keep an eye on Amazon’s bricks and mortar initiatives. What’s happening in their book stores and at Whole Foods? As mentioned earlier, we are doing business in interesting times.

Read more on this topic:
https://www.vendhq.com/us/university/retail-trends-and-predictions-2017
http://multichannelmerchant.com/blog/can-retail-brands-grow-in-the-age-of-amazon/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/retail-survival-in-the-age-of-amazon_us_5951ceb2e4b0326c0a8d0af6

Retailers Invite Store Traffic with Innovative Environments

Retail Real Estate Trend: Shopping Experiences Unmatched Online

The battle for in-store traffic continues with retailers striving to lure shoppers away from their screens and into the aisles. Top retailers are leading the way with a shift in interior design that transforms the store from the transactional to the experiential. Their goal? To offer something online can’t match – at least in the foreseeable future – sensory engagement that brings joy back to shopping. Will these efforts drive consumers, especially the experience-loving Millennials, through the doors of the bricks and mortars? It’s a retail trend worth watching. And if it works, worth imitating. Reinvented retail environments range from the participatory to the digitally enhanced. Here’s what’s happening inside some of America’s most entertaining stores.
Continue reading “Retailers Invite Store Traffic with Innovative Environments”

Indie Retailers and Social Media: Perfect Together?

Retail Trend Watchers Say Social Is Under-Utilized Despite Its Potential
July is Independent Retailer Month, a time to salute those merchants across the country who account for half of the annual total retail sales in the US. If our economy is to stay robust, independent retailers of all sizes need to thrive. For the smaller players in this sector of our industry, social media seems like the magic bullet. It’s pervasive, influential, and inexpensive. In addition, platforms like Facebook, offer pinpoint targeting, that matches messages to prospects.

So why aren’t more indies – especially the “Mom and Pops” – stepping up to social? Roughly one-quarter of independents have no social presence at all, and half of those who do have accounts use them inconsistently or post rarely. As regional leaders in commercial retail real estate, this is a trend we’re watching.

(Read more: https://smallbiztrends.com/2017/03/companies-that-do-not-use-social-media.html)

Why Social Media Matters to Small Businesses
As more consumers flock to social – 81 percent of the US population are on it – they expect to find local retailers there. And they expect those retailers to have websites, as well as social presence. Half the respondents to Time Warner Cable’s Small Business Technology Impact Study said they avoided businesses without websites, believing they are not credible. Thirty percent said they may not buy from a company without a social media presence, with females and millennials rejecting businesses without social at an even higher rate. Fifty percent of millennials stated they preferred businesses with active Facebook pages.

Ninety percent of the small retailers who do use social media are on Facebook. In fact, many substitute their Facebook pages for websites, a solution that, in spite of the platform’s popularity and influence, fails to impress potential customers for whom a web presence signals credibility. Bottom line? Small retailers need to think bigger and go with both a site and social for maximum success.

What’s Keeping Indie Retailers Off Social Media
With so much to gain (or lose) and so much competition, why are some indies ignoring or under-utilizing social? Respondents to the recent Clutch 2017 Small Business Social Media Survey say the primary barriers are the time social requires and doubts about ROI. And a recently released study from Infusionsoft says that half of the small businesses they surveyed had no idea what their ROI was and 14 percent believed their investment in social was not delivering a quantifiable payoff. Still, half said they plan to push forward with their online efforts.

From Special Offers to Personal Stories: Social Is Empowering the Indies
While some are missing out on the benefits of social media, many indie retailers are enjoying brand exposure and growth in traffic – both in-store and on the web. Their tactics include:

Storytelling: Millennials especially respond to the personal stories of entrepreneurs, told on social platforms like Facebook or on a website.

Special Offers: Those old reliable – coupons and special offers – are finding a new life on social.

Seasonal Events: In store-events, promoted on Facebook and sometimes livestreamed, are proving to have strong millennial appeal.

How To’s: Recipes, demonstrations, useful information of all kinds are social gold –

especially in video format on Facebook or YouTube.

Charity Tie-Ins: Socially conscious millennials tend to be responsive to social media-based tie-ins to local charities and community fundraisers.

Dialogue: Website visitors and social media followers alike expect responses to their comments and/or questions. Savvy retailers also monitor the major review platforms like Yelp for mentions of their business. Whether positive or negative, they leave a response.

Mobilization: Mobile technology is shaping the nature of shopping. Responsive design that makes websites mobile friendly is essential. And merchants who offer mobile payment options are cashing in with – you guessed it – the millennials.

Social media is no passing fad. Generation Z, the demographic wave behind the millennials, are true digital natives who live the online life. That includes not just online browsing but discovering and connecting with physical stores in their neighborhoods –

often the indies. And the place where this next generation is most likely to connect is in the palm of their hands – on their phone or tablet. Smart indies will make sure they’re there to meet them.

 

The Mighty Dollars: A Bricks and Mortar Success Story

Retail Real Estate Trend: Will Good Times Be Bad for Bargain

You might call them the mice that roared. They’re the dollar stores – now almost 30,000 nationwide and growing. These price point retailers not only weathered the economic recession but they triumphed, growing their annual sales by 50 percent from 2010-15, compared to the 17 percent notched by retail overall in the same period. And while every week seems to bring news of closing doors and downsizing among bricks and mortars, the dollar niche remains in expansion mode. Dollar General, the top player in this category, is set to open 1,000 new stores this year (that’s 3 per day)! (Read more: http://www.retaildive.com/news/why-dollar-general-will-keep-its-promise-to-build-1k-stores-this-year/434044/)

Demographics Plus Location Equals Dollars for the Dollar Niche
Low- and middle-income shoppers have been these stores’ sweet spot since the first Dollar General opened in 1955 with a variety of wares, all below a $1 price point. As more retailers joined the bargain bandwagon, a location strategy emerged: cluster the stores within a small range for maximum ease of access. It was the reverse of Walmart’s centralization strategy. Consumers who must economize on gas or who rely on public transportation can always find a dollar store close to home or work. The convenience factor also proved a powerful draw for time-starved shoppers at higher income levels.

Not Your Grandpa’s Dollar Store
The crash of 2008 that brought misery to merchants nationwide was a boon to the category. The newly price-conscious turned to the dollars and the stores responded to that rush by pushing their inventories beyond novelties, out-of-date seasonal decorations, discontinued brands and basic staples. To meet the needs of a new class of bargain hunters, they improved their product mix, while retaining their original “treasure hunt” appeal. Consumables – food, household paper goods and cleaning products, health and beauty aids and tobacco products – now comprise three-quarters of the average dollar store’s inventory. Some dollars have added frozen meals, and prepared sandwiches. And 99 Cents Only’s website promises “Fresh produce daily.”

Bargain-priced consumables have drawn another new demographic to the dollars: Millennials. Known for their thriftiness and their preference for experiences over possessions, these sought-after consumers are among the dollar stores’ most loyal customers. In fact, NPD Group reports that at the three biggest dollar chains, 25 percent of purchases were made by Millennials from $100,000-plus households.

Dollar Stores Continue to Boost Commercial Real Estate
Shopping centers shared in the success of the dollar store niche during the recession and that positive connection continues. We are pleased to have 16 dollar stores in our portfolio, all representatives of the major chains. Dollar stores typically seek ten-year leases on 8,000-12,000 SF spaces in properties with strong anchors and high traffic counts. Their solid financial positions and brand names plus their ability to pull in shoppers make them ideal tenants.

Retail Real Estate Trend: The Growth Pace of Dollar Stores May Ease
As the economy strengthens, retail trend watchers predict that in the dollar store category new challenges may cool the growth of dollar stores. Will consumers become less interested in bargain hunting? Will the reduction in SNAP benefits curb less affluent shoppers? Will some stores fall victim to the saturation of these retailers in certain areas and end up cannibalizing each other? What about competition from drug stores who now compete with the dollars in the food and beverage categories? Will Amazon finally chip away at the dollars’ convenience appeal with its same-day delivery of low-priced consumables? (Read more: http://www.cnbc.com/2016/03/21/when-1-can-be-much-more-the-dollar-store-divide.html)

On the positive side, the dollar stores stand to remain immune to the threat of online among their original sweet spot – the less affluent household who does not typically shop online. Their low overhead and the minimal investment required to open a new store are also strengths. And then there’s the loyal Millennial consumer segment. Dollar General, the category leader, just launched a new smaller-store concept catering to the taste and needs of urban Millennials.

We’re keeping an eye on this category. These were the big bricks and mortar bright spot of the last decade and we’re not likely to bet against the dollars.