Booming Industrial Market Heightens Demand for Third-Party Management

The industrial real estate market in New Jersey continues to thrive due in no small part to the rapid growth and evolution of e-commerce retailing. Last-mile distribution facilities – from which goods are stored and delivered directly to the consumer and local retail outlets – are becoming more reliant on well-located and well-operated warehouse space. This is particularly evident in core Garden State submarkets, where demand for space proximate to transportation networks, the Port of New York/New Jersey and New York City is stronger than ever before.
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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?


Technology Taking a Central Role in Connecting Consumers with Deals

Retailers are heading into the homestretch of the 2018 Back-to-School Shopping Season – second only to the winter holiday period in sales volume. Survey results from the National Retail Federation and Deloitte have indicated that retailers can expect to see an estimated $27.5 billion from the K-12 market segment alone, with 25 percent of U.S. households involved in purchasing items for the coming school year. That’s on par with 2017, and as consumer confidence surges and household finances stabilize, there’s every reason to expect those predictions to materialize.

With a diversified portfolio of 105 retail-focused properties in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, Levin Management Corporation (LMC) follows the BTS season closely. From its start in early July to the closing weeks of mid-September, we support our retail tenants in their efforts to maximize their sales during this critical period.

Nine Trends and Insights on the Back-to-School Shopping Season

We keep a close watch on consumer shopping patterns, market trends and predictions, looking for patterns that can help our tenants get an edge in this competitive season. Here are nine trends (identified in the NRF Survey and the Deloitte study) that have caught our eye:

Lengthening of the BTS Season – Shopping now extends from July 1 to mid-September.
Early Shoppers vs. Late Shoppers – Early birds will continue to be the biggest spenders. They plan to drop an average of $544 per household vs. latecomers who say they will go with a $455 outlay.
The Rise of Prime Day – Amazon’s July 16 online bargain event, which premiered four years ago, is echoed by bricks-and-mortar retailers who now offer their own Prime Day deals.
Bricks-and-Mortar Stores Still Rule BTS – Deloitte Back to School Survey respondents preferred in-store (57 percent) over online (23 percent) as their BTS shopping channel – but 20 percent remained undecided – leaving $5.5 billion up for grabs.
Clothing and Accessories are Biggest Category – Most of the BTS spend for K-12 will be on clothing and kids will have an active say in purchases decisions.
Mass Merchants will be 2018 Shoppers’ Top Choice – Walmart and Target are the favorite brick-and-mortar destinations, followed by traditional department stores and fast fashion apparel retailers. Dollar stores will draw lower-income households ($50k and below).
Price Sensitivity Remains – Retail price cutting during the recession may have created a deal-seeking consumer habit. Across the range of household incomes, shoppers indicate that they are continuing to bargain hunt. Price will be a key driver in their choice of the stores or sites where they make their 2018 BTS purchases.
Seeking Deals and Coupons Online – Price-conscious 2018 BTS shoppers will be active online, especially on mobile, looking for special promotions and coupons.
Biggest BTS Spenders are in the Northeast – With a planned spend of $568, households in the Northeast look to be the heaviest BTS spenders in 2018.

Technology Helps Retail Tenants Make the Grade in Back-to-School Shopping Season

Persistent price sensitivity, which drives the search for special promotions and coupons, caught our attention, along with the spending predictions for the Northeast (where our retail centers are concentrated). LMC is proud to support shopping centers and retailers in meeting the needs of these value-oriented shoppers through our tech-centered consumer engagement marketing platform.

As a core focus of this service, LMC implements and maintains business-to-consumer websites for select shopping centers. Popular with tenants and consumers alike, these portals automatically generate promotions run by national retailers and enable all tenants to upload information on their current sales and events. Properties taking advantage of the service include The Shoppes at Flemington in Flemington, N.J.; The Plaza at Harmon Meadow in Secaucus, N.J.; Blue Star Shopping Center in Watchung, N.J.; Somerset Shopping Center in Bridgewater, N.J.; Mayfair Shopping Center in Commack, N.Y.; and Post Road Plaza in the Village of Pelham Manor, N.Y. LMC also recently created a new property website for Westbrook Outlets in Westbrook, Conn.

Websites for these Levin-managed properties are continually updated and provide a digitally attractive and functional experience where users can view the latest sales, connect directly to tenant websites, and browse and even share deals. A BTS shopper can visit one of these websites several times a week on their mobile phone or computer and always find something new and valuable.

Retailers continue to face keen competition and these sites help them to establish a unique advantage with shoppers who are on the lookout for the best deals. The sites have quickly evolved into a powerful tool both for connecting with consumers and generating more traffic to an entire shopping center. And that’s a win for both owners and their retail tenants. We see these websites playing a key role during the all-important 2018 BTS season and beyond.

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.

New Business Increase Signals A Growing Interest In Outsourcing. Third-Party Commercial Real Estate Services Thrive in a Competitive Landscape

2017 was all about milestones. Not only did Levin Management Corporation (LMC) celebrate 65 years of industry leadership, but we broke previous new business records with the addition of 10 new assignments – totaling 1.5 million square feet YTD. This achievement increased our diversified leasing and management portfolio to 100 properties, totaling 14 million square feet.

There’s a strong appetite for third-party commercial retail real estate services right now. Are we seeing a retail real estate trend in the making? That’s hard to say from my perspective, but the evolving retail landscape, increased competition for fewer retailers and growing transactional complexity are bringing more private owners and institutional investors to our doors. These companies are looking to maximize property performance and value by outsourcing to experts like LMC. I find they’re drawn to us, in particular, because we offer a complete package (from retail leasing and management to construction management, and everything an owner needs to effectively run their properties). You might call us a specialized firm in that we customize our approach to the client and their property – and we stress high-quality service.

What’s Behind LMC’s Record-Breaking Anniversary Year?
LMC is attracting new business for a number of reasons. At the top of the list are:

• Longevity – 65 years of industry leadership
• Expertise – leadership with long-time industry and company affiliations
• Market knowledge and connections
• Scope of services – we’re a one-stop shop
• Individualized service model
• Reputation for excellence and integrity

The Big Decisions: Why Turn to a Third-Party Solution? Why Switch Providers?
For institutional investors, the decision to go with a third-party service provider is simple. They are asset managers who always hire third party management and leasing firms, and they make their selections based mostly on past experience and the level of service provided. On the other hand, private owners that are currently doing management in house are turning to third-party managers to help address a number of concerns in today’s challenging retail environment. The most common issues are:

• Rising vacancies
• Increasing competition from other centers
• Insufficient recovery of billable expenses
• Need for better control of CAM costs
• Keeping pace with an increasingly digital world, and opportunities to leverage technology in property marketing
• The burdens of day-to-day property management, such as emergency response to tenants
• The need for institutional-level financial reporting to other investors or lenders

The more issues they are experiencing, the more they realize their most efficient solution is a single expert resource – like LMC – that can address every challenge. Like institutional investors, many private owners no longer want to handle operations. This is especially true in our increasingly complex environment. Many private owners are also facing a generational shift. Younger family members are assuming leadership and often want to shed the responsibilities of in-house management entirely.

Switching third-party providers is another story. I find that neither private firms nor institutional investors want to get lost in a large national management provider portfolio. Major brand-name property management firms with huge client rosters and global reach seem to be attractive initially, but they often fall short in delivering individualized attention. These big players also tend to lack smaller market expertise, a factor critical in today’s environment. Being well-connected locally means a better sense of the market, which creates a clear advantage when it comes to property strategy.

LMC delivers that competitive advantage plus economies of scale in purchasing services and has strong connections to the best professionals, such as tax appeal attorneys, architects, engineers, insurance consultants, and environmental experts. Still, many owners are wary of changes that may interrupt property operation. LMC has decades of experience smoothly onboarding new properties and ensuring seamless transitions. This has been another factor in our successfully securing new assignments this year.

Anticipating Another Year of Milestones in 2018
LMC is looking to 2018 for another year of growth. We’re reaching out to institutional investors and private owners of retail centers, especially in our Northeast region. Our 65-plus years of experience can make a major difference for retail real estate owners eager to invest their energies in building value not managing property.

Food for Thought: Change Brings Opportunity for Grocery-Anchored Properties Growth by Established Brands, New Entrants Driving Activity in Northeast Market

Investor affinity for grocery-anchored shopping centers has endured through market cycles and the continually evolving landscape of retail, itself. Simply put, properties with supermarkets do better than those without, drawing strong and steady traffic that boosts leasing appeal and, subsequently, return on investment.

The Northeast market is experiencing several noteworthy shifts within this sector – including growth and investment by established brands, new entrants, and increased grocery offerings in non-traditional outlets.

For example, long-time regional staple ShopRite continues to build its market share and improve existing stores. At the LMC-leased and managed Wall Towne Center in Manasquan, N.J., a recently expanded, 71,000-square-foot ShopRite features larger produce and natural foods departments, and a cooking classroom. A similar ShopRite project is wrapping up at the LMC-managed Mansfield Plaza in Hackettstown, N.J.

ShopRite, Stop & Shop and Whole Foods for many years represented just a few expanding brands in our market. That, too, has changed. ACME re-entered the arena aggressively, acquiring approximately 70 stores tied to the A&P bankruptcy. Today, German grocer Lidl is among the region’s newest entrants, with stores planned in the 35,000-square-foot range.

Aldi is accelerating its expansion here as well. The company just opened a 23,400-square-foot store at Flemington Marketplace in Flemington, N.J. Sav-A-Lot also is growing, targeting a similar square footage. On the smaller side, Trader Joe’s and other specialty and ethnic brands continue to seek locations. In fact, LMC’s North Village Shopping Center in North Brunswick, N.J., is home to one of the newest Trader Joe’s. The 13,000-square-foot store opened in October.

Grocery has moved from brand consolidation to growth. This is driving competition at a time when consumers have abundant options for purchasing groceries, from online giant Amazon, to Walmart and Target stores with full-scale grocery, to easy grab-and-go offerings at pharmacies, dollar and convenience stores. Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods – arguably the most high-profile example of online retailers getting into the bricks-and-mortar game – signals continued shifts within the sector, and an endorsement of the key role physical stores play in overall retail strategy. Convenience is key.

So while grocery is not a new topic for our industry, it is again rising as one of the most interesting. Grocers are working to distinguish themselves with enhancements like online ordering, in-store demonstrations, more proprietary and prepared foods, and café-style seating. Overall, they are working to provide better experiences for their customers.

Landlords, in turn, must exercise more flexibility. Shop-from-home ordering requires dedicated parking and in-store space. New size requirements may necessitate space reconfigurations. And, as always, curb appeal is paramount. To this end, our clients are investing more capital in property updates, and we are seeing increased demand for experienced third-party commercial real estate services providers, like LMC, that offer in-house construction along with traditional property management and leasing capabilities.

The takeaway? Buying food is changing, yet that change is bringing opportunity. Ultimately, bricks-and-mortar grocery remains on solid footing, and owners of grocery-anchored shopping centers – especially those focused on providing meticulous maintenance and functionality – are positioned to benefit.

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
-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
-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:

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:

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:

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:

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.