“We can’t lease our way out of this. Our next move needs to be transformative, inclusive of community, experiential and relevant” – Todd Finard, CEO of Finard Properties
Most of our clients are telling us this these days. While the right tenant can be a key piece of an effort to transform and revive an aging and floundering retail property, getting the tenant to look at the property in a new way is dependent upon creating a vision of how the project can become relevant in today’s changing retail landscape. The truth is tenanting is only one piece of the equation: high quality places, authenticity, memorable experiences and a range of services are the reasons why shoppers come back. In her book The New Better Off, Courtney Martin says that when people are asked what one possession they would take from their burning home, their answers show that they are “defined by their people… their pleasure… their memories and that’s about it. Everything else is, well, stuff.” With this kind of emphasis on memory and experience rather than accumulation of things, it’s no wonder that “experiential retail” is the hot buzz phrase in the industry.
Our clients typically ask us to reinvent retail-centric properties in the context of what we identify as four types of design problems: backfilling dead anchors, inside-outing enclosed malls, converting large dying malls into mixed use districts, and of course trying to reinvigorate the typical strip mall or stand-alone commercial building. Here are some examples of those types. Remember - place, authenticity, experiences and diversity.
When a JC Penny or other anchor finally goes dark, there is actually a great opportunity afforded to the project. As a sign of the power that this retailer once had, the stores are almost always located at the front door of the project. As the anchor pad is redeveloped it should act as a catalyst in rebranding the project. Including well-appointed open space that can be programmed for public events, outdoor seating for restaurants (a significant staple in the realm of experiential retail) and the inclusion of a grocer or other unique destination that changes the nature of the trip to the mall in the first place. The architecture itself should speak to the diversity of the tenant mix as well as the new, welcoming gesture that the center is making.