Thursday, March 15, 2012

10 Keys to a Shopping Center Event

Our Marketing Team is coordinating a “Spring Festival” event at one of the shopping centers in our portfolio, involving the Easter Bunny, balloon twisters and face painters, a radio broadcast, a place for kids to color Easter bags with which to collect treat-filled eggs at participating tenants, police cars, fire engines, live animals, and more. We’ve executed dozens of events of various sizes for shopping centers, and we’ve learned quite a bit about how to do it (sometimes the hard way). Here are 10 simple things to remember when coordinating such events:

1. Team up with community groups:
Community groups will take often the lead in organizing, staffing, and publicizing events; many groups are thrilled just to have the space and opportunity. For our event, an animal advocacy group is providing bunnies for adoption, a great attraction for us, and a great chance for them to draw attention to their cause. The community is also a source of low-cost performing groups. One of our most successful events was a performance by a local children’s chorus. There were 30 children in the group, and nearly 200 people listened. They had a nicely-decorated indoor space in which to perform, and afterwards, several families had dinner at one of our center’s restaurants.

2. Engage town government:
Obviously you need the proper permits, notifications, and possibly police details, but beyond that you want the town on your side. Our first step for this event was to visit the town manager and ask for his input and ideas. We wanted more than just permission; we wanted to make his office an integral part of the team. Now the town is as invested as we are in the success of the event.

3. Have more than one focus or activity:
A variety of things for people to see and/or do, located at different parts of the center, helps with crowd control, and makes potential shoppers walk by, or walk into, all your stores. Our bag-coloring and adoption bunnies will be in one place, Easter Bunny photos in another, “touch-a-truck” fire engine at another, radio van somewhere else, etc. Hint: provide a printed map!

4. Use media strategically:
You don’t have to spend a fortune on media. Radio stations are often looking for places at which to set up broadcasts. You can also work a broadcast schedule for trade rather than cash: this can be as simple as enlisting merchants to provide gift cards for the station to give away. Online and email blasts, which usually include at least some on-air and/or streaming opportunity, are often less expensive, and more effective, than standard broadcast schedules. And don’t forget PR - does your town have a Patch? A story with a photo or two about your center’s event is more impactful than a print ad – and it’s free.

5. Use social media strategically:
Today your interaction with shoppers is a one-to-one conversation. We can’t emphasize enough the usefulness of Facebook in not only in personalizing a shopping center, but in communicating detailed information about events. And don’t forget to post photos of your event on Facebook as soon as possible - even as they happen!

6. Staff intelligently:
Be sure you have enough people on-site to help “guide” the event and attendees. However, you don’t need a huge staff, and as noted, merchants and community groups will often provide support staff. We have in the past engaged a dedicated Event Coordinator, paid by the property to be the point person for such events. And if you expect parking or traffic problems, don’t hesitate to arrange a police detail.

7. Properly prepare vacant space:
If you use a vacant store for display, a craft activity, or a performance, it should be clean, safe, comfortable, and well-lighted. If you’re serious about events of the type described here, invest some money in preparing vacant space (especially bathrooms – they’re often neglected in vacancies, and they’ll need to be functional, clean, and well-supplied). Of course you’d rather have your space leased, but showcasing the space as part of a vibrant community will go a lot further toward getting it leased than having it sit dark and empty.

8. Communicate with merchants, encourage participation, and coordinate with promotions:
Your tenants are your most valuable resource, and even if the activity is not one that connects directly with their line of business, be sure you inform them fully about everything that will happen at the center. Encourage participation as much as possible - national tenants often can’t take part in certain activities, but “mom-and-pops” are generally only too glad. In either case, get as much information as you can about sales or promotions that are going on anyway, and make it seem as if those promotions are part of the event.

9. Be prudent in handling vendors, performers, etc.:
Know who you’re dealing with, and state clearly, in writing, what’s expected of them. Everyone who comes onto the property has to provide proof of insurance. To be honest, we marketing people have found this vexing sometimes, but we know the Property Manager’s job is to protect the asset.

10. Have reasonable expectations:
Not all events will attract multitudes of shoppers, and that’s fine, as long as your expectations are realistic. Keep in mind that any one event is part of a long-term strategy to build your center’s community profile. A blood drive won’t spike big sales, but the good will is priceless. A trick-or-treat event might not bring huge throngs, but it will bring entire families, and they’ll visit every store in the center. Our outdoor concerts were covered by local cable and print outlets, and heavily “liked” on Facebook, so they impacted more potential shoppers than just those who attended. We don’t know for sure how many people our Spring Event will draw, but we’ve tapped into many resources for bringing in families, especially the local schools, so we’ve “pre-stuffed” 1,500 plastic Easter eggs. We could potentially have that many attendees (and I hope we will), but if we give out a third of that, we’ll be quite happy. As I said, we think of this event as part of a long-term investment in the image of the center.

In these pages, I’ve written about branding a center “as not just convenient or useful, but as an essential element of the community. Our strategy is marketing these properties has been to focus on organizing events, ideally with active participation of tenants, with an emphasis on involving community groups…and other organizations” (Putting Your Center At The Center, July, 2009). Well-thought-out, carefully-executed, community-based events can enhance your property’s relationship with tenants, potential tenants, shoppers, and the surrounding community. Do you have a center you’d like to put at the center of your community? Drop me a line
Chris Cardoni, Marketing Manager

Company News

New Employee: Rita Patel has joined the Burlington, MA Office as a Property Accountant. Rita comes from Carpenter & Company, Inc. where she worked for six years…New Business: KPP will manage and lease Vinebrook Plaza, a 31,725 s/f center across the Street from the Burlington (MA) Mall. Tenants include Wendy’s, Newbury Comics, Bank of America, and Supercuts.

Industry News: National

US chain store comp retail sales for February rose by 6.7% year-over-year as measured by the ICSC's tally of 21 major retail chains. A strong Valentine’s Day and warmer weather were key contributing factors. Among merchandise categories, Luxury Stores led with an 9.3% gain, followed by Wholesale Clubs with a rise of 8.0%. Discount Stores rose by 7.5%, Apparel gained 6.6%, Department Stores gained 3.8%, and Drug Stores dropped by 4.6%. Among individual retailers, Gap gained 4.0%, and Limited gained 8.0%; Costco was up 8.0%. Nordstrom was up 10.2% and Saks gained 6.6%; Target grew by 7.0% and TJX by 9.0%. Macy’s gained 4.6%, and Kohls dropped by 0.8%; Walgreens fell 4.6%.

Industry News: Accelerating

Nordstrom will open a full-line store in Salt Lake City in March, as well as 14 Nordstrom Rack stores in fiscal 2012…Target will open a 135,000 s/f store in MN, one of 20 to open this year, including 5 smaller CityTarget formats in Chicago, Seattle and San Francisco…Cabela will open 5 stores in 2012, in addition to its first Outpost outlet, slated to open this fall in WA. The Outpost stores will be built with Cabela’s rugged outdoor theme and will feature seasonal products. The company expects to open 6 stores and up to 3 additional Outpost stores by 2013…7-Eleven Inc. will open as many as 14 Manhattan stores this year. The retailer plans to add 20 locations every year until 2017…Texas Roadhouse Inc., which operates or franchises 360 restaurants, expects to open at least 25 new locations in 2012…Save-A-Lot opened 13 new stores in 4 states: four in PA, three in NY, three in OH and three in TN…General Growth Properties Inc. has made a deal to buy 11 Sears stores for about $270 million. GGP plans to rent some of the spaces and rebuild others...Lowe’s plans to open 10 stores in fiscal 2012...Vitamin Shoppe plans to open 52 new stores in 2012…Elevation Burger is  expected to expand to more than 50 units by the end of 2012. The chain currently has 29 units...Big Lots plans 90 new US store openings in 2012. Big Lots operates 1,451 stores in 48 states…Ascenta Retail Group Inc., whose brands include Dressbarn, Maurices, and Justice, plans to open 145 stores and close 55 stores in fiscal 2012 year, and will close the year with about 2,600 locations...Children's Place expects to open 60 new stores in fiscal 2012 and close 35…Target will complete remodels at more than 100 stores this month, the first of three cycles of remodels this year. The chain expects to remodel 230 stores to incorporate expanded fresh food layouts in 2012. Nearly 900 Targets currently offer the expanded food layout…Kohl’s announced the opening of 8 stores. The company now operates 1,134 stores in 49 states…The Fresh Market opened 6 new stores in the fourth quarter of 2011, plus two new stores so far in 2012, bringing its total to 115 locations in 21 states.

Industry News: Decelerating

Commercial real estate advisory firm Grubb & Ellis has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and has agreed to sell almost all of its assets to BGC Partners Inc. The company manages more than 250 million square feet of property...Build-A-Bear Workshop will also close 15 - 20 North American stores. The company also plans to relocate 15 stores and open 4-6 new stores in North America. The company is set to debut a new store design, with five stores to be retrofitted to the new look…For the coming year, OfficeMax plans a net reduction in store count with up to 35 closures and 1-2 openings in the US...Sears Holdings Corp. will close six stores in its home state of Illinois, after receiving a $150 million - tax credit to keep its home base in the state. The retailer had announced in December that it would close 100 to 120 stores, but no Illinois stores were on the initial list…Dish Network will close 500 underperforming Blockbuster stores in the first quarter, about a third of its stores. The company plans to expand Dish Services, currently offered in 150 stores, in the remaining Blockbuster stores…Kohl’s is backing away from expansion plans and focusing on online efforts, and plans to open fewer stores. Kohl’s opened 40 new stores this past year, bringing its current store count to 1,127...The US Bankruptcy Court in White Plains, NY, approved the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. plan to exit bankruptcy. The company filed Chapter 11 in December 2010...Sears Holdings will shut down the last remaining 9 Great Indoors locations. No specific date was given.There were 20 stores at the peak of the operation.

Industry News: New England

The owners of Coolidge Corner Wine and Spirits will open their first restaurant, Hops N Scotch Bar and Grill, on Beacon St. in Coolidge Corner, featuring craft beer and micro brews, boutique wine, high-end whiskeys, and casual American comfort foods…Wal-Mart, which has announced plans to open its first northeast grocery store in Somerville, MA, plans to open a second grocery store in West Hartford, CT by the end of 2012. The Somerville location in Assembly Square is expected to be 34,000 s/f and the West Hartford store will measure about 50,000 s/f. Since 1998, Walmart has opened 167 grocery stores around the country, which it calls “Walmart Neighborhood Markets”…Aldi will open its first NH store in Salem, just across the MA border. Aldi currently has 1,215 stores in 32 states…Golfology will close its store on Route 123 in Hanover, MA by the end of the month. Golfology is holding a liquidation sale at the location to clear out excess inventory…Bank of America will close 2, and People’s United Bank will close 3, MA branches to streamline operations. BofA plans to close 750 of its 5,700 nationwide branches. BofA has 270 branches across MA. People’s United will close 15 of 372 branches this year...The 79,297 s/f Super Stop & Shop Plaza in Stoughton, MA has been sold to Katz Properties for $15.4 million…Gap will shutter its Gap and GapKids at the Atrium Mall on Route 9 in Newton, adding to a wave of departures that has nearly emptied the mall. Borders, Williams-Sonoma, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Tiffany & Co. have already exited. Ross-Simons and J.Crew also plan to move out in the coming months...The Epping (NH) Planning Board approved the construction of a 26,000 s/f O'Neil Cinemas theater complex in the Brickyard Commons shopping center at Route 125…Walgreens will it open a 24,000 s/f “emporium” this fall in the former Borders space in Downtown Crossing, modeled after two it recently opened in New York City and Chicago which feature sushi stations, juice bars, eyebrow grooming bars, expanded natural and organic sections with fresh fruits, vegetables, wraps, sandwiches, and salads, as well as traditional prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, and household products. Walgreens signed a 30-year lease for the first floor, basement, and mezzanine and is considering space on the second floor…The Upper Crust Pizzerias in Salem and North Beverly closed abruptly. The franchise operator was found this summer to be violating federal wage laws, and chose to cease operations at the two stores. The Salem and Beverly locations were franchises, independent from the corporation. Upper Crust has more than a dozen corporate-owned locations in greater Boston…Chick-fil-A has halted plans for a restaurant in the Northeastern University student center after the student government alleged that the chain supported groups opposed to gay and lesbian rights...British fashion retailer Fred Perry will open its third US location this spring on Newbury St. in Boston. Fred Perry has 2 New York stores.

February Retail Sales Report

Commerce Department Monthly Sales

Retail sales increased 1.1% last month, the biggest gain since September, the Commerce Department said. Auto sales were strong and department stores had their biggest gain in more than a year. Excluding gasoline sales, retail sales increased 0.8%.
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce -

Treasury Yields

Consumer Confidence Index

The Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index®, which had decreased in January, increased in February. The Index now stands at 70.8 (1985=100), up from 61.5 in January. The Present Situation Index increased to 45.0 from 38.8. The Expectations Index rose to 88.0 from 76.7 in January.
Source: The Conference Board -

Purchasing Managers Index

Manufacturing continued its growth in February as the PMI registered 52.4 percent, a decrease of 1.7 percentage points when compared to January's reading of 54.1 percent. A reading above 50 percent indicates that the manufacturing economy is generally expanding; below 50 percent indicates that it is generally contracting.
Source: Institute for Supply Management - Manufacturing Report on Business -