Retailers Embracing Mixed-Use Projects, Technology to Reach Their Customers, Says CREW Atlanta Panel

by Katie Sloan

Around Atlanta and the rest of the country, there are few retail developments in the pipeline that aren’t attached to office or residential uses. During CREW Atlanta’s panel discussion titled “The Evolution of Retail,” experts agreed that retailers are embracing mixed-use projects out of necessity.

“I’m not sure if in the near-term there will be any more retail-only projects. Retail alone can’t sustain a single development, it needs other users,” said Tisha Maley, founder and principal of The Maley Co., a retail real estate advisory company that spearheads the leasing efforts for Ponce City Market in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward district.

The 2 million-square-foot adaptive reuse project is the gold standard of how retailers are integrating into larger multi-use developments to great effect.

“Ponce City Market as an anchor of the BeltLine has changed Old Fourth Ward forever. What retailers are attracted to is that shoppers show up to Ponce City Market for one reason or another multiple times a week,” said Maley, referring to the office component of the development, as well as The Suzuki School and Core Power Yoga. “It’s about creating a place where retailers and restaurants can feel that they can do business.”

Lidz asks the panel about how retailers are integrating into mixed-use projects.

In addition to having retailers buy in, the panel discussed the importance of creating places where shoppers and moviegoers can spend their time casually.

“Today, people look for intentional and inviting spaces where they can walk and gather. The environments that we create today have to be designed that way,” said Liz Gillespie, vice president of marketing of North American Properties, the owner and developer of several high-profile developments in the Atlanta area including Atlantic Station, Colony Square and Avalon in Alpharetta.

“We kept a mindset of creating environments that in a perfect world becomes your ‘third place.’ You’re spending most of your time at home and work, but in your spare time where do you go? We want our projects to be that third place,” added Gillespie.

As developers and owners are looking to provide experiences in their developments, the importance of strong movie theaters is becoming paramount. Regal anchors several mixed-use projects in the Atlanta area, including Avalon and Atlantic Station, because of how well those theaters perform in those destinations.

In addition to opening new locations, the nation’s largest cinema chain is underway on re-seating their existing theaters, a process that involves replacing old seats with luxury recliners, establishing a reserved seating policy during ticket purchase and giving the food and beverage components a facelift.

Although the conversion process cuts around 60 percent of seats, Todd Boruff, vice president of real estate at Regal Entertainment Group, said the benefits far outweigh the loss of seats.

The CREW Atlanta luncheon was held Thursday, Aug. 4 at the Cobb Galleria Centre. The event drew more than 150 attendees.

“Our food and beverage sales per capita went up with reserve seating. People are getting to the movie theater early without reserving ahead of time so they could get a good seat,” said Boruff, who also mentioned that less seats per theater means they sell out faster on the weekends, which has helped boost ticket sales Monday through Thursday. “Traditionally movie theaters did 80 percent of their business Friday through Sunday, but now traffic during the week is much higher in our reseated theaters.”

Diane Lidz, partner at law firm Hartman Simons & Wood LLP, moderated the panel discussion during the CREW Atlanta luncheon, which drew more than 150 attendees. The discussion took place on Thursday, Aug. 4 at the Cobb Galleria Centre.

Retailing in the Digital Age

Retailers are embracing technology in reaching their customers, whether it’s for marketing purposes or for analytics. In the early to mid 2000s when online shopping was first threatening brick-and-mortar sales, retailers were wary to fully embrace e-commerce.

“Retailers realized they had to live with internet sales, but it wasn’t a collaborative existence at that point,” said Tonya Creekmore, principal of retail advisory services at Avison Young. “Today, every retailer on the national scale understands they have to be extremely collaborative with their online sales. In some instances, online sales are higher than in-store sales, but both will co-exist.”

Social media has been another frontier for retailers to conquer. Their largest cohort gets their information directly through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and Maley expressed how important it was for retailers to get their message through social media as well.

“Developers that aren’t active in social media are not engaging with an entire segment of the population,” said Maley. “Today, social media is about engaging with your consumer on a daily basis. It’s about pushing the brand forward through social interaction.”

Added Gillespie, “We learned through Avalon and Colony Square that people all crave the same things. We want life to be easier and convenient and give us experiences. Our mindset is to embrace technology in our developments.”

— John Nelson

Click here for more information on CREW Atlanta.

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