Retail

The “Consolidation Affect”

Perhaps consolidation is something not discussed as much as it should be, or it is just something that we’ve softened to, like the continuance of bankruptcy filings. However, I find that this ongoing trend of the real estate industry has long lasting affects for both the overall market, and for the general consumer.

One theme is consistent; the larger companies continue to grasp at a growth mechanism that is centered around acquiring its rivals or competitors as opposed to ongoing growth of its own brand.

Think about this, in the first 8 months of 2017 Amazon bought Whole Foods, Walmart bought Bonobos and jet.com, Coach bought Kate Spade, Michael Kors bought Jimmy Choo, Camping World bought Gander Mountain, and, a few weeks ago, Walgreens Boots Alliance obtained federal approval to purchase over 1,900 Rite Aid Pharmacy stores, a deal that has been in the works for several years. Inevitably, some of these consolidations will create markets that will be over-stored and force some retailers to consider consolidating even further to just 1 brick and mortar presence in each market. I’m not predicting this will create a massive wave of vacancies, but it will certainly be a large part of deal flow in all sectors of commercial real estate in the future.

While consolidation is not something new, the uniqueness of today’s narrative is that it now includes brick and mortar companies acquiring online only retailers. If you would have said just 5 years ago that Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, would purchase an independent online retailer such as jet.com, no one would have believed it.

Consolidation has never been viewed as an industry disruptor, and in many cases in the past the industry has praised these events. It was assumed that it gave retail different channels that they did not previously have, but how will this affect the industry overall? Over the next decade, consolidation will certainly be large part of the evolution of retail.

SEARS IS A “GOOD” THING!

How many times have we heard of a Kmart or Sears store closing, potentially closing, or looking like a rag? It may be the most obvious topic in retail; Sears is in midst of a constant “store closing list”, the likes of which we have never seen before in retail. Perhaps Blockbuster Video was most like the slow demise we’re witnessing. However, Sears continues to have a heartbeat, mainly due to their REIT spinoff, Seritage, as well as their CEO’s continued equity injections to keep the retailer from being in default from its obligations. While no one quite knows the future of Sears, I don’t think anyone believes a turn-around is possible. The brand is just too beat down and there are too many other places to get what Sears sells.

Now that we have established the most obvious conclusion in retail, how does this slow demise affect the market? One word, “GOOD”! Of the 40-plus Sears I have been in or driven past not one of them proved to be the highest and best use of the Property, thus affecting the surrounding retail in many cases. The continued velocity of redevelopment, repurposing, and redevising of the Sears/Kmart buildings is fueling many of these markets and centers resurgence. Look at Kings Plaza in Brooklyn; a massive block box that was once Sears will be repurposed as a multi-tenant shopping and dining experience.

The real question is what will we do when Sears is gone??? Most would agree that if they can maintain a viable business, this “tap in to our real estate” game plan could go on for 20 years. It took Sears nearly 50 years to get to the portfolio they have today. Not ever has there been a tenant with so many stores in so many strong markets, with so much potential being so underutilized. Perhaps you could look back at the old school regional brands such as Bradlees, but most would agree this has not been seen before in retail. It would be interesting to know of all U.S. retail absorption last year, what percentage involved a former Sears or Kmart. In my world, it has contributed to A LOT of deals and will continue to do so for many, many years to come.

Are you thinking differently? If not, you’ll get left behind..

While most of my focus is in the retail sector of commercial real estate, I also develop mixed use apartment projects in New Jersey. More recently, I began realizing and seeing the correlation between retail and residential projects. While designing the size of a residential unit, understanding the construction of a parking deck, and the allocation of one, two, and three-bedroom apartments couldn’t appear further from the retail sector, I think there are more correlations than most would believe. And I don’t mean the obvious topics which every development site has to contend with like construction costs and projected revenue. I am referring to a more personal connection; if you understand how people shop, shouldn’t you also understand how people live?? Now I may have just lost many of you but consider this; if you are a retail broker marketing the ground floor retail of a new mixed-use project or a developer looking at a site that maybe should be a hybrid-mixed-use project, you SHOULD LISTEN to this. If you want to be a successful developer in today’s market or a good broker, can you really afford to NOT understand this correlation? Perhaps this works in the prairie fields of Nebraska, or the swamps of Central Florida, but in the Northeast and in my world where so much is and has changed, I believe one MUST attempt to understand this new world.

Not only is retail undergoing an evolution, but the way people live has changed drastically as well. It is not by coincidence that these things are changing simultaneously. The instant gratification that the internet has brought, has, in my opinion, created demand and expectations in the way we live. From renters in a new building wanting to have amenities in their building and access to mass transit, restaurants, free-wifi, and grocery stores, to the Amazon shopper who wants same day delivery. This used to be viewed as a Millennial Evolution, but it is obvious that it has bled to all demographics and all ages.

In a world where fortress malls are doing health clubs, constructing office buildings on excess land, incorporating entertainment districts, and proposing residential units on their property and cities are developing three stories of retail with full LED building signage, one does not have to look too far for the changes in retail than what we see happening in the New York Metro Market

Whether a Broker or Developer, consider this; you are trying to convince a retailer to take a site that perhaps has some of the characteristics mentioned above, don’t you think you should be able to explain who may be the office worker or the resident that lives or works above or near the location you’re trying to convince a retailer to take? I mean how can you NOT do this?? Alternatively, if you’re a developer perhaps raising capital, looking for debt, or selling a project, don’t you think you need to explain WHO your perspective renter or buyer will be? What I mean is, if you’re leasing a building to on-the-go commuting millennials, do you want to lease the ground floor retail space to a hearing aid shop. Some will say that in the mixed-use space, the retail is “gravy” and you’re not concerned with that, but as explained above, the retail components have become part of the amenities of the building and who you place there could greatly change the perception of the building. This is a topic that a sociology major could write their senior paper on…more will come on this topic

Really, Retail is Dead??

As a developer and a broker, I am always looking to stay ahead of the curve and understand market conditions before they begin to affect the market. Since I, like many others, have read articles, blogs, comments, expert opinions, and panels that say retail is dead and Armageddon is upon us, I thought I would comment on the other side of that story and share an outlook that isn’t often talked about. Many people believe this other side of the story, there are just very few people who are voicing their opinions.

Let’s establish something first. I have been working in retail real estate for over a decade in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut so my opinions are about the markets that I know. For this reason, my opinions likely will not apply to those outside of these markets, since I believe generalizing market trends is not only irresponsible, it is inaccurate. I can only speak to the markets that I work in every day.

So, the pundits are saying that retail is dead and, to a certain extent, they are right. But the only retail that is “dead” are the parts that have been dead or dying for many years. Who is surprised or concerned anymore when Sears announces that it is closing more stores? Radio Shack filed for bankruptcy (again). How is that news earth shattering? We have been hearing about their troubles for years. Ok, so you ask, what about Payless? Are you talking about the shoe retailer that has 3 stores in certain markets or stores that are a single mile away from each other? And you are surprised that they need to close stores? Come on, really? Do you want to talk about the anchor tenant who is not doing well? Did you really think that a 250,000 square foot anchor store’s sales would maintain or even grow with the internet revolution that is happening around us? If so, I wonder if you are in the right business.

I’m not saying the bankruptcy of Payless is not newsworthy but I am challenging that this can and should lead to a conclusion that perhaps is not accurate. Dead and changing are two very different terms. Retail is not dead, it is changing. Part of being successful in retail is accepting that change is constant. It is how we react to this change that defines the future.

Where is the “New” news in Retail?

For all those people who lived under a rock the last 2 months, the overwhelming amount of news coming from the retail industry is that of Lidl’s Expansion in the U.S., Walmart’s purchase of Jet.com or Bonobos, and Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods. While I recognize these are relevant stories, it reflects where our industry is when these, particularly Lidl, have dominated the headlines for weeks upon end. With the risk of bursting the bubbles of these stories, I’d like to comment on why that is.

I acknowledge some will say, are you kidding me to challenge these stories? I’m not challenging them or the newsworthiness of them, they are big news and without question relevant, but not everyone is and will immediately or in the long term be affected by this. Moreover, the clear majority of Landlord’s, Developers, and Brokers are NOT affected by this day-to-day. Maybe my world is too simple, but if it does not affect how I feed my family, why spend so much time considering it. Let the “pundits” (if we have them) in our industry discuss this. I mean really, how does Walmart’s acquisition affect vacancy rates in your market place? It doesn’t.

Maybe I’m just not a big speculator on the impact of events, or maybe I have a point. If you’re reading this blog, why don’t you ask yourself as it applies to your business, “will this REALLY affect me?” So then why are you spending so much time discussing it at meetings and having an opinion about it? The retail sector is evolving and this is another step in that evolution process. Get used to it

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