Wednesday, December 7, 2016

When City Signs Become an Iconic Destination

If you were asked to think of the most recognizable street-level city sign, most people would probably say the "I amsterdam" sign comes to mind. And for good reason.

As David Hornstein of Eye for Travel puts it, "The I Amsterdam sculpture elegantly captures the information of place in a meaningful way. By being able to touch, climb and photograph the sculpture tourists can literally touch and feel the brand, something that usually is very abstract and intangible. This brings the brand to life and makes it fun to interact with." In fact, I Amsterdam is not only a sign but also an intereactive sculpture. I myself am guilty of climbing on and taking pictures in the sculpture. It was a tangible memory.

The I Amsterdam sculpture is one of the images most posted on social media including Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, etc. Because the world is globally integrated with social media, the city of Amsterdam is globally marketed for free. The I Amsterdam sculpture is a destination in itself that attracts people to the neighborhood and who end up visiting the shops, cafes, museums, and activities nearby.

Through the installation of one of these sculptural signs a city or commercial district can easily boost city pride, tourism, iconocism and promote activity and engagement- especially if the word(s) have integrated meaning to the city or word play. It can serve as an anchor to the surrounding district and become a meeting point easily identifiable and fun.

Lafayette, Louisiana for example, through their Creativity Everywhere project, produced a giant "LAFAYETTE". This one is interesting because it is interactive as well as iconic and pride inducing because it encourages people to create the "Y" in the middle.

Obviously not every city can adopt the same signage strategy as this could cause a lose of uniqueness, charm, and individuality of the city or district. However, as cities and districts continue to create strategic marketing plans, the addition of a city sign to the scene may become a an integral branding component that reflects each city's identity and reinforces its brand.

Here are some additional city signs from around the world:
"Only Lyon" sign found in Lyon, France
OY or YO sign, found in Brooklyn Bridge Park
"Mexico 68" Olympic sign
Central District, Mexico City

Support Your Local Artists This Holiday Season!

We're all gearing up for the holidays and of course buying gifts has become part and parcel of the season. Although looking for various types of gifts for all the different people in our lives has become less stressful and made easier with department stores and shopping malls offering a wide range of products, artisanal holiday markets have become the new hub to do this same type of cross shopping.

In New York, holiday markets are sprouting up all across the city - indoors and outdoors - and offering customers carefully-curated and unique shopping experiences filled with independent vendors selling an eclectic array of goods. A few weeks back, I stumbled upon Ridgewood Market Holiday Night Bazaar inside a German beer hall in the burgeoning neighborhood. Although the indoor market was discreetly located and inconspicuous, within 45 minutes I was armed with gifts for everyone on my list and not only did I spend much less than I would have at Bloomingdale's, I also got gifts that were handmade and one-of-a-kind.

This community-based artisan market, for example, features over 40 local artists who live or work within the neighborhood and that night all of them were out selling their products in person. There were ceramic pieces carved by hand in a nearby studio, metal jewelry mixed locally, and even honey harvested in local backyards. The truly engaging shopping experience that artists/vendors at such markets are able to offer is also special as many are able to speak eloquently to the process and inspiration of each product being sold.

As more research begins to point to the importance of maintaining physical retail presence and creating compelling shopping experiences to attract millennial shoppers, these holiday markets are certainly doing a great job offering millennials the stories they seek and the opportunities to touch, feel and test products.

Most importantly, this type of local and artisanal market is also fast becoming an outlet for artists, or aspiring small business owners, to test their products on the market and start building a customer base at a particularly crucial time of the year for retail. So for those of you who are still struggling to find the perfect gifts for all the special people in your lives, visit your neighborhood artisanal holiday market in your beer hall, church, or park, and support the local artists and aspiring business owners living amongst you!

Check out amNY and TimeOut New York for their lists of holiday markets in NYC!

Friday, December 2, 2016

Winter Light Festivals: Inspiring Examples

It is that time of the year when downtowns and commercial districts put up their holiday lights. Many districts, however, go beyond the typical Christmas lights. In an increasing number of cities across the world, large-scale light installations that blend art and technology are making their mark, lighting up the night of downtowns and neighborhood commercial districts. Many of these light festivals include interactive elements that turn spectators into participants, while others include live music, performances, street food and a variety of community events. Light festivals are also tourism magnets, attracting locals and out-of-towners alike to waterfronts, historic districts, and other neighborhoods on dark winter nights or during other periods when tourist activity may be low. Below are some inspiring examples.

Amsterdam Light Festival

From December until January Amsterdam lights up for the annual Amsterdam Light Festival. Over 35 artworks from international artists, designers and architects find their way alongside two different exhibition routes: ‘Water Colors’, the boat route and ‘Illuminate’, the walking route. Organized and managed by a public-private partnership between the municipality, the cultural sector and numerous businesses, its Board includes representatives from the cultural sector and various businesses in Amsterdam.

The festival offers a stage to light artists from all over the world to present their work in Amsterdam for two months and stimulates them to push their own boundaries and innovate. A jury selects the artworks that will become part of the festival.  In 2016 about 1800 artists from 93 different countries were interested in participating in the festival, of which 35 concepts were selected.

Luci d'Artista, Turin

Since 1998, the city of Turin, Italy, hosts the ‘Luci d’Artista’ a series of light installations that combine art and technology to illuminate the city’s streets and piazzas during the holidays. Since its first edition, the event became a point of reference for Italian contemporary artists to showcase their work and has attracted an increasing number of local and international visitors.

Nabana no Sato Winter Illuminations, Japan

From November to March, Nabana no Sato is one of the largest light festivals in Japan. There are various attractions including a huge field transformed into a sea of lights below an animated light show, light tunnels and an observation deck that lifts visitors high above the park where they can get a bird's eye view of the lights.

Pittsburgh Light Up Night

Light Up Night is a festival in Pittsburgh held during the winter holiday season. Many retailers in downtown Pittsburgh remain open late, and street vendors and other concessionaires sell food and give away hot beverages, treats and promotional items. The city is decorated with Christmas lights, trees and other holiday decorations. On Light Up Night, the skyscrapers and buildings in and around downtown keep their lights on throughout the night, lending to the name. According to local news, over 200,000 people attend the festivities.

San Antonio River Walk Holiday Lights
During the holidays the historic streets and famous River Walk of San Antonio, TX, are illuminated with millions of decorative lights, which are part of a number of lighting events including the Ford Holiday River Parade (the event that kicks off the holidays as thousands of lights illuminate the River Walk and decorated floats wind through the river in one of the country's only nighttime river parades), the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias (visitors of all ages  stroll along the banks of the San Antonio River guided by more than 6,000 luminarias. These warmly glowing candles in sand-filled bags line the walkways to symbolically mark the "lighting of the way" for the Holy Family), among other events that together attract thousands of visitors to the city every holiday season.

Rochester, MI, Bright Light Show

For the past eleven holiday seasons the buildings of downtown Rochester, MI, have their entire facades covered with over one million points of LED lights to create The Big, Bright Light Show. The Big, Bright Light Show is typically held in conjunction with the Lagniappe festival. Created for downtown merchants to celebrate the holiday season, Lagniappe comes from the Creole word meaning "a little something extra" and retailers provide discounts and giveaways to their customers.

Friday, November 18, 2016

The International Downtown Association (IDA) is seeking a few good downtowns...

Downtown management is at a crossroads. Those of us in the industry know the value of investing in and managing great downtown environments, we also recognize that without good data to tell our story we cannot effectively advocate on behalf of the organizations doing great downtown revitlaization work.

To combat this issue, the IDA is taking the lead in defining the "Value of Downtowns". They just released an RFP requesting applications from downtown organizations interesting in being part of a pilot research project that will help calculate the impact of downtown management and placemaking efforts. Selected communities will  be part of a cohort of about 12 downtowns and will help by contributing metrics that will allow IDA to analyze, compare and contrast performance across a wide variety of downtown communities. IDA will aggregate the data provided by participating organizations and compare this against data that downtowns find difficult to collect on their own, i.e. value per acre, tax revenue, sales revenue, etc. Participating organizations will be extremelly well poised to advocate on their own behalf with the data and analysis that emerges from this study.

If you would like to be part of an industry-led effort that help us begin to better communicate the value of downtown management, please consider responding to this RFP!

Click here to download "Request for Qualifications for Value of Downtowns Standardized Calculation and Analysis.

Larisa Ortiz is an IDA member and board member and serves on the IDA Research Committee.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Everything you need to know to attract Millennials to your businesses

We are seeing the term 'Millennial' being used more and more often in various discussions, but what does it mean to retailers? Who are these Millennial customers that are so often being referred to?

In a post earlier this year, ShopperTrak, a company that focuses on shopper analytics, revealed that Millennials between 19 and 35 years of age are price-conscious consumers who are willing to do extensive product research before making purchases. Despite this, they continue to be more loyal to quality products and brands and also expect a retailer to be more "socially conscious, give back, and have a positive impact on society." In other words, Millennials can be a challenge to many retailers. 

Some merchants we've been engaged with recently in our work complained that young Millennials don't have any money and aren't coming to their stores to shop. As a result, these owners have since redirected their attention away from this group of visitors even though the group is slated to possess over $200B in collective annual spending power by 2017. Are their actions founded or is there something they are missing to grab the attention of the challenging Millennial shopper? Here are some strategies that retailers can pursue in order to attract and retain the ever-growing Millennial customer base:

Strategy #1: Ensure convenient digital presence 

Over 92% of Millennials own smartphones and 69% read product reviews on their mobile devices. These statistics indicate to retailers the importance of having an online presence that enables Millennials to not only read product reviews and do their buying research but also to make instant purchases. In addition, retailers should also leverage social media as a key marketing tool to reach Millennials. Applications such as Instagram and Facebook are fast turning into the latest version of 'word-of-mouth' recommendations and this has been shown to be the most effective form of 'advertising' for Millennials. 

Strategy #2: Support a cause and make it known

As mentioned earlier, Millennials have shown that they value companies that support a cause and give back to society rather than just simply making profits. According to research from Barkley, an independent advertising agency, more than 50% of millennials make an effort to buy products from companies that support the causes they care about. TOMS shoes and Warby Parker are some useful examples of socially-conscious brands valued and supported by Millennials.These companies give back by donating one of their very own products for every one purchased and have not been shy about publicizing their respective social missions. There are of course other brands that simply donate a percentage of profits to a charity of their choice. 

Strategy #3: Create a helpful and authentic in-store experience

Millennials prefer an “experiential” retail environment where shopping is more than a transaction and forcing of goods. The trend of carefully curating product assortment and customer experiences in brick and mortar stores is spreading fast. Someone walking into a Warby Parker showroom, for example, is immediately transported to an old library through interior design and staff roles. The showrooms not only expose the customer to a range of eye wear neatly displayed on book cases, but also to carefully curated reading materials that are presumably desired with better eyesight. Sales associates' deep knowledge of products on offer also make the in-store experience substantially better.
All in all, Millennials want to be brought on an engaging and unique journey that most importantly provides them useful information regarding products on offer. 

Regardless of the challenges in attracting and retaining Millennials, it is important for retailers to note that they are influential trend setters. Non-Millennials are apparently following in their foot steps and lifestyles so the faster retailers catch on to these strategies that appeal to Millennials, the more effective they will be at attracting even more non-Millennial customers too.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Retail Insights: Is the end of the Department Store near?

According to Shopping Centers Today, in-line stores are outperforming department stores - a significant shift in how retail has traditionally functioned ("In-line stores are the new mall anchors at General Growth", SCT, Nov. 2016). As of June 2016, anchor sales in the General Growth Properties (GGP is one of the largest mall owners and managers in the country) portfolio fell by 1.9%. On the flip side, between 2005 and 2015 non-anchor sales grew by 33%. This trend is being felt industry-wide - from 2005 to 2015 department store sales declined by 23%. Analysts suggest that millennials have something to do with it. They enjoy experiences more than things, and spend their money in restaurants, home furnishings, health and personal care.
Broughton Street in Savannah, GA is an example
of an all "in-line" tenant mix

The good news is that downtown was made to offer an experience. The downtown environment is among the most conducive to offering millennials the mix of retail, services, entertainment, and perhaps most importantly the authenticity they crave. Nothing else comes close.

Another potential impact is that as the anchor plays less of a role in driving in-line tenancy, traditional downtown's without traditional department store anchors become much more appealing alternatives to retailers. Consider a project I just wrote about recently, The Broughton Street Collection in Savannah, GA. The $100 million dollar project began as an assemblage by developer Ben Carter and now includes 37 properties and about 130,000 sf of retail space with nary a traditional anchor in site. Instead the mix includes a variety of national, regional and local retailers and restaurants - a lifestyle center if you will - but without the department store anchor. The key to this strategy is to ensure that the in-line retailers who are there are complimentary and share a similar customer base. Without an anchor, in-line retail must create its own synergy, the kind that will collectively attract visitors who seek a cohesive and complimentary set of offerings. I tend to suggest that downtown's ask themselves this question - is there enough to do downtown to support a visit of an hour? or two or three? In-line retailers will care about the answer to this question because in many ways they need one another a lot of more than in situations where there is no anchor tenant.  Downtown district's that curate their retail mix might just be poised to give the regional mall a run for it's money.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What are "retail microclimates"? And how can knowing help your retail leasing efforts?

We work in lots of downtowns and find that most are not monolithic. Instead they are comprised of many different subdistricts, what we have dubbed here at LOA "retail microclimates". As I wrote about in the ICSC guide for "Improving Tenant Mix" (which can be downloaded from the ICSC website for free here), retail microclimates are driven by a unique set of conditions, namely location, visibility, access, anchors and tenant mix. These elements, when combined, create unique case-by-case opportunities for retailers. In the vicinity of a subway stop, for instance, we might have the conditions that support convenience-oriented retail (i.e. drugstore, bodega, or specialty grocer). Near a theatre, we might find restaurants. By a hospital, medical supply stores, or better yet, injury attorneys! These are simple examples that illustrate the point that synergistic relationships exist and that these kinds of co-tenancies should be baked into your retail leasing efforts.

Yet another example of retail microclimates can be found in malls where tenant mix is often curated by lifestyle segment. So in one corner of the mall a Nordstrom drives the co-tenancy of upscale apparel retailers, while a Bed Bath & Beyond in another area might find itself surrounded by home goods stores. Long streets are particularly susceptible to exhibiting characteristics of multiple retail micro-climates. Simply put, retailers want to be near other retailers who share the same customer base. Ultimately,  the synergies created by these co-tenancies help support all retailers.

A development in Savannah, GA known as The Broughton Street Collection is utilizing a similar strategy in the $100 million redevelopment led by Ben Carter Enterprises. Carson purchased 35 buildings along Broughton Street and has redeveloped the properties into a mixed-use downtown, replete with 225,000 sf of retail, 40,000 sf of restaurants, and 48 loft-style rental apartments and offices over five of the buildings. When you look at the retail leasing plan all elements of a retail microclimates are there. The eight blocks of the district are divided into seven areas with distinct identities including "upscale", "aspirational", "main street", "contemporary", and "bohemian". These districts are designed to accommodate retailers and restaurateurs who fit each of these themes. On the "upscale" block we have Madewell, Tory Burch and Lululemon. On the "aspirational" blocks we have J.Crew, Bonobos and Banana Republic.

Two blocks of the leasing plan for The Broughton Street Collection
This detailed block-by-block leasing plan, with microclimates identified, helps retailers self congregate in areas where they share customers. This kind of natural co-tenancy often happens in traditional downtowns, but in areas where major redevelopment is poised to occur, it happens through thoughtful planning and leasing strategies.

In downtowns, these retail microclimates can also be driven by the immediate surrounding neighborhood. In one community where we recently worked, the immediate surroundings were home to a strong Polish immigrant population, but four blocks away and closer to the subway, the environment and shopper was decidedly Latino. The difference in retail could be easily discerned. Polish speciality stores slowly gave way as the street changed to low-cost general merchandise in the form of dollar stores. For a retailer to succeed, they need to know which part of the district gives them the best chance to attract customers. Better yet, they need to know which block of the district already attracts their ideal customer. This is precisely where they will want to locate - and you can help them by letting them know where that is.