This is not your father’s (or my father’s) RECon. True, the conference wasn’t called that back then, but it is clear to me that this influential annual event is evolving. I see three relatively new RECon trends/developments that I think are significant beyond the conference itself; indicating bigger-picture changes within the broader retail real estate industry:
Stronger international presence
The international element of the convention has definitely been noteworthy in recent years, a trend I think is likely to continue. Part of that is because of the growing presence of international brands on the American retail landscape—to complement the growth of U.S. brands overseas—but I think on a deeper, more fundamental level, it is perhaps the inevitable result of an increasingly connected world (and interconnected) world. Thanks to the Internet, you can buy anything from anywhere at any time. Retail—and, in particular, retail branding—has become a worldwide phenomenon. After all, when you put something out there on Twitter, for example, you are not just reaching your regional or domestic market, you are reaching a global market.
More municipalities attending
I have seen attendance by municipalities spike in recent years, and, with that, I think RECon has been seeing a correspondingly more diverse spectrum of exhibitors. It’s not surprising, if you think about it. Tax revenues are shrinking, and municipalities are looking to drive them back up. I think the increased municipal attendance is the result of a growing understanding that they have to be proactive about bringing in more retail. The success of improvement by districts and similar initiatives around the country provides a blueprint on how to make this happen, but municipalities are finding that they have to really court the iconic brands. A lean economy has only ramped up the competition for big names, prompting municipalities to step up marketing efforts. Downtowns are even open to big boxes they would not have even considered in the past. But, in today’s market, you need a compelling story because retailers have more options than ever before.
A younger and more diverse group of attendees
This is actually less of a trend and more of a need. While the industry is certainly getting more diverse in some ways (more international participants and more women), we still need more youth. We’ve come a long way, but I think we still have room for improvement. I can remember when I got started in the business and I was continually surprised by how many of the movers and shakers in the industry were men—especially for retail sectors like women’s apparel. Thankfully, we are over that hump, but we are still seeing relatively few young people going into this industry (interestingly, where I am seeing stronger youth participation is in family operations: there are quite a few second-generation professionals coming into the business; especially in the brokerage community). I think the retail real estate industry needs to step it up a bit, here. I think that if there was more of an ongoing collaboration between industry representatives and colleges and other educational/training institutions to create programs and incentives for our industry, it could help boost youth and minority participation. After all, the next generation of shoppers is going to know if a retailer really understands them and “speaks their language.”
What do you think? Have you noticed other changes in recent years? Are you expecting more changes like this in 2012? Please make a public comment below or feel free to e-mail me privately at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for past columns by Jeff Green.