Bialow Real Estate is a full-service real estate consulting firm dedicated to servicing the needs of retailers — local, regional and national retailers. Bialow provides all of the traditional functions of an internal real estate department including strategic planning, market analysis, site selection, lease negotiations and coordination of the fit out or construction process on through to store opening.
“We have our own network of about 50 different brokers in each major MSA in the country,” said Corey Bialow, the company’s CEO. “We connect the brokers with our clients and work as the master broker. An advantage to this is cost savings. When you hire us as your real estate team, the broker pays us when deals are signed. Retailers get our services basically for free.”
Chain Store Age recently asked Corey Bialow to talk about the retail real estate trends he sees from his vantage point today. Here’s what he had to say.
What consulting services are your retail clients asking from you today?
Before the recession, retailers were focused on growth. For the past few years since the recession, retailers want our help in repositioning existing store portfolios by right-sizing store portfolios and store square footages. They have edited their merchandise selections and remerchandised their stores.
A number of retailers are using the Internet to do this. If you once had a 10,000-sq.-ft. prototype, today, you might be more efficient with a 5,000-sq.-ft. prototype plus a warehouse that fulfills Internet orders.
When growth does return, do you think that today’s powerful site analysis and selection technologies will produce better performing stores?
I don’t think you can replace boots on the ground with technology. Don’t get me wrong, I want as much data as I can get. But technology and data are tools and not decision makers.
Where the technology is great is the macro level. Suppose you want to roll out your stores to cover the Baltimore metropolitan market. Technology can show you on a macro level where your customers are.
But I think there are too many variables to trust sales volume models. You might find through modeling that a particular location should produce a million dollar store. But the model doesn’t take the site’s physical characteristics into consideration. Poor parking will ruin an otherwise good location. What if a competitor opens a store down the block? There are lots of variables. To find them, you have to walk the site and evaluate it yourself.
What advice can you give to retailers trying to expand in today’s increasingly expensive landlord’s market?
It is a landlord’s market in the good retail corridors, and retailers need to understand how strong the competition for good space is. We recently put in an offer at the asking rent for a prime end-cap space in a prime retail corridor. The landlord received 10 offers. That’s how much demand for space outweighs the available supply today. In this kind of market, if you find a good space, don’t over-analyze it. Take it. Many of our clients are opening a store every week. There is no time to negotiate for every last nickel. In this landlord’s market, rents are at an all time high, and if you don’t move fast, you’ll lose deals to those who do move fast.
While the recession is over, many retailers continue to struggle. When will this turn around?
I don’t think that struggling retailers are the story anymore. I don’t think the story is that RadioShack is closing stores or that Sears isn’t doing well. The real story — what we often don’t hear about in the media — is that some retail segments are growing very aggressively. Fast-casual food service is on fire, for instance. So are health spas. The mobile phone businesses are opening lots of stores. CVS and Walgreens are growing rapidly with their urgent care concepts. These are the kinds of stories we should be hearing about. Some segments are seeing tremendous growth.