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Becker’s School Supplies Makes the Online Grade

BY Dan Berthiaume

To remain in the same e-commerce class as its peers, Pennsauken, N.J.-based Becker’s School Supplies, Inc. redeveloped and relaunched its online retail site on the WebLinc e-commerce platform.

“We needed a significant upgrade of our Web presence,” explained Robert Bonczkiewicz, catalog manager at Becker’s. “Competitors in our space are top-notch and we needed to get up to speed.”

Although Becker’s maintains a large B2B business selling school supplies to institutional customers such as schools, child care centers, and community centers, the company also operates a B2C channel that includes eight brick-and-mortar stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, as well as its e-commerce site. According to Bonczkiewicz, Becker’s originally realized that its site needed improvement and that outside assistance was necessary around 2010.

Putting the fix in
In June 2011, Becker’s decided to launch an 18-to-24-month effort to investigate and select an e-commerce platform vendor, implement technology and go live with consumers. Becker’s enlisted the aid of New Jersey-based e-commerce consulting firm FitForCommerce, which helped the company determine project scope.

“Our old site was not up to date with SEO and had generally poor search capabilities,” said Bonczkiewicz. “We had subpar merchandising.”

In July 2012, Becker’s, with assistance from Fit-for-Commerce, sent out an RFI to about 12 of a list of 20 vendors initially identified with help from FitForCommerce. The retailer spoke to eight vendors, and then narrowed that field to four and then two before finally selecting WebLinc in November 2012.

“We selected WebLinc for their design and technology capabilities,” said Bonczkiewicz. “They had good site search capability and a user-friendly content management system, which was crucial because we did not have a lot of in-house development experience.”

New school e-commerce
Becker’s launched its new e-commerce site on July 15. The benefits have come quickly.

“E-commerce revenue has more than doubled,” said Bonczkiewicz. “There has been a 70% increase in online transactions and average order value has increased 30% due to dynamic merchandising components. We can now cross-reference and upsell every product detail page for the customer.”

Becker’s has also been introducing new content like the Resource Café, which provides ideas and tips for teachers, and plans to add new content including a feedback mechanism for Resource Café as well as dedicated microsites for large accounts.

Modern education is highly competitive. This competitiveness even extends to selling educational supplies online, and Becker’s is doing what it takes to stay best-in-class.


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Burlington has blowout first day

BY CSA STAFF

Shares of Burlington Stores surged more than 40% in their first day of trading as the company executed an initial public offering on Wednesday.

The retailer operates 503 stores primarily under the name Burlington Coat Factory and sold 13.3 million shares that were priced at $17, slightly above an earlier range of $14 to $16. The limited number of shares contributed to strong demand and at the open the stock price popped more than 40% and closed at $25.13.

Proceeds from the sale were estimated to total roughly $205 million which the company planned to use to repay debt.

The offering followed a strong financial showing by the companyduring the first half of the year with sales up 9.9% to slightly more than $2 billion and same store sales up 5.5%. Net income on an adjusted basis for the six month period totaled $3 million, versus a loss during the comparable period the prior year of $21.1 million.

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The Urbanization of Suburbia?

BY CSA STAFF

By Yaromir Steiner

Perhaps the best way to begin a discussion about the “urbanization of suburbia” — a concept that has been discussed and debated with increasing frequency in recent years — is to correct a simple misunderstanding: there is no urbanization of suburbia. Rather than a new version of “urban sprawl,” what we are seeing instead is the strategic selection of promising sites and opportunities: high density nodes of mixed-use development. Some, of course, are more successful than others, and some have been executed with a greater or lesser degree of aesthetic, synergistic and commercial skill than others, but it would be a mistake to think about it as urbanization on a widespread scale.

When that kind of high-density mixed-use development works, it works very well. Some of the most well-known examples include projects like Crocker Park in Cleveland, Ohio; Easton Town Center in Columbus, Ohio; The Grove in Los Angeles, California; Zona Rosa in Kansas City, Missouri; Bowie Town Center in Bowie, Maryland; and City Place in Palm Beach, Fla. All of these projects feature not just a mix of uses, but also powerful synergies and impactful experiential elements. All have demonstrated the durability and profitability of great spaces and places.

Understanding what these success stories mean — what distinguishes them and what they might herald for the future — requires a thoughtful and thorough examination of some of the mechanics and misconceptions about placemaking, urbanization, and the future of commercial development.

Deliberate and articulate
One of the misconceptions is that there is a “rush” to try and turn every new project into an exercise in placemaking. Industry professionals who have been in touch with design and development trends for decades understand quite well that, while more new developments (and redevelopments) are embracing the kind of dense, human-scale design elements and integrated mix of uses that distinguishes high-quality urban design, there is no widespread “rush” to placemaking.

Make no mistake, the placemaking pendulum is swinging back, but it is (for the most part) doing so in a deliberate and organic manner. More importantly, this shift is not a temporary fad or design preference — it is in response to some fundamental trends that are deeply rooted in the way that that we, as a society, think about and use space, and spend our time and our money. To resort to an overused but still powerfully descriptive phrase: the way we live, work and play.

Trend #1: Sustainability and environmental responsibility
Land is precious. Quality land is even more precious — and it continues to become more so with each passing year. As a result, we are seeing higher densities and more creative and consequential efforts at adaptive re-use. Natural resources are scarce, driving increased sustainability awareness and boosting LEED certifications. Even infrastructure is precious, sparking an increased appreciation for leisure time uses that extend the day and provide more bang for the built-environment buck. Whether it is time, money, properties or places, fewer resources means that doing more with less is more important than ever before.

Trend #2: End of Euclidian zoning
Euclidean zoning, where rigid land-use tenets segregate commercial, residential and leisure time activities and place arbitrary limitations on development, are increasingly viewed as inflexible and outdated. To a large extent, architects are reclaiming urban planning from engineers, applying proven urban design principles to integrate a mix of uses with the improved design of public spaces and a range of innovative social- and customer-centric designs.

Trend #3: Reintroduction of leisure time uses into the retail mix
As leisure time uses become an increasingly familiar feature on the mixed-use landscape, the social role of the marketplace has begun to reassert itself. Designs (and expectations) are changing. Entertainment anchors are on the rise. The importance of open-air environments, natural gathering spaces, and authentic environments and experiences is becoming clearer.

Trend #4: Emergence of strong retail brands
The diminishing role of anchors in design and development, and the growing preference for “direct access” by customers have combined to facilitate the growth of stronger and more prominent brands. The consequence of that trend is less reliance on the design and development limitations of traditional anchors, and greater emphasis on meaningful, engaging design. The built environment is important only insofar as it fosters and enhances access to brands and experiences.

Consequences and characteristics
From a design and development standpoint, the consequences of these trends are significant. The key characteristics that define the successful execution of this new generation of commercial developments include: public spaces as anchors, a mix of uses, open-air environments, and the thoughtful integration of leisure time uses. These are projects designed according to traditional urban design principles, destinations that function as not only commercial, but also civic and social hubs. When done well, these characteristics are mutually reinforcing for successful execution. This is not so much a checklist as it is a feedback loop: a true case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. It is the very definition of synergy.

What’s Where’s next?
If we understand and accept the prevalence and inevitability of these trends, the natural next question to ask is: what’s next? What does this mean? And what will be the impact on future retail real estate development?

A better question than what is next might be where is next. It seems virtually inevitable that, over the next 25 years or so, the traditional mall will be continue to be phased out and “replaced” by a new generation of New Town Centers. These mixed-use environments will feature a strong retail component joined with leisure-time uses, with traditional urban principles guiding designs that integrate public spaces and include more environmentally responsible buildings with adaptive re-use potential.

For developers, the practical impacts of those principles in action means that we will likely see more extensive use of parking decks, larger building blocks to accommodate vehicles and pedestrians, city planning driven by street grids and environments rather than by zoned uses, and the resurgence of urban planning as an architectural discipline

The happy conclusion is that it is increasingly clear that, when it comes to commercial development, form is function: New Town Centers can be both commercial engines and social hubs; both aesthetic and architectural triumphs. In that context, it is perhaps not so hard to envision America’s planned commercial landscape a couple of decades from now as once again being not only bountiful, but also beautiful.

Yaromir Steiner is the founder and CEO of Columbus, OH-based Steiner + Associates.


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