Retail Networking Made Better
Networking isn’t new, but in this day and age of emails and texts, the idea of face-to-face business-building has taken on new importance.
Retail Live!, the series of retail real estate single-day networking events approaching its third year, used the idea of one-on-one interaction between tenants and landlords, with a particular emphasis on servicing the retailer participants, as its launchpad — and has found great success. Founded by Stacey Gilham, principal for Dallas/Austin-based Edge Realty Partners, the Retail Live! series of regional networking events has seen attendance and retailer participation grow as much as 50% since its inception.
“Retail Live! is different from your traditional tradeshow,” said Gilham, “in that we put retailers and shopping center owners together in a one-day setting conducive to making deals, and we add in entertainment and additional networking opportunities. It’s not a high-pressure environment, and attendees seem to respond well to the idea that deal-making doesn’t have to be stressful; it can actually be fun and effective.”
Retail Live! features multiple regional events each year (see sidebar for 2014 schedule); retailers are the exhibitors, and their tables are visited by an attendee base made up of shopping center owners, developers, brokers and property managers. The fact that retailers are not charged for exhibiting is a huge plus, as is the targeted attendee base. “I have found many real estate opportunities at Retail Live! and have met people I otherwise would have missed by not exhibiting,” said Victoria Chastain, CLS, senior site selection manager for Jos. A. Bank Clothiers.
Chastain, who is based in McKinney, Texas, has participated in five Retail Live! events to date, and says she will attend all future events in her territory.
“It is a wonderful venue that hearkens back to how real estate tradeshows used to be run many moons ago,” she said. “Through Retail Live!, I am made aware of real estate opportunities that might not be published, and I have access to more effective deal-making and networking, and to more market-specific intelligence.”
Sponsors benefit, as well. According to Brett Sheets, senior VP leasing for Phoenix-based American Realty Capital Properties (ARCP), his company participates in four Retail Live! events each year, and sees them as an opportunity to meet clients face to face.
“Because the events last four or five hours, they are easy to attend and they allow us to get in front of our retail clients in a casual setting,” Sheets said.
Growth by acquisition: Retail Live! announced late last year that it had acquired the 16-year-old, Florida-based Retailer One on One event — and that purchase has opened up an important market for Retail Live!. “Our objective from the inception of Retail Live! has been to become a national company providing a first-class commercial real estate networking event,” said Gilham. “Acquiring Retailer One on One, and thereby putting us solidly in the state of Florida and the Southeast Region, goes a long way toward helping us to achieve that goal.”
For information about registration, scheduling, hotel accommodations and more, visit retaillive.com.
Retail Live! 2014 Schedule of Events
Feb. 6: Chicago (Westin Chicago Northwest)
April 2: Los Angeles (Hilton Orange County)
April 17: Orlando (Hilton Orlando)
Aug. 21: Austin (Hyatt Regency Austin)
Fall (day TBA): New York City
To register, visit retaillive.com.
Revving its Engines
PizzaRev opened a concept test kitchen in Los Angeles in April 2012. Today, it has nine company-owned restaurants with 19 more company and franchised stores on the way.
“This isn’t just about our growth, but also growth in the fast casual pizza space,” said Irv Zuckerman, co-CEO of PizzaRev. In fact, the fast casual pizza space is much bigger than it was two years ago when PizzaRev opened its first concept. New concepts from well-known brands, such as Chipotle’s Pizzeria Locale, have opened up within the last year.
PizzaRev has positioned itself to grow with a number of franchise partners. “We continue to seek multi-unit franchise partners who have the passion to help build our brand and collectively make us the best fast casual restaurant in the industry,” Zuckerman said.
For example, the 1,000-unit Buffalo Wild Wings chain is a PizzaRev franchise partner that plans to open two units in the next few months in Minneapolis with more on the way. While it isn’t common practice for a franchisee to be a partner, Buffalo Wild Wings is also a minority stakeholder in PizzaRev.
Building better pizzas fast
The PizzaRev fast casual idea aims to move the customization process forward and improve on what hamburger restaurants and other specialty brands have done.
“First you had McDonald’s and Burger King, and then came Smashburger and Five Guys who offered wider ingredient choices,” said Robert Haas, PizzaRev’s exclusive Los Angeles broker, X Team International Partner and cofounder of LA-based Cypress Retail Group. “The paradigm shift taking place in the pizza space means better quality on all levels.”
In short, the fast casual food experience fits today’s consumer. The ingredients are fresh, the service is fast and the price is right. “PizzaRev uses high-end mozzarella cheese that has buffalo milk in it like many fine dining restaurants use,” said Zuckerman. “We make our dough fresh daily and don’t upcharge for the long list of topping options.”
That enables interactive ordering, a concept that separates PizzaRev from the standard restaurant model. Customers watch their pizza being made and select basic ingredients: two kinds of dough, four kinds of sauce, four kinds of cheese and as many toppings as they want — from a list of 11 meats and 16 vegetables. Want more capers or fennel seed? Just ask. The pizza will cost $7.99 whether you ask for one topping or 10. “We don’t want this to be a wallet-decision,” said Zuckerman.
Using a 3.5-ton WoodStone open flame pizza oven heated to 800 degrees, in just two to three minutes customized pizzas are complete. “This means you can now enjoy a quick and fresh pizza for lunch,” Zuckerman added. “In addition, our Roman-style thin crust cuts the calorie count substantially. Guests feel good after having our pizza.”
But the customization process doesn’t stop there. Customization and ingredient variations are available for salads and the Freestyle Coca-Cola machine has hundreds of soft drink options to choose from, as well as craft and premium beers. “What we want to provide for our guests is an experience that fulfills our motto, ‘Craft Your Own.’ ” Zuckerman said.
Now PizzaRev’s franchise partners are going to rev it up across the country.
Quick PizzaRev Facts
What: Fast casual, craft your own artisinal pizza restaurant. Who: Partners and co-CEOs Rodney Eckerman and Irv Zuckerman; partner and COO Nicholas Eckerman; partner and CMO Jeff Zuckerman. Exclusive L.A. Broker Bob Haas, X Team International Partner and co-founder of the L.A.-based Cypress Retail Group. Current number of stores: Nine, with 19 in the pipeline in 2014. Average size: 2,000 to 3,000 sq. ft. Website: pizzarev.com. More: Check out the Chain Store Age exclusive series about PizzaRev, “Small Retailer, Big Plans,” at chainstoreage.com/real-estate.
Three Decades of Retail
Mike George likes to say that his company is in the retail real estate information business. “Our clients buy, sell and lease retail real estate,” said George, principal and president of Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.- based Mid-America Real Estate Group. “Clients that buy and sell real estate rely on us for information that helps them make the best business decisions. When clients hire us to manage and lease shopping centers, they want our information-based decisions.”
Founded in 1984 as Mid-America Real Estate Corp. to represent retail tenants, the firm quickly became a resource for retailers expanding into the Chicago metropolitan area. Since then, it has grown into the largest full-service retail real estate organization in the Midwest, providing brokerage services, investment sales, property management and related services.
The company branched out beyond retail tenant representation in 1990. “During meetings with property management people about chain store clients, we found our selves educating them about leasing to retailers,” George said. “An effective leasing agent understands what the owner wants to accomplish and then interprets that into what retailers are prepared to do. What lease terms will this retailer accept? What level of rent increases will that retailer accept?
“We were teaching property managers about basics. Considering that, we thought that we could succeed in the property management business.”
Mid-America Real Estate Corp. formed Mid-America Asset Management and entered the shopping center property management business in 1990. Today, the asset management company and three other companion companies hold a giant share of the Midwest’s retail property management contracts. In Chicago alone, the company manages more properties than the next three competitors combined.
In the early 1990s, institutional real estate investors began calling Mid-America with questions about retail real estate investments in Chicago. “We answered questions about what investors need to learn before making a buying decision,” George said. “We turned that expertise into an investment sales business that has become a large part of our overall business.” Mid-America Real Estate Corp. handles the group’s investment sales work.
New Mid-America offices followed in the early 2000s, thanks to Mid-America’s membership in ChainLinks, a national network of cooperating real estate service firms. When CBRE acquired the ChainLinks representative in Milwaukee, Wisconsin was left without a ChainLinks firm.
“We knew experienced people in Milwaukee interested in moving to a firm that specialized in retail,” George said. “We made them partners and formed Mid-America Wisconsin. The same thing happened in Minneapolis in 2009 and Detroit in 2011, and we formed Mid-America Minnesota and Mid-America Michigan.
“We’ve become the ChainLinks affiliate in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan, in addition to Illinois.”
Keys to success
This year is the 30th anniversary of Mid-America Real Estate. Looking back over the years, George points to three factors that have enabled the firm’s long-term success:
It brings in the best people as partners;
It specializes strictly in retail real estate; and
Mid-America partners and employees specialize in specific retail real estate services.
“We have never tried to own all of the company,” said George, explaining his partnership philosophy. “We find the best people in our markets and bring them into the business as managing partners. As a result, the best people in our markets stay with us.”
The company is not involved in office, warehouse or multi-family properties. George’s strategy is to be expert in one narrow property area — retail — and capture a major share of that business, and that has worked.
“Moreover, we specialize internally,” George continued. “Everyone specializes in a single service: selling, leasing, managing and so on. So if you want to find the best people to expand your chain or sell your center, our name pops up quickly because of the great depth of knowledge that comes with specialization.”