This year, the mood, pace and tone of RECon (the International Council of Shopping Centers annual Retail Convention in Las Vegas) is palpably different. Whatever the economists say, the winds have shifted in the development and tenanting side of retail. A few observations from days 1 and 2 of the show:
People are dressed for success. Gone is the recent trend of more casual wear… far fewer attendees this year are in khakis and a golf shirt. And jeans? Unless you’re from Texas and wearing them with the requisite boots, sport coat and belt… no. In the easy days, a few years ago, the mood was different. There would always be more deals; there was plenty of retail to go around. Today. everyone seems to understand that while retailers are beginning to plan new stores again, fewer deals to do overall means you better work what you’re selling. And look like the recession didn’t kill your business and wreck your balance sheet.
Shows cost money and time is money. People are focused this year. Tight schedules, business-like attitudes and less chit-chat seem to be the rule. The economy has forced developers, retailers, brokers and cities to carefully consider the cost of attending the convention and how best to maximize the return on the investment. For instance, our day yesterday started with a coffee meeting at 8:30 and ended after a dinner with clients that wrapped at 9:30. No breaks in between… I finished the night in the same outfit I wore to the first meeting of the day. Lunch was a free fruit and walnut salad from the McDonald’s booth and a free hot dog from Thor Equities booth (thanks to you both!) eaten leaning against a pillar on the show floor.
Cautious optimism is the new normal. Developers we’ve talked with about sites in our client cities (the “Marketing Places, Spaces… part of our company) have been universally cautiously optimistic. We’re hearing, “[retailers] are beginning to plan new stores and think about the future, but everything matters on every site.” In other words, with so many sites out there and fewer stores to take them, only the sites that truly suit the purpose, generate return, have the access and amenities desired and where the development process is swift and simple are making the cut. Many retailers who in the past would build 50 stores a year and now looking for the 5 to 10 best sites for 2012 sites.
I think it’s been one of the most productive ICSC shows I’ve attended and I am looking forward to the hard work after the show of changing interest into announcements. I’m cautiously optimistic that the next year in retail is going to be a good one.