Archive for April, 2018

Where Did All the Stores Go?

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I hate shopping. For me, the ability to purchase things online goes down as one of the greatest phenomena of my lifetime. I don’t have to schlep through stores or circumvent big crowds and I can have things delivered right to my doorstep within days? Sign me up! Based on the high–and rapidly increasing–number of vacant retail spaces, it seems many Americans agree with me.

There is no denying the fact that the internet has permanently changed retail forever. As convenient as internet shopping is, however, part of me aches for the shop owners who dreamed of starting up their own store and poured tons of money and time into making their dreams come true.

Here I go dating myself again, but in my youth, there was no internet. Sure, you could order things from a catalog and have them shipped to you but by and large, if you needed to buy something, you went to a store. Malls, department stores, and retail centers everywhere were thriving. Today, legendary brands such as Sears, Kmart, Toys “R” Us, Radio Shack, JC Penny and Carson Pirie Scott (after 160 years in business) are shuttering a significant number of locations or disappearing completely.

The one that really hit home for me was Toys “R” Us. I used to take on whatever odd jobs I could find around the house or in the neighborhood and diligently save up my allowance so I could visit this kids’ utopia and buy video games (on floppy disks!) for my Commodore 64 computer (which was the greatest gaming computer of all time, but that is an argument for another day). Sure, the games were tons of fun to play, but just getting myself in a position to even go to Toys “R” Us was an accomplishment to be proud of and helped teach me the value of hard work.

Now, store owners are facing a dire call to either adapt to the times or find a new line of work. In order to draw customers, retailers need to present an “experience” and a reason to leave the house. These days, it isn’t unusual to see stores add coffee shops, wine bars and interactive events such as live demonstrations and classroom sessions. This is what it takes today to attract crowds and once they come, people will theoretically want to spend their money.

With retail vacancy rates approaching historic levels, landlords have been forced to change direction as well. Big box closings have left massive holes where anchor tenants once dominated. Today, there is less focus on filling these spaces with other big box stores and more emphasis on creating smaller sized spaces for such uses as restaurants, movie and entertainment venues, health clubs, grocery stores and medical clinics. Investors now seek out retail centers that are “internet-proof” and tenanted with users that cannot be threatened by e-commerce. In fact, in some cases, Landlords are even having to go way outside of the box and convert old big box stores into co-working facilities, office space, distribution centers, hotels or residences. All options are in play moving forward.

Downtown Chicago is a convenient microcosm of what is happening nationwide. The old Carson Pirie Scott Building on State Street is now a landmark office building, anchored by Target on the ground floor and a loft office conversion for the upper floors of Macy’s on State Street is up next.

Even the locations that have traditionally been as good as it gets in terms of visibility and obtaining high rents are no longer a slam dunk. Crate and Barrel, which once dominated a five-story building on Michigan Avenue, is out and a completely new Starbucks experience will take over. Their “roastery” concept will far exceed a typical store and genuinely be interesting to visit. While a company like Starbucks can pull this off, it is fair to wonder how many more retailers can develop a similar experience of this magnitude and be able to afford the rents these locations command.

As shopping experiences evolve, expect more and more of the classic stores to go by the wayside. Tenants will need to get more imaginative and give customers a reason to get away from their computers and phones. As we have learned, in all branches of real estate, change is the only constant. So, what will the new generation of savvy retailers create in the next retail revolution?

It’s Time to Listen

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I can still see the poster hanging in my third-grade classroom: “Listen and silent have the same letters for a reason.” At the time, I thought it was a teacher-way of saying “lights off, voices off”. Fast forward to today, and I now know the poster meant a whole lot more.

Almost all of us talk to people every single day, but dare I say that very few are good listeners? It turns out that listening takes more than just being silent.

So, what does it take to be a good listener and why is it important? Here are 4 things I’ve learned and try to keep in mind:

1. Listen to get out of the small talk rut
“How’s business? How ‘bout this weather we’re having? How ’bout them Sox/Cubs?” Those are good openings, but take it bit further and ask a follow-up question. “What are you looking forward to this month?” “What season is your favorite?” or “How long have you been a fan?” People generally like to talk about themselves. Learn something, remember it, and mention it the next time you see that person. They’ll appreciate you paying attention.

2. Listen and don’t make it about you.
I was talking with one of my friends recently about a problem. By the end of the conversation, I realized our roles had flipped and we had started discussing her similar problem and I became the one listening and giving advice.

When someone is talking, remember: It. Is. Not. About. You. Yes, it’s good to offer relatable points or a similar story if it can help. But listening means you must take a genuine interest in the other person rather than finding ways to make you seem interesting to them. Leave your ego at the door.

3. Listening means you don’t talk. Aim to speak for no more than 90 seconds at a time (unless your point is particularly riveting)
I love my grandma. We all love her. But we know when we get her on the phone, it is going to be a minimum 8-minute straight monologue. I remember a time my dad was talking to her on the phone, fell asleep, woke up some time later and she was still talking, completely oblivious. As much as we enjoy hearing about the “good, fresh, bread” she got on sale (plus she had a coupon, and it was 5% off day because her friend Linda told her about the senior discount last Saturday when she was over at her house to watch the Wild game), it’s nearly impossible to have a true conversation with her. For grandmas, it works. For most of the rest of us, it does not. Be conscious of how the people you are talking to are responding. Conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue.

4. Listen to discover what’s expected of you during the conversation
When I call my dad with a problem, I preface by saying “I just want to get this out” or “I want your help, you can give advice when I’m done”. It’s important to understand your role in listening–what does that person expect from you when they’re done talking? If you’re not in a place for the person to spell it out as clearly as I do for my dad, pay attention to their cues and figure out if they just want a pair of ears or need some advice. If they break in their conversation, say “mhm” and give it a few seconds. If they start back up, they probably just want to let it all out.

I thought grownups had it all figured out, yet it can still be painful for me to go to events where I know I will be faced with hours of small talk and conversations that don’t do anything to grow a relationship. I love connecting, I hate small talk. But I’ve learned that, in the beginning, some of that small talk is necessary. It doesn’t take much more than a good listener, however, to take that small talk and turn it into slightly larger talk.