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TECHNOLOGY EDGE (COLUMN): Mass communication

Imagine you're a retailer working hard to find suitable properties in California. One strategy might be to pick up the phone book, flip to the page titled “brokers,” and let your fingers do the walking. But what if someone offered you a different option — the ability to instantly contact every retail broker and landlord in the state?

That might sound too good to be true, but it's exactly what a new program started by Rockville, Md.-based Storetrax, a retail-only property listing service, promises to do. The program is called Super Search Agent, and Storetrax chief executive Beth Stewart is excited about its potential.

“What we're doing, on behalf of retailers, is sending out information on where they want to expand to all the brokers and landlords in a given market,” Stewart explains. “This gives landlords the opportunity to respond to retailers' requests. They can do this with space that is listed or with space that they might be able to create.”

Instant contact

For example, Storetrax recently worked with a national donut chain to get the word out about the retailer's expansion plans in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Storetrax e-mailed the information to all the known retail brokers and landlords in the region. It also searched its own nationwide database of 800 million sq. ft., looking for retail properties that matched the requirements.

“The Super Search Agent e-mail is basically a form that says, ‘A nationally recognized donut shop is looking for space in your market,’ ” Stewart says. “The landlords and brokers get the e-mail whether they're members of Storetrax or not. They can click on a page where they agree to our terms, and then they see the information. This will include details such as what type of property the retailer wants to be in, whether it wants, say, a 1,500-sq.-ft. space, when it wants to move in, and so forth.”

Those who don't have an existing arrangement with Storetrax will pay a fee if Storetrax generates a lead that becomes a signed lease. This is just like working with an offline broker, Stewart notes. The fee is 1.5% of the value of the lease if the transaction is direct with the landlord, or 20% of the broker's commission.

Storetrax started the program in August. So far, it has been well received, Stewart says. “We're just getting started and this month alone we've probably got 30 retailers lined up for us to send out Super Search Agents. We're sending them out all over the country.”

Uncovering unlisted space

And because the program reaches brokers and landlords who don't already belong to Storetrax, it's creating new, unforeseen opportunities for retailers. “I just talked to a landlord who owns a retail property in California who recently responded to a retailer's request,” Stewart says. “This landlord didn't have the exact square footage the retailer was looking for. But she did know that she had a weak tenant, and that she could quickly assemble a package of information about her property and offer a proposal.”

The landlord wasn't listed on Storetrax and without the Super Search Agent program wouldn't have known about the opportunity. “So, what we're really doing is uncovering unlisted space,” Stewart says. “And that's very powerful.”

This new Storetrax initiative seems an intelligent, creative use of retail technology. It takes advantage of the power of the Internet in a way that saves time for all parties involved — and saves retailers' fingers a lot of walking.

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