As the retail real estate industry moves into the era of smart phones and tablet PCs, some traditional ways of doing business seem awfully outdated. For example, many leasing professionals still lug heavy folders with property information and marketing materials to meetings with prospective tenants. In addition to being a pain to deal with, these paper documents cost a fortune to produce, even though they have to be tossed whenever a property’s tenant roster or site plan changes.
But there is an alternative to the old way of doing business. For the past few years, No.inc, a Baltimore, Md.-based technology and communications consulting firm, has been perfecting a real estate-centered suite of products called Property Capsule, which allows leasing and marketing personnel to store all presentation materials digitally, through an internally managed modular system. These materials can then be presented to prospective tenants through touch screen kiosks, laptop presentations and CD-ROMs. In addition, Property Capsule provides on-demand printing. Later this year, No.inc plans to make its product available on the iPhone and the iPad, ushering real estate marketing presentations into a new mobile age.
In creating Property Capsule, No.inc was really ahead of its time, having presented its first digital portfolio, on behalf of Centro Watt (now Centro Properties Group), at the 2005 ICSC Las Vegas convention. Centro had just acquired 93 U.S. shopping centers through its merger with Kramont Realty Trust and asked No.inc to help re-brand its Web site, says Alex Markson, No.inc’s chief technology officer. Centro’s corporate marketing director at the time also wanted to save money by cutting the amount of paper the company used for marketing its properties and suggested adapting the same interface used for the Web site for the convention.
That’s how Property Capsule created its first trade show kiosk. No.inc put all the standard marketing materials for Centro’s portfolio—the site plans, the tenant lists, the demographic information, property photographs and fliers—into a digital module, and used a touch screen kiosk to display the information. Prospective tenants could point to any center on a map of Centro’s properties and get the information they needed.
“It started as something that we saw as just being a smart solution: to save money, to be green, to reduce the amount of time on overhead,” Markson notes. “With Centro, because they took on so many properties in such a short time and wanted to change their brand and go to Vegas with their [updated] stuff, it kind of became a solution almost out of necessity. They had to take a smarter approach.”
No.inc estimates that in 2007, when Centro once again came to ICSC with an expanded portfolio from the acquisition of New Plan Excel Realty Trust, Property Capsule helped the company save $650,000 in presentation costs. By then, No.inc built a printer into the touch screen kiosk and adjusted the product to auto-generate all the marketing fliers Centro needed.
Meanwhile, as the firm began working with other retail landlords, including DLC Management Corp., its consultants realized that Property Capsule could be used in a variety of formats, including laptop presentations and CD-ROMs that could be given to tenants instead of the standard marketing folders. Instead of a touch screen kiosk, DLC’s ICSC show booth featured laptops and touch screens that passing tenants could use even if they didn’t have an appointment with a DLC staffer. The updated Property Capsule also allows real estate professionals to update their digital portfolio content internally, by logging into the company database, notes Bill Shinn, chief collaboration officer with No.inc.
“Sometimes, a leasing rep may need to present a property to a particular tenant with maybe variations made in what stores are there,” Shinn says. “One version is only good for one meeting and up until now it was hard for marketing managers to know where all the different versions are. Now the marketing team can manage all this digital portfolio content in a very automated way.”
In the third quarter of 2009, No.inc plans to make Property Capsule available on mobile devices, including an iPhone version and a commissioned iPad product that will eliminate the need for an Internet connection for presentations. According to Markson, if a leasing representative runs into the tenant’s rep in the airport lounge, he will be able to take out his iPad and do the presentation on the spur of the moment.
No.inc is still in the process of adjusting its pricing for Property Capsule and would not reveal how much its products cost, other than to note that pricing varies depending on the module and the size of the portfolio involved. Shinn and Markson revealed, however, that the company is contemplating a switch to the software-as-a-service operating model later this year.