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RECon Trade Expo exhibitors adapt to a conservative business environment.

Exhibitors at the Trade Expo at ICSC's RECon will be marketing to a very tough audience. Competition among firms showcasing their latest products and services is likely to be intense as retailers and developers continue to tighten their belts. Furthermore, they're likely to have less time to hawk their wares as many conference attendees are planning on condensing their trips this year. Rather than spending three or four days at the show, many attendees plan to stay in Las Vegas for two days — or less.

“Given the current economic climate, we can't anticipate that attendance will match the record levels that we have seen in the last two years,” says Erin Hershkowitz, a spokesperson for ICSC.

The RECon convention attracted nearly 50,000 attendees in both 2007 and 2008. “We don't expect that to happen again this year, but we certainly are expecting a very productive and successful show,” she says.

RECon will be held May 17th through May 20th in Las Vegas. Pre-registration was down about 15 percent from last year, according to ICSC, with about 20,000 signed up for the conference as of mid-April. The association expects final numbers to be down about that much as well.

Even the convention itself is feeling the pinch from the struggling economy. The biggest change at the convention will be in the Leasing Mall, which will contract from three halls down to two. But the Trade Expo will also be affected.

ICSC is expecting about 275 registered exhibitors in the Trade Expo, a decrease from 350 that attended the show last year. The Trade Expo will cover 240,000 square feet, down about 30,000 square feet from 2008. Still, that's almost double the space the Trade Expo occupied in 2007.

Exhibitors in the Trade Expo will include firms that specialize in accounting or financial services software; advertising, marketing and public relations; architectural/engineering/construction; demographics, market analysis and prospecting software; graphic and interior design; decorations; flooring and masonry products; elevator and escalator sales; HVAC, lighting, and energy management; roofing contractors; security services; mall furnishings; and landscaping services.

Some of the changes to the Trade Expo this year include shorter hours and a shift in the layout. The Trade Expo will close at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, a few hours earlier than in the past. The earlier closing is a courtesy to allow exhibitors extra time to pack up and head home, Hershkowitz notes.

The ICSC also is relocating the Green Pavilion from the Grand Lobby to the Trade Expo portion of the convention. The Green Pavilion, which provides information on sustainable building practices and projects, will now be located next to the Green Zone.

The Green Zone, which made its debut in 2007, features roughly 65 exhibitors that showcase a variety of sustainable building products and services. Last year, the Green Zone occupied 16,000 square feet. ICSC also has become more stringent on how those companies qualify as green, so that attendees can get more value out of that section of the Trade Expo, Hershkowitz adds.

Even though the volume of attendees and exhibitors at RECon is expected to be down, exhibitors are preparing for a full-court press. One of the key ideas firms will be highlighting this year is how their products and services can add value, create efficiencies or cut costs.

“We're obviously experiencing a tumultuous time in the retail industry,” says David O'Niones, vice president and director of sales at Englewood, Colo.-based Playtime. The company is a global provider of interactive, themed play areas to shopping centers.

“With these economic realities, we've challenged our team to be more creative and strategic in assisting our clients to identify, develop and secure partnerships for their play areas,” he adds.

A common theme articulated throughout the retail industry is the critical importance for retail centers to promote a sense of community as well as enhance the shopping experience, O'Niones says. “We find ourselves in the position of providing an amenity that is both exceedingly popular and also proven to drive traffic — an important consideration at any time, but never more so than today.”

Recent Playtime projects range from play areas at Fiesta Mall in Mesa, Ariz., to Discovery Mall in Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Each year Playtime creates a new theme specifically for RECon. “The antibacterial nature of our coatings, enhancements with sound and a continued evolution in our approach to partnerships are important messages for this year's event,” O'Niones explains.

Innovations in lighting

Many exhibitors are concentrating on showing convention attendees how they are adapting to the new retail environment. WLS Lighting Systems is introducing numerous new energy-efficient products such as its SiteLynx, which is a wireless controller for lighting systems. “We are also educating developers and retailers on the benefits of good site lighting maintenance of their existing properties,” says Dean Pritchard, president of WLS Lighting Systems in Forth Worth, Texas.

For example, WLS is conducting exterior and interior lighting energy audits and researching rebate and tax credit information for its customers. WLS also is promoting a number of green initiatives including retrofitting existing projects with more energy-efficient lamps, introducing wireless controls, and educating developers and retailers on the numerous benefits of redesigning lighting systems.

There are a number of energy-efficient technologies being developed for exterior lighting that are becoming very popular. For instance, natural white lamps are a relatively new technology with numerous advantages over standard metal halide. WLS is recommending 775 natural white lamps in lieu of 1,000-watt probe start lamps for various reasons.

Natural white lamps produce an even whiter, brighter light than metal halide. As a result, the wattage — and energy costs — can be reduced while actually improving the lighting. In addition, natural white 775-watt lamps have a lamp life of 20,000-plus hours versus 12,000 for standard metal halide, and depreciate much slower than standard metal halide, Pritchard notes.

WLS realizes that budgets are tight. “However, when developers and retailers realize that natural white lamps save 25 percent in energy costs and provide much better lighting while burning almost twice as long, we think developers and retailers will consider switching to this superior technology,” Pritchard says.

Management software

Atlanta-based Virtual Premise Inc. will be showcasing the latest innovations and enhancements to its popular VP Retail Edition—the fourth-generation Percent Rent Manager and an improved Advanced Desktop Automated Manager (ADAM).

Although Virtual Premise has offered a percent rent management tool for several years, the firm has continued to enhance the feature's capabilities. The updated version of the Percent Rent Manager integrates with existing point-of-sales systems to automate landlord sales reporting requirements, expands the number and complexity of breakpoint calculations and facilitates the efficient calculation and payment of percent rent across any number of properties for a retailer.

“Percentage rent management is very time-consuming and fraught with errors,” says Mike Hawkins, managing director at Virtual Premise. “This enhanced tool allows retailers to manage their entire portfolio in a much more efficient manner.”

That is a big value add for many retailers and restaurants, especially considering the fact that some large chains may calculate and process thousands of percentage rent payments each month. The program integrates with a retailer's own point-of-sale system and uses that data to perform a variety of tasks.

For example, the software can calculate percentage rent based on any number of breakpoints as well as send out store sales reports automatically to landlords via e-mail or fax. “We have redesigned the product to allow it to be more flexible for companies that use different methodologies to accurately manage all types of rent,” Hawkins says.

Virtual Premise also will be highlighting improvements to its Advanced Desktop Audit Manager product. ADAM works in stand-alone mode or in conjunction with the VP Retail Edition, and is used to identify discrepancies in pass-through operating expenses from landlords in common area maintenance (CAM), insurance and taxes. ADAM launched about a year ago, but the latest version features expanded capabilities.

In addition, Virtual Premise will be introducing attendees to its new strategic partnership with Atlanta-based WorkOasis. WorkOasis is a best-in-class, Web-based maintenance management system that includes integrated work order, service history, invoice and payment processing and customer satisfaction evaluation tools. “We subscribe to the idea that if you find best practices tools out there, it's best to be able to integrate those tools,” Hawkins says.

Trends in architecture

The challenging economic climate has architecture firms such as GreenbergFarrow more focused than ever on delivering value to its clients. “The end users have retrenched and are very focused on capturing value,” Clifford says. Typically, GreenbergFarrow, an Atlanta-based planning, engineering and development consulting firm focuses on complex urban retail and mixed-use developments as well as major new store rollouts for brands such as Ikea, Kohl's and Home Depot.

For example, GreenbergFarrow designed the newly opened Fordham Place, a 276,475-square-foot, mixed-use retail and office complex in the Bronx, N.Y. The three-story project features Sears, Best Buy, 24 Hour Fitness and Walgreens as the main retail tenants.

GreenbergFarrow converted the existing building from single-tenant use to multiple-retail and office use by expanding the second through sixth floors. GreenbergFarrow focused on maintaining and reusing as much of the existing structure as possible, while adding a total of approximately 90,000 square feet to the property's first six floors and expanding a 37,000-square-foot cellar.

These days, clients are focusing on a more simple approach, such as cost-effective upgrades to existing properties in order to simply maintain the rent roll.

For example, clients that had perhaps planned a major redevelopment are now moving forward more cautiously, and are instead searching for ways to improve an existing asset over the short term rather than undertaking a costly demolition and expansion, notes John Clifford, principal of planning at GreenbergFarrow.

Property owners are initiating mainly cost-efficient cosmetic upgrades, and are looking for new ways to boost revenue, such as by recapturing more rentable square footage or introducing non-retail uses. “Another challenge that developers have is that some retailers are leaving their premises, and they are trying to find creative ways to remarket and reposition that space,” Clifford adds.

Green building materials

Green building continues to be a hot topic in the retail industry, and firms such as Petersen Aluminum Corp. will be focusing on the latest sustainable products in the roofing industry. “The most dramatic shift in the metal industry is toward building green,” says Blake Batkoff, national accounts sales manager at Petersen Aluminum in Elk Grove Village, Ill. “In the past few years it was a nice conversation topic but today many builders and developers are trying to build more eco-friendly buildings.”

Petersen Aluminum is working with its suppliers to develop products that are high performance and aesthetically pleasing, while also providing greater energy efficiency. Petersen Aluminum will be featuring its latest green building materials at RECon, including its solar laminate panels and new, energy-efficient metal roof colors. Petersen offers 29 cool roof colors that improve the energy efficiency of its roofing products without compromising on color selection. The Cool Color palette also meets the requirements of Energy Star, LEED and other cool roofing certification requirements for solar reflectance and emissivity ratings.

In addition, Petersen Aluminum will be promoting its PAC Solar Series. The product combines the long-term structural performance of its standing seam metal panels with the durability and flexibility of a photovoltaic laminate, which creates an efficient solar roof system that can be used on several of the company's roof panel systems.

Green design also is emerging in outdoor and indoor furniture products such as those produced by DuMor Inc. For example, all of the steel that the company uses is produced from a percentage of recycled steel.

At the Trade Expo, DuMor will be displaying two new benches that are made from recycled plastic products. The two companion products, which were introduced earlier this year, include a bench with a backrest, as well as a backless design.

“We believe that the price points we offer are very competitive, which allows the client to purchase a very durable product at a very fair price,” says Steve Richard, director of sales and marketing at Mifflintown, Pa.-based DuMor.

The company is in the process of designing additional furniture that incorporates recycled materials. “Something we are trying to put more emphasis on going forward is following the green theme to utilize as much recycled material as we can,” Richard says.

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