As the retail real estate industry struggles with a severe downturn, industry insiders have been repeating the comforting adage that challenging times can breed new opportunities. Some have been looking at combining their core business with more in-demand services, others have been planning to grow by picking off weaker competitors. Mapping Analytics, a Rochester, N.Y.-based site selection firm, felt this was the right time to take its core expertise—helping retailers optimize their store fleets by finding the most profitable locations—and offer it to a previously untapped group of clients: retail landlords and brokers.
Mapping Analytics has been doing site selection modeling for the past 20 years and has the capability to provide a wide range of products in the field, from a simple software package to a customized consulting job that will combine real estate expertise with brand marketing considerations. But up until now its main clientele consisted of retailers, including Swarovski jewelry stores and Big Boy restaurant franchises, among others.
This summer, however, Mapping Analytics is rolling out Retail Signatures, a web-based service targeted at retail developers, owners and brokers. For a flat fee ranging from $250 to $500, the new users will be able to purchase a ranking list of potential tenants based on how interested the tenants might be in taking a location in a particular property. The ranking is created using an algorithm that combines information on what kinds of trade area demographics the retailer usually looks for, whether there is already a brand location in your particular trade area and whether there would be enough potential customers interested in the retailer at your center to justify opening a new store.
"Let's take the Gap, for example," says Cindy Reid, vice president of operations with Mapping Analytics. (The Gap is not one of the firm's clients). "You find all of the Gap stores in the country and you know where they are. I understand what markets they are in, how far apart they place their stores; I understand that in urban markets they have slightly different strategies than in rural markets. We take that information, turn that around and, if we have a particular property, say ‘Gap has a store too close to your property. They are not going to go in. But the Limited might.'"
According to Reed, the reason Mapping Analytics executives felt this would be the right time to target the landlord market was the rising national vacancy rate and the fact that many landlords are looking for new retailers to replace tenants who have filed for bankruptcy or decided to close stores. The firm has already reached out to a number of privately-held retail owners and hopes to announce a list of new clients in a few weeks. In the meantime, Reed has a few words of encouragement for those owners who feel discouraged by current market conditions and fear that their tenant pool will keep getting smaller.
"People are moving slowly, but they understand that they can't stand still," she says. "I think for the last six months the mood has been ‘wait and see,' but they are starting to move because they understand that they have to plan for 2010 and 2011."