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Conquering Change

by Poornima Apte

When the Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville, NC, went through some cuts last year, Dina Simcox took them in stride. What's more, she exceeded her budget assignments by 20 percent. Here's a look at the first specialty leasing manager to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Perhaps it was the fact that during one of the most trying years in specialty retail, Dina Simcox exceeded her budget expectations by a whopping 20 percent.

Or maybe it was her ability to lead her team through daily challenges during a time of changes in her mall. BJ Morton, the regional manager for specialty retail at CBL Properties outlines many reasons why Simcox deserved to be inducted into SRR's Specialty Retail Hall of Fame. The key driver was the fact that Simcox, the Assistant General Manager at Cross Creek Mall in Fayetteville, NC, exemplifies the very best talent in the industry. By all measures she is driven, a team-worker and solves problems creatively; and Specialty Retail Report was honored to induct her into the Specialty Retail Hall of Fame during a special ceremony at SPREE.

Growth from the basics

Dina Simcox started in a part-time administrative staff position at the mall and worked her way up to assistant general manager in 22 months. She says making her way up through the ranks allowed her a valuable perspective on what makes things work in specialty retail. "Being able to start in the administrative position afforded me the opportunity to learn with a hands-on approach where I was able to get to know the tenants, merchants and staff on a different level," Simcox says. "It was a great foundation for the relationships I forged and has helped me to achieve the role I'm now in."

Navigating change

That training was especially valuable last year says Morton when Simcox "accepted change, took on more responsibilities, [assumed] an active leadership role and reached out to the community." Morton points out that CBL's decision to "remove Marketing" and close the customer service center at the mall was hard on the team. "Dina stood out as the shining star by leading the team through the daily challenges," Morton says.

"Her efforts and commitment throughout this transition were impressive and alleviated burdens on others as well as the general manager without sacrificing any revenue-generating efforts."

Simcox admits that closing the customer service center at the mall brought its own challenges. The team suddenly had to deal with customers who were accustomed to faxing, copying, renting strollers or having their gifts wrapped. "All the customers came to the mall management office with their complaints or looking for services," Simcox says. She adds that the team had to make temporary arrangements to satisfy some of the more important needs such as providing strollers and wheelchairs. Strollers were rented from the office until new self-service units were installed. Team members also had to educate people that they could no longer provide copying or fax services. Simcox says that she took on a "more customer service role" as she helped the team work through the change.

Due diligence

Despite all the challenges last year, Simcox exceeded her forecasted budget, bringing in a 20% increase in specialty leasing income to the center. How did she do this? Hard work and persistence, Simcox says. "I tried, failed sometimes and then tried again and again. I worked very closely with my team, [who made sure] I looked at every possibility, every angle and every opportunity to make a deal work at our center," Simcox says. For example, the center used to have a water fountain that didn't work too well. "We made a decision to close it down, tear it out and tile the floor, again creating potential for new net operating income," Simcox says. She leased the space as her first permanent kiosk deal.

When CBL eliminated the Customer Service Center, it left behind a "very oddly situated empty space," Simcox recalls. She quickly leased it to a local family who opened an Internet café. The fact that the new café provides some of the services once handled by the customer service center is an added bonus.

Award buzz

Although CBL knew that Simcox was due to receive the award at SPREE, she didn't. It was a complete surprise, she says. "We are a small, close-knit group here locally so it was extremely difficult for the local staff to not share information," Simcox says. "On a corporate level, our Senior Director of Specialty Retail was the mastermind for the secrecy. From my regional manager, who nominated me, to the team I was meeting in Vegas at SPREE, to the corporate VIPs, she went to great lengths to make sure the cat was not let out of the bag," Simcox adds. "When the announcement began, I had absolutely no idea that it could possibly be me."

Simcox is thrilled to have received such strong encouragement from the specialty retail community. "I want to thank everyone who has supported me, encouraged me and given me the opportunity to reach this milestone," she says. "I am truly honored to have been chosen."