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Specialty Leasing Manager
Trend Spotter

Poornima Apte

An eye for trends, hard work and excellent management skills have made Carol West one of the go-to people at Simon Property Group. The specialty leasing manager inducted into this year's Hall of Fame, is an inspiration to all around her.

It was early in 2000 when Carol West came across the now ubiquitous Crocs at the Park Meadows Mall in Denver. "I recognized and identified the product as a concept with a lot of potential that could be duplicated across the portfolio," West, a Local Leasing Manager with Simon, says. In short order, West contacted the Director of Real Estate for Crocs and introduced him to the company. As a result, at their peak, Crocs had a presence in more than 50 Simon properties nationwide.

It is this ability—to catch a trend in its infancy and nurture it till it yields rich dividends—that coworkers say is one of West's many great strengths. It is also one of many traits that prompted Shannon Shinn, Simon's Vice President of Local Leasing, to nominate West for the Specialty Retail Hall of Fame.

Specialty leasing start

West works as Local Leasing Manager at Towne Square West and Towne Square East in Wichita, KS. It was in Wichita that West got her start in specialty leasing—she joined as an office administrator for Towne West in 1987. "At that time, there weren't any specialty leasing people in the field, [so] one of my responsibilities was to attempt to lease temporary space as time allowed," West recalls. It was around the same time that Simon decided to test a new position where the employee's sole responsibility would be leasing temporary space in malls. Having already worked at this as an office administrator, West was a natural fit for the job. She increased the revenues in this category by 65%. West's stellar performance in the field resulted in the position becoming a permanent feature at Simon Property Group. Today the company has over 80 specialty leasing representatives.

Dedicated service

West's years of dedication at Simon have not gone unnoticed. "She is one of our short-term leasing managers with years of proven success," Shinn said in her nomination. "Carol is revered as one of the 'go-to' people whom the other specialty leasing reps contact first with questions, seeking advice, opinions, ideas, help, etc. Her years of experience, learning from what has not worked and capitalizing on what does work, epitomizes hard work and dedication," Shinn added.

"Carol is the best at what she does," Shinn said, "Because of this, she continues to train several of our Short Term Leasing Representatives helping to form the way we conduct our business." It is this mentoring, training and development that West has provided to others at Simon over the last 24 years, that West points out, is her "signature stamp" on the work she does. "I have had the privilege of being a manager for Simon and thus have been able to lend my knowledge and expertise to numerous individuals that have worked within our corporation throughout the years," West says. West adds that being the first leasing representative at Simon and watching that branch of the company grow, has been her biggest achievement.

Leasing success

Shinn says West is not afraid to think outside the box and find new creative ways to lease space and generate income. Some of her tenants have not been traditional ones. Case in point: the inline store Until We Meet Again, a local merchant who sells custom caskets. In addition, says Shinn, West is able to move cart customers into inline stores smoothly, thereby generating additional income.

Her ability to work with tenants and their needs has earned her high praise from them as well. Shinn quoted one of West's tenants in her nomination: "Ms. Carol West has always understood our need, effectively addressed the problems and offered [the] best possible solutions. Carol West has always demonstrated excellent communication skills as a good listener to all the matters we put forward for her consideration and promptly responded whenever we are in need of her assistance. I congratulate Simon Property [Group] for having such a wonderful person on their team and I am confident that her services are an asset to your group."

Shinn agrees. "Carol has demonstrated her dedication to our program at Simon and to the industry," she said in her nomination, "She is one of a few in the industry that continues to be a pioneer, an achiever year after year and continuously sets new standards. She is a person that retailers, industry leaders, tenants and peers look to for advice and new ideas in the industry. Carol is truly an asset to the company, to the malls, to her tenants."

Specialty retail changes

West recalls that her career has not been without its challenges. The principal one, she says, is staying in touch with new and cutting-edge concepts while based in the Midwest. "Very seldom, if at all, does a concept or trend begin in the center of the United States; it's almost always on the East or West coast," West says. She works around this by canvassing other properties and markets, reading industry publications, researching trends online and attending industry trade shows. "I am continually attempting to hone my skills by attending, fairs, festivals, expos and trade shows across the country," West says. "By doing so it keeps my outlook fresh and allows me the ability to keep my eyes and ears open so as to identify the next hot item or category in specialty leasing," she adds.

Over the years, West has witnessed sea changes in the field of specialty retail. She remembers when specialty retail was dominated by mom-and-pop shops coming into a single property with a gift line or homemade crafts. "They usually stayed a weekend, a week or even a holiday season, but by no means was their cart or kiosk the sole revenue driver," West remembers. "The merchandising units of yesteryear were skirted tables or cardboard sonotube gazebos. Today, in shiny RMUs or kiosks, many of the specialty retailers are Limited Liability Corporations who not only have one year placement at a property but also have multiple businesses within that property, and in many instances, have [executed] regional or national deals," West points out.

West sees more mainstream retailers taking advantage of temporary and seasonal leasing. The rise of pop-up stores is also one to keep an eye on, she says.

As for her winning entry into the Specialty Retail Hall of Fame, West says she was both "shocked and excited" to receive [this] prestigious award.

"I was unaware that I was even nominated, so it was a huge surprise and a big thrill," West says.