Winter 2011
An Outdoor Enthusiast

Michael Campbell recently launched the first Summer Marketplace program at WS Development’s lifestyle centers. Find out how his years of experience in the industry have lead to just the right retailers for the program.

Michael Campbell remembers vibrant main streets—the centerpiece of communities “leading the way to favorite stores, specialty shops, restaurants and fun.” Today, he says, that same spirit can be found in lifestyle centers—a particular kind of shopping center that has fast grown in popularity over the years. Campbell, an industry veteran of more than 25 years, is the director of business development at WS Development.

The retail development firm, based in Chestnut Hill, MA, has a diverse portfolio—80 outdoor properties totaling over 17 million square feet of retail space in five New England states. The portfolio, Campbell says, includes lifestyle centers, community centers and mixed-use developments.

Loving lifestyle centers

A lifestyle center is defined as a center that typically contains upscale national stores, dining and entertainment in an open-air setting. It is not usually anchored by a single large tenant, but by a group of highly branded stores, along with such tenants as a bookstore and/or a cinema. There is an emphasis on design, landscaping and outdoor amenities such as fountains and street furniture.

Lifestyle centers, Campbell says, could just be the new “Main Street” in America. The particular mix of dining and entertainment, relaxation and lifestyle pursuits mixed with national stores and upscale boutiques, creates a very inviting space, he adds. “The centers have an ambiance that invites people to not only shop but to also spend time in a place that’s a destination in and of itself,” Campbell says.

And the data back him up. Numbers from Madison Marquette research point to customers spending more time and money at these shopping destinations. According to the same research, lifestyle centers also attract more affluent shoppers.

Specialty leasing equation

Such strong numbers would make lifestyle centers ripe candidates for specialty leasing and Campbell has overseen execution of such programs effectively. Last summer saw the rollout of the Summer Marketplace cart program at many of WS Development’s lifestyle centers. Campbell also coordinated a seasonal inline temporary retailer program that attracted many national and regional seasonal retailers such as See’s Candies, Hickory Farms, Day-by-Day Calendar, Brookstone, Spirit Halloween and more.

Campbell admits that outdoor specialty leasing especially in New England can be challenging. “Though our centers do not have coverage that traditional enclosed malls offer, the arrival of warmer weather in New England brings more shoppers than ever to WS Development’s open-air lifestyle centers,” he says. Campbell adds that the cart program has been strategically timed for lease availability between May 1 through October 1—hence the name “Summer Marketplace.” Lifestyle centers must also go through local town zoning and each center’s program required town approvals from various boards.

Campbell says that a lot of attention is paid to foot traffic before assigning carts to a center. “It’s all about location, location, location. The Summer Marketplace carts must be located on high-traffic pedestrian walkways in order for the cart retailers to be successful,” Campbell says. Promotions are carried out through various marketing efforts including signage, literature distribution, audio messaging through the music system, website promotions and email blasts.

Start in specialty leasing

Campbell got his start in the industry at The Rouse Company in 1982—he served as marketing director at three malls with Rouse. It was during this third stop—at The Gallery at Market East in Center City in Philadelphia that he saw the need for a cart program and implemented one. Campbell remembers borrowing carts from surrounding Rouse malls to get the program going during holiday season in 1985.

His most memorable experience in specialty leasing involved yet another holiday season in 1986. He was working as the senior events and merchandise manager for New England Development at The Mall of New Hampshire in Manchester, NH. The mall had 25 pushcarts on the floor and the program was consistently fully occupied. “We had the luxury of a sizeable waiting list of retailers who wanted to be a part of our program,” Campbell remembers. To get some of these retailers into the mall, Campbell converted an inline vacant store into what he called “The Christmas Collage.” Stalls were created inside the store making way for five new retailers to set up shop at the mall. “It was a very memorable and successful holiday season and the ‘Christmas Collage’ retailers were thrilled to be there and many of them stayed on as tenants after the holiday season,” Campbell says.

Different centers, different needs

Campbell points out that lifestyle centers “demand a local, unique and one-of-a-kind mix of retailers versus only hosting national operators.” This retailer mix adds to the exclusive nature of the centers. Campbell adds that WS Development has had “great success attracting local owner-operators who bring a passion and love for their products and their business. Many products are handmade or strategically purchased to create a unique offering to the lifestyle center customer,” Campbell says.

Examples of such retailers include Denise Bruce with Camilley’s Closet and Ellen Kennedy with Hingham Bath & Body Shoppe—both of whom are located at Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham, MA.

Camilley’s Closet combines designer handbags, scarves, jewelry and accessories with highly personal customer service and affordable prices. Bruce says her kiosk business brings “a touch of Soho to the South Shore,” (the southeastern suburbs of Boston).

For its part Hingham Bath and Body Shoppe offers premium personal care products including goat milk honey lotion. Over 50 fragrances are available through the kiosk’s “fragrance bar.”

Both stores have strong local roots and anticipate their customers’ wants and needs well.

Campbell warns against overdoing it in one product category—a diversity of product genres is important. Another message he has for fellow leasing managers: keep it fresh and keep it local as best you can.

“Finding unique vendors with unique merchandise offerings requires a lot of canvassing but the field work will pay dividends,” Campbell says. “You’ll find passionate retailers who love what they do and are willing to share that passion with their customers.”

Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor specializing in retail and the book publishing industry. Learn more at wordcumulus.wordpress.com.
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