A Driving Passion for Retail
DDR’s deal maker has a thirst for retail and creative thinking.
Being responsible for the specialty leasing and alternative revenue programs in community centers in 39 states, might seem like a daunting task for anyone. Not so for Brian Reiss, SLD, the Director of Temporary Leasing at DDR Corp., headquartered in Beachwood, Ohio.
Reiss knows how to set priorities and juggle the demands of the ever-changing leasing landscape in these centers. The job, which requires a positive attitude, fine-tuned organizational skills and a real interest in the retail industry, is tailor-made for Reiss. Ever since he was a student of finance and real estate at Ohio State University, this Akron, Ohio native has focused on the shopping center industry.
Reiss’s thirst for the retail real estate industry is also driven by his passion to shop. “I like retail and I enjoy shopping,” Reiss says, “It may seem strange but I really enjoy driving around and visiting shopping centers, looking for new ideas because it is important to get out of the office and on the road. It spurs new ideas for new uses,” he adds.
Thinking out of the box
Reiss cut his teeth in the industry when he did a college internship with Sterling Jewelers, a national retailer and owners of Kay and Jared Jewelers. Working in this retailer’s leasing department, Reiss was exposed early on to reading and reviewing leases, sitting in on deal-making and making phone calls to landlords to discuss rent charges. Now at DDR, after being promoted to his current position in 2010, Reiss has managerial responsibility for five employees who are in the same position in which he got his start.
Similar to other landlords, DDR’s increased occupancy creates challenges for the specialty leasing department. Revenue goals are set based on vacancy, and when the inventory of available space is leased to permanent tenants, the specialty leasing department must get creative. So Reiss and his team are faced with finding ways to meet revenue targets even when there is no available space to lease in a property. They look at vacant adjacent land at some properties for uses such as tent sales, circuses and other unconventional ideas. “It’s what makes specialty leasing different. We are looking at monetizing things that don’t need four walls,” Reiss says. These centers offer a different type of specialty leasing, Reiss cannot simply erect an RMU or kiosk.
For example, a returning Halloween store operator wanted to open a large store in a center that had few space options. Reiss worked with his property management and leasing teams and creatively combined two spaces with a breezeway and provided the retailer with the right-sized 6,000-sq.-ft. space for the season. The cost of the breezeway was built into the deal. The net result: a content retailer and a budget target achieved.
In addition to Halloween, Reiss is also responsible for national deal-making in the furniture, fireworks, and wireless (cell towers, cable and Internet) categories, as well as “green initiatives” such as solar rooftop panels and car charging stations. Solar rooftop panel operators create rental income for the landlord by renting the rooftop space. In addition, electricity diverted to the property offsets utility expenses. The car-charging stations provide income through advertising space that is on each unit.
The power center business is not without its challenges. The traditional holiday stores have faded over the years. “When I first began in the industry we could lease vacant big boxes to holiday shops that sold toys, decorations, gift wrap and other holiday items. These deals are nowhere to be found, as they cannot compete with Target and Walmart,” Reiss says. He has had success in backfilling Halloween store spaces with furniture retailers and Toys for Tots. But the typical Christmas tree lots in community and power centers are far and few between.
Reiss and his team are sensitive to the strategic merchandising decisions they make for each property. While open-air centers may have a little more leeway than a traditional mall, Reiss says strategy is still important. “There have been instances where we have had to terminate a tenant because they don’t look appropriate. We want our retailers to be aesthetically pleasing to our customers.”
Reiss believes temporary retailers have a growing interest in community centers and are considering these properties more now than they have in the past. It’s partly because of the way people shop. The ability for customers to get in, get what they came for and get out, is power shopping at its best. Reiss has had inquiries from established retailers like Walmart and Toys R Us who have considered setting up temporary Halloween and toy stores. “As occupancy levels increase, temporary available space is limited, coupled with the fact that there are not a lot of new malls being built, so national retailers are looking at other options to grow,” Reiss says.
Reiss is a member of the first graduating class with the new Specialty Leasing Designation (the education program offered by Pinnacle Publishing Group). He hopes to continue to grow by taking more classes. “I want to broaden my education and continue to be successful in what I am doing,” Reiss says. “I would highly recommend this program to anyone who plans on having a career in specialty leasing.”
Reiss recently joined the SPREE Advisory Board and is looking forward to making a difference.