Summer 2001
Looking for Locations

Research Retail Space with Help from the Web

Do you need to expand your business, but you’re not sure how or where? Or maybe you’ve targeted a mall but want the demographics of the surrounding community. Or perhaps you’ve zeroed in on the perfect location, but want to know if any space available near the anchor.

Until now, getting answers to the myriad of questions that come up during a location hunt meant time-consuming research and countless phone calls. But thanks to mall developer General Growth Properties Inc., based in Chicago, there’s a website that has the information specialty retailers need, helping make these decisions more easily.

At GeneralGrowth.com, you can browse an online directory of 146 malls that GGP developed, owns and/or operates in 39 states. Each listing is packed with useful, detailed information on the mall itself, demographic statistics on the surrounding community, and even descriptions of local tourist attractions plus a link to local weather. Also included are photographs—interiors and aerial views—as well as a link to CAD drawings. The listings also show tenant logos down the left margin, each one a clickable link that takes you to information about that retailer. Naturally, the listings include the email addresses of specialty leasing managers, so that you’re only a mouse click away from making direct contact with a GGP representative. And here’s an extremely useful interactive feature: once you’ve found the location you want, click on the “Submit proposal request” button to make a proposal online.

“What distinguishes our website from others is that we take a proactive approach. We want to get the right information to the retailer quickly and easily,” says Kevin Moss, General Growth’s chief information officer. “It offers speed, efficiency and simplicity. The real estate industry has lagged in using technology, and General Growth is no exception. We’re now trying to catch up.”

In business for 46 years, General Growth concentrates on the management, acquisition and development of shopping malls in major and middle markets. The company’s portfolio includes ownership interests in 95 shopping centers, totaling more than 86 million square feet of retail space. They also manage another 51 malls (40+ million square feet) for third-party owners. Its malls feature more than 15,000 specialty retailers and anchor department stores, as well as theaters, sit-down restaurants, ice skating rinks and other family entertainment venues.

The site also includes an Expansion and Redevelopment page describing changes and additions in the works at selected malls, as well as a page announcing plans for new malls. The latest are Circle T Mall in Westlake, TX (near Dallas-Fort Worth); Jordan Creek Town Center in West Des Moines, IA; The Mall at Fallen Timbers in Maumee, OH (near Toledo); and Lent Ranch Marketplace in Elk Grove, CA (near South Sacramento).

Appeal to retailers

The site appeals to a variety of specialty retail clients, Moss says, from established businesses to start-ups. Entrepreneurs with new ventures can use the site to make better choices about where to market their products and services. They’ll also find useful the site’s information about creating a business plan and doing effective visual merchandising. “We want to show that we have an orientation toward incubating businesses,” Moss adds. “Many start-up entrepreneurs have great ideas but don’t have a strong understanding of how to make a presentation.”

Melinda Holland, senior vice president for business development, says she has found it beneficial to deal with retailers online. “We can look at the same lease plan together on the Internet, and if someone wants their business to be closer to a particular anchor store, we can immediately see what’s available. We can look at the same photograph together and make the picture larger or smaller, if we need to. It’s just an easier way to exchange information,” she says.

Nick Lanni, president of the Great Steak and Potato restaurant franchise (based in Hamilton, OH), says his company’s real estate representative considers the website to be very helpful. “It’s a useful tool,” he says. “If a franchisee calls us form Hoboken, NJ, I can pull up the site immediately and tell him what’s available.”

Serving consumers

Another component of the company’s website is a second site, Mallibu.com, specifically for consumers. This site is intended as the point where online shopping at the digital marketplace and the traditional retail experience at the mall intersect. Consumers can click onto Mallibu.com to find out about retailers at their local mall, plan their shopping, find what’s on sale at their favorite stores, get coupon savings, and more.

For retail partners, Mallibu.com can complement their existing online strategy or help create one. Retailers can display their name and logo, promote new arrivals, advertise products and upcoming events, and set up a store that’s a virtual version of their business.

General Growth launched its enhanced website last fall, and has been adding new features monthly, according to Moss. Since its unveiling at the International Council of Shopping Centers trade show this past May, the number of visits to the site increased 50 percent, he says. But the website was working for retailers before the convention. In April, the site helped link Deck the Walls and Ashley Avery with malls that needed these particular retailers, and within 10 days one of the franchisors initiated a deal with a mall in Arizona, Moss says.

This site not only provides a wealth of useful information for retailers, it’s colorful, interesting, and fun to browse. And if there’s something it doesn’t have that you think it should, feel free to let them know. Sherry Suchala, business development resource manager, says GGP encourages retailers to suggest new features that would be mutually beneficial. Current plans include a feature that lets you click on the name of a GGP representative; then the site dials up the receptionist for you—which means you can speak with an actual person then and there. The site will also have streaming video to further depict and describe locations, plus offer tips on visual merchandising. “This is a low-risk investment, and it’s not technically difficult,” Moss says, “but it gives us high touch with retailers.” And makes shopping for retail space a little easier.

Pamela Rohland

Pamela Rohland often writes about the joys and tribulations of entrepreneurship for a variety of regional and national business publications.
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