Susan Seaman knows: In a challenging economy, it takes diligence and creativity to be a good specialty leasing manager. Find out how these factors and a respectful working relationship contribute to her success at the TownMall in Westminster, MD.
Susan Seaman remembers a time when she would sit at her desk and the phone would ring off the hook. These days, with big changes in retail, her creative abilities as a specialty leasing manager are being put to the test. Seaman must now find fresh ways to attract new entrants into the specialty leasing arena at TownMall of Westminster in Maryland.
Going all out
As she has found out, almost nothing works quite like dogged determination. To attract new tenants, Seaman works with the local Small Business Administration and chamber of commerce to find entrepreneurs “who are ready to take the next step and get their product or service in front of thousands of customers.” Constantly hitting the pavement and having a great product to present to a prospective tenant is also key, Seaman says.
Such challenges are not new to Seaman. Years ago, she worked as director of specialty leasing for a special partnership with the city of Baltimore where she was responsible for every aspect of leasing a 64-block urban shopping district. That came with its own set of property and marketing challenges. “The most difficult challenge was working with the owners of a vacant downtown with mostly historic buildings,” Seaman says. “We had to work with the city and national retailers to reach an agreement on how to retrofit these spaces while preserving the integrity of their historical value,” she adds. One interesting solution housed artists at the street level and created student housing on the upper levels of a vacant department store.
Attracting new blood
Seaman has worked to launch similarly creative new uses at the TownMall. Early this year the specialty leasing team met with the local arts council to discuss opportunities for artists’ studios and retail space at the mall. The result is a co-op known as the Artists of TownMall. There, four artists have a small workspace with public access. Seaman is happy to report that traffic and sales were good at the grand opening in October.
The management team at the mall is using other strategies to attract tenants. They hold franchise fairs at the mall to create new opportunities for small business owners. First-time retail owners are actively courted, as are retailers who have expansion and relocation plans.
This “active courting” can be in the form of “extremely competitive rent structures and discounts for merchants who wish to expand,” Seaman says. “We also offer marketing and sponsorship opportunities throughout the center and at all of our promotional events. Our specialty tenants are as important to us as any permanent tenant and are afforded many opportunities to be successful in our mall,” she adds.
One such opportunity is a retailer support program called “On Sale Today” which is available at more than 40 malls managed by Jones Lang LaSalle. The program uses displays and graphics to funnel traffic to retailers conducting sales. Free email blasts advertising current store promotions and events to a large database of customers, is another way specialty retailers get business support. Other assistance can include mall signage, seasonal programs, special events, visual displays, and use of social media.
Seaman cites a jewelry buy-back event held at the mall in collaboration with a local Baltimore jeweler as a successful example. The jewelers advertise heavily on the radio and the event generated additional income for the center, Seaman says.
The TownMall has a wide variety of specialty leasing operations and services including health care products and services, real estate companies and photography studios. More basic retail concepts run the gamut from skin care to toys.
Seaman says she has developed a respectful working relationship with existing tenants. “After all, our tenants are also our customers and customer service is very important in our business,” she says. She credits Jones Lang LaSalle and mall ownership with empowering her with the tools needed to get the job done.
Finding retailers who have the capital to expand and seeking out the “hot” merchandise that fits well on an RMU or kiosk have been her biggest challenges, Seaman says. She is gratified when a deal is cemented and the retailer goes on to enjoy success.
Seaman says her diligence is being noticed. One of her specialty inline tenants recently recounted how Susan would visit the retailer’s Main Street location for three years trying to bring the business to the mall. Then on a tour of the mall, this retailer saw Seaman in action—saying hello to every merchant, picking up a stray piece of trash on the floor. These actions, the retailer said, demonstrated Seaman’s level of care to the merchants and the mall.
“It’s also very humbling when my family and I are in the mall and my merchants stop them and tell them what a wonderful wife and mother they have,” Seaman says.
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