Fall 2009
Profits Bloom at Jersey Gardens

Denise Monahan’s specialty leasing career began twenty-two years ago, as a tenant. She started at the Plymouth Meeting Mall in Plymouth Meeting, PA with two carts. One was a balloon/plush cart called “Balloon Scapes” and the other sold collectible dolls. Eventually Monahan owned and operated 11 RMUs in four different states over the course of six years.

Insider perspective

But it was one center, in one state, that stands out in particular. At Franklin Mills in Philadelphia, PA, Monahan walked in as a specialty retail tenant and eventually became a specialty leasing manager. She started as a tenant in 1989, and four years later, in 1993, was approached by the Franklin Mills’ management team for a leasing position. She happily accepted and went on to run their 41-cart program for seven years.

Monahan’s past experience as a specialty retailer gives her a unique ability to relate to tenants, be empathetic to their needs and lead them down the path of success. “I enjoy bringing retailers from basic concept to successful venture,” she says, which includes converting temporary tenants to permanent ones. “I come with a lot of experience. I tend to do a lot of mentoring,” she adds. Lollipop Boutique at Franklin Mills Mall was an example of a temp-to-permanent conversion Monahan helped initiate. “They sold specialty apparel for weddings, [and] communions for children,” Monahan says. “Most recently I’m converting a really great operator called Ace Connection that sells high-end designer youth apparel,” she adds.

Growing in Jersey Gardens

Monahan’s specialty leasing responsibilities grew even bigger when she joined Jersey Gardens in 2000, New Jersey’s largest outlet mall comprised of 1.7 million square feet. Today, she runs a program that includes 38 RMUs, 12 kiosks, 24 in-lines, and 19 jewelers in a 6,000-square-foot jewelry exchange. Stores at the exchange sell diamonds, gold, estate jewelry, etc. and do repairs. “We have one of the bigger programs in this marketplace,” she says.

Hands-on help

Monahan says she is very “hands-on” when working with tenants. She understands, however, that it is a fine line to walk between being hands-on and what tenants might perceive as interference. Over the years, Monahan has been involved with tenants in many aspects of business operations. Some have needed assistance at the very basic level—like showing them how to program cash registers. “Because the great percentage of our tenants in specialty leasing are smaller retailers with little or no experience, a ‘hands-on’ attitude is both proactive and productive to assisting them to grow and be successful,” Monahan says. “Successful tenants are the hallmark of a strong program at the mall level,” she adds. As a testament to her skills, tenants from years prior call for advice. “I think that is a great indicator that they value that same line of thinking and found it useful,” Monahan says.

Visual merchandising

Monahan’s program is striking not just for its sheer size but also for the way it looks. Each RMU and kiosk is merchandised to look as inviting as a shop window. And because of this, Monahan has won eight Visual Victory awards from Specialty Retail Report, as well as various merchandising awards from Glimcher, the real estate investment trust company that owns Jersey Gardens.

Monahan works hand in hand with visual merchandiser, Kat Contreras, a contractor based in Cherry Hill, NJ, when creating these visual masterpieces, and credits her for the many awards: “[Contreras] has guided us through winning all these years,” she says. Being naturally creative and continually thinking outside the box has helped, says Monahan. The “Organix” cart display that won this year’s Visual Victory award took its cue from both an organic theme and the product packaging, says Monahan. Moss-covered rocks set on birch stumps reflected the green color
of the product’s box. “We used a lot of greenery. It was very crisp.”

Monahan and Contreras also build freeform displays to accommodate tenants with promising ideas when there are no units left to lease. “We don’t want to lose opportunity for that revenue,” she says. For a recent past tenant, Gypsy Gardens, who did palm readings and told fortunes, Monahan and Contreras created an exotic, colorful caravan tent. “It was very theatrical,” says Monahan.

Most tenants are encouraged to hire a visual merchandiser. Sometimes all that’s required may be a tweak to an existing display. Others, however, may need to build from scratch. To cut down on cost, Monahan stocks supplies—including glass blocks and grids—that tenants can use any time.

Monahan also works with Alex Laird, based out of New York City, to create displays, and AC Designs, a visual design fabrication company, based in Staten Island, NY, for help with cabinetry and fixtures.

Scouting new ideas

Monahan is always looking for new ideas and adding new uses to her program. It is helpful to do even when you’re fully leased and have tenants waiting to get in, she says. At this year’s SPREE show, she keyed in on how big green screen technology was. She is currently adding two green screen uses to her property: Dance Heads and Guitar Hero concepts, as vending opportunities.

“Specialty leasing always turns and you always want to keep your finger on the pulse,” she says.

Monahan’s advice for her peers reflects her experience on both sides of the specialty leasing equation: “You need to put yourself in the position of your temporary tenants,” she says. “The more informed you are; the more value you’re going to be to that tenant.”

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Emily Lambert

Lambert, a senior writer for SRR, resides in Philadelphia. She can be reached at emilylambert@comcast.net.
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