True (Southern) Grit
This specialty leasing professional never settles for “no” as an answer. Find out what makes her program one of the most successful in Virginia.
Before making her mark in specialty retail, Rachel Ross first made a detour into the field of financial services. After graduating from college, she worked as a financial advisor with Edward Jones Investments. While she eventually found it was not the career path she wanted, that job gave her some valuable lessons she uses to this day: managing door-to-door sales and the importance of relationship building in earning a customer’s trust.
Finding her retail feet
Today, Ross is the leasing manager at Potomac Mills, the largest outlet and value retail-shopping destination in Virginia and has had many successes during her tenure here. She got her start in specialty retail at a training program with CBL Properties where she was tasked with running a small specialty leasing program at River Ridge Mall in Lynchburg, VA. One of her successes there was developing a short-term leasing plan for a vacant 10,000 square-foot shop. This was broken into three small shops and leased successfully during Ross’s tenure at the mall.
Ross says her current job keeps her on her toes and she loves every minute of it. “In addition to our roster of name brand stores and dining options, we currently offer permanent, short term and seasonal opportunities. [We have a]‘drop-and-shop’ child care service, a home improvement showroom, custom design T-shirt store, as well as carts selling bulk candy, keys and other in-demand merchandise,” Ross says.
Where the products are
She has had some great finds at Potomac including a custom T-shirt business that went from a small cart business to an inline store which can churn out over 1,000 custom shirts in a matter of hours. “As their business continues to grow, we are now discussing a permanent store location,” Ross says. A couple of years ago, Ross was able to lease a seasonal space to a local tactical supply company, Quantico Tactical, which had overstock inventory from several popular national brands. “By leasing space with us and benefiting from Potomac Mills’ high-traffic volume, they sold all their inventory which was great for our shoppers who had access to even more high-quality name brands at affordable prices,” Ross says.
Ross finds her leads by actively researching and canvassing for new business opportunities. “I love to go to downtown shops, craft shows, home and garden shows, I even found a tenant recently while perusing a Saturday morning flea market,” Ross says. “Craft shows are great places to find unique items that the artisans are normally willing to wholesale.” Ross says she believes in follow-up and never accepts “I just don’t think the mall is the right place for me” as a final answer.
It’s not easy
Ross has had her share of challenges. She says the misconception that it’s easy to lease a popular shopping center, is frustrating. “Even though we have high demand for short-term leasing opportunities, we face the challenge of running out of leasable space in the common area. Plus, many of the popular permanent stores have lease restrictions,” Ross says. Despite these challenges, Ross has successfully worked around them. “Since coming aboard in early 2009, I have added over 20 new cart locations that were previously not being utilized. We have added power, removed lamp posts, or de-leased large footprint kiosks for multiple cart locations instead,” Ross says. For example, recently the shopping center relocated an 8’ x 17’ kiosk to another area of the mall and opened up an opportunity for a bulk candy cart and cashmere scarves cart. “They occupy the same footprint in our busiest hallway,” Ross points out, adding that she often asks the General Manager and Specialty Leasing Representative to accompany her on mall walks to identify potential opportunities.
Ross advises her fellow leasing professionals to get to know the retailer. “Often instead of meeting with a retailer in a somewhat impersonal conference room, I will bring them into my office where they can see a photo of my puppy on my desk or my stuffed Hornet mascot from my alma mater,” Ross says.
Ross says she’s seeing changes in lease terms where short-term leases now have longer terms—Potomac Mills now does short-term leases up to 24 months. “This benefits both the retailer and the developer. Retailers have the time to recoup their investments while it gives specialty leasing managers the ability to take their time to merchandise the center with the right retailers and uses,” Ross says.
As for the specialty retailer on the other side of the fence, Ross encourages them to trust that the leasing manager wants them to be successful. “We give advice about locations, co-tenancy and displays because we want you to do well,” she says.
Ross says she has found her passion in her job. “The satisfaction of seeing a tenant implement their business plan to open a business, ring up that first sale, expand to multiple carts or to our other centers is immeasurable.”