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Summer 2010 What trends do you see in specialty retail today?

James H. Allen, Executive VP Local Leasing Simon Property Group

James H. Allen, Executive VP Local Leasing Simon Property Group

One interesting aspect of specialty retail is the way that the industry morphs from one focus to another. Right now, there seems to be an increased focus on personal service and product uses. This includes services such as eyebrow threading, massage, body shapers, nail art, body jewelry and cash for gold. Another interesting product that has appeared on carts, kiosks and inline stores is cupcakes. All these services and products offer the consumer an opportunity for a small personal indulgence.

Karen A. Larson, Assistant VP Director of Specialty Leasing Urban Retail Properties, LLC

Karen A. Larson, Assistant VP Director of Specialty Leasing Urban Retail Properties, LLC

Here’s an oxymoron we all should be familiar with: Change is the one constant we can count on. Trends by definition mean change. The past few years in specialty leasing have certainly proven this to be true. Rent relief requests aside, there’s more willingness on the part of mall owners to negotiate. They are agreeing to broader use clauses, new concepts, or permitting revisions of the terms of the agreement mid-stream. All these accommodations allow tenants to react and adapt more quickly to changes in the marketplace. Having the advantage of a national perspective, I am seeing a shift in the tide. There seems to be an overall optimism that things are beginning to slowly turn around and rents in a number of instances are coming back up. Companies that I work with are more open to taking chances on centers or terms they wouldn’t have considered a year ago. Trends are fleeting—our ability to successfully deal with them is not.

Melinda Holland, Senior Vice President Business Development General Growth Properties

Melinda Holland, Senior Vice President Business Development General Growth Properties

Groupon and similar group buying sites are sweeping the country to help local businesses offer customers amazing daily deals for products and services. Also known as collective buying sites, group-purchasing websites like Groupon are fairly new. I see this as an emerging trend and an ideal way for mall businesses to generate above average sales in a short period of time. Usually the deals are only posted for a 24-hour period and the viral nature of this promotion means that sales can equate to an entire month’s worth in just a single day.

Daily deals promoted by group buying sites are relatively inexpensive and are much more effective than building brand awareness, at generating real sales. These daily deals are able to attract many new clients by offering discounts that get the first-time customer in the door.

Accessories have made a roaring comeback; oversized rings, cuffs, and large pendant-drop earrings are in. According to NRN (National Research Network) women have felt the impact of the economy and tightened their belts (literally) when it comes to fashion. About 20% of women say that they are now using accessories to make a previous year’s style trendier. We are seeing more accessories in the common area, including staples like purses and costume jewelry, but also some new uses such as flip flops.

Pablo Alvarez, Retailer, Hat Lounge

Pablo Alvarez
Retailer, Hat Lounge

Made in the USA is a hot trend. Seventy percent of our inventory is homegrown and we are very proud of that. It makes us feel good as a retailer and to the customer feels even better. We started Hat Lounge in 2007 as a twist to the retail experience, in both of our retail stores locations in Triangle Town Center Mall (Raleigh) & Northgate Mall (Durham).

The mall is what’s mainly left of Americana. They serve as meeting grounds for friends and family to socialize. We have live Blues, Jazz; Gospel bands perform in our stores. In today’s retail world we cannot rely on customers just coming and doing business with us just because we are there. We give them a hat store with a twist—not your typical mall store. So you may walk down the mall one day and see a 5-piece band singing their hearts out in our store and bunch of people trying on hats having fun. This is why we do retail because it is fun!

Mark Klockner, Retail Infusion

Mark Klockner
Retail Infusion

My perspective on trends comes from two directions, the developer and the retailer. What I have seen from the developer side is a greater willingness to work with the tenant in regards to rent. Sure, there are some still left that seem to be working off of a hard rent schedule but most have realized the small merchant’s plight.

As for retail concepts, there seem to be a proliferation of the nationals that are still finding value in the common area. This past weekend we opened the first of 26 beta stores for Dish Network at The Mall of Georgia. Also, starting in November, we are bringing back Ghirardelli Chocolates for a fourth quarter program in conjunction with Santa.

On a more traditional note we will be debuting Gemelli, a very high-end men’s accessory store in Beverly Hills, specializing in precisely tailored shirts and SneakArt at Downtown Disney in July. Both concepts are not new, only new to the U.S. They have exclusive distribution rights! These are not necessarily trends but it shows that there is still some optimism out there.

Duffy C. Weir

Duffy Weir is the former vice president and director of specialty retail and marketing at The Rouse Company of Columbia, MD. Now an independent retail marketing and sponsorship consultant and writer, Weir travels the world searching for what she says "makes marketplaces tick." She can be reached at or 410.252.8885.

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