From the Desk of the COO
Earlier this year I talked about how brick-and-mortars will never die. With some of the recent local developments I’d like to revisit this topic through the lens of our Westlake, OH lifestyle center, Crocker Park.
The rapid and mass adoption of online retail, coupled with nationwide store closures and alarming media reports, has given rise to the narrative that traditional brick-and-mortar can no longer compete in the digital age and will therefore fall by the wayside. The phrase “retail apocalypse” is circulating heavily throughout the industry. While there is no question that online shopping has made a significant and damaging impact on malls and shopping centers, these reports paint an incomplete picture.
Over the past year, Crocker Park, our mixed-use lifestyle center in Westlake, Ohio, has lost national brands Destination Maternity, Gymboree and Charming Charlie. On the surface it is easy to attribute this to disinterest from consumers, loss of market share to competitors or online shopping. While partially true, many of these large chains filed for bankruptcy due to an excess of debt and rapid over-expansion, paired with an inability to adapt. In fact, a staggering 75 percent of closures came from the top 20 retailers, which announced that they would be closing stores. Meanwhile, there was a 56 percent overall increase in the number of chains adding stores in 2019.
So the issue does not necessarily lie with a dwindling number of brick-and-mortar shops (or shoppers), but rather with a lack of innovation. As such, we are seeing retailers that are proactively revamping the shopping experience for their customers, whether it is renovating their spaces to serve as part shop, part showroom, or merging physical and retail efforts with concepts like in-store warehousing to facilitate on-site pickup of online orders. Sustaining a cohesive brand with a strong value proposition across all channels, both real and virtual, has become paramount in appealing to a growing marketplace of brand-conscious, experience-driven buyers.
Simultaneously, we are seeing a significant rise in openings from locally owned brands. Just this year Crocker Park has welcomed 10 new Ohio-based retailers and restaurants. The local movement has emerged as an intriguing new layer in retail, signifying that there is a willing marketplace and new opportunities for growth in brick-and-mortar for “non-established brands”. Furthermore, the influx of local businesses in step with the exit of national brands hints at a larger shift amongst consumers to put their money behind local brands.
Either way, success in today’s retail industry demands adaptation and innovation. Finding new avenues to bridge the gap between online shopping and brick-and-mortar retail is no longer nice to have, it is a necessity, because at the end of the day they serve complimentary roles. In that sense, it is all about striking the right balance between bricks and clicks, national and local, and shop and showroom. Retail must continue to acclimate in order to better serve an evolving marketplace that is becoming more and more sensitive to access, convenience, price and service regardless of where they are doing their shopping.
Ezra Stark, Chief Operating Officer