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Friday, April 16, 2021

What’s the future of retail?

We ask some of Fort Worth top real estate and marketing leaders for their thoughts

For traditional retailers, the news of late has not been good. Once mighty retailers such as Toys ‘R’ Us, Circuit City, Border’s Books, CompUSA, Mervyn’s and Blockbuster have either disappeared are been reduced to a pale shadow of themselves. Others like Sears, Kmart, Penney’s, and Barnes & Noble continue to seek the right formula for survival.

Meanwhile, the brick-and-mortar stores arch-nemesis, Amazon, continues to build more and more warehouses and service centers, adding insult to injury by occasionally dipping its toe into the world of brick-and-mortar locations.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, online retail grew 300 percent between 2000 and 2018, while department store sales fell almost 50 percent in the same period.

So, what’s a brand to do? Fort Worth has a mushrooming amount of retail space in several new developments around the city. What retailers are going to prove successful? And why?

We asked that question to several people involved in retail in Fort Worth. Here are some of their answers.

From Susan Miller Gruppi and Jessica Miller of M2G Ventures, who have just been selected as the retail partner for the $175 million Stockyards redevelopment:

Jessica Miller: First is you’ve got to have a brand. That doesn’t mean you have to have a brand that’s a public brand people recognize. You have to have a brand so that people, when they walk in the door, they know what they’re going to get. The owner, manager, employee, the bags, the selection everything says, this is that brand. You could even have everyone else’s products in there. They want to feel like they walk into a unique experience they can’t get somewhere else.

[Customers want to know] that every single part of what they just experienced was what you intended in that store. If they feel at any point, like if you get bad service, the cashier is not paying attention to you, the merchandise isn’t completely on point, it’s a little askew, the assortment’s off, they’re going, “I’ll just go buy this somewhere else.”

Susan Gruppi: The successful ones that we’ve seen don’t just do retail in their space. For example, if you’re a soft goods apparel retailer, you better be doing events. You better be having an online presence. If you just want to open a brick and mortar shop, God’s speed. The people that we talked to that have been successful, that’s one of the only ways they can make it work.

Miller: I would add the last thing you have to have a hell of a hustle. Whether or not you’re a local entrepreneur or you’re a national tenant with 400 locations, you cannot rest and think people are just going to come to you, because they will buy online. You have to be willing to step outside the box. We still get tenants all the time, or even on my consulting side, where they’ll be like, “I want to open X, Y, Z”.

I’m like, “You’re going to-” It’s not going to just happen because you’re across [from a well-known brand] that you’re going to get customers”. They are not just going to come just because you’re there. They need to see experience. They need to see brand. They need to see a reason to go to you that they cannot get from going to someone else like another brick and mortar or going online.

Gruppi: Yes, scary. Remember, when we used to go shopping and shopping centers and we’d shop at one store, and then you’ll be like, “What’s this store, or go to this store.” You’d actually look around and maybe buy something. Now you walk in – if you are in one store you know this store. You walk to the next store, and its low energy and you don’t see something right then. It’s human nature already after maybe a five or six-year period fast turnaround lockout. It’s just the customer is so much more, the expectation is so much higher and it exhausting to be a retailer.

Miller: A couple of things I’m just thinking about. You also have to feel bigger than you are. Even when we started buying over here [in the Foundry district] one of the things that, Susan and I needed to do was to make this district feel bigger than it really is at the time. We started doing public art and getting other businesses to say they’re just In the social media game. Once you appear bigger than you are and more impactful than you are, it just exponentially keeps happening.

From Terry Montesi, founder and CEO of Trademark Property Co, which is currently developing Waterside and WestBend in Fort Worth, as well as Victory Park in Dallas and Rice Village in Houston.

Montesi: Focus on the customer experience and service … and surprise and delight them … move far away from a business that provides goods to one that provides experiences and gives customers things they can’t get online.

From Allen Wallach, CEO of PAVLOV, an agency that provides advertising, digital media, marketing strategy, public relations and social media services to a wide variety of clients.

Wallach: While online shopping gets all of the buzz, brick and mortar stores still have a viable place in the retail ecosystem. Success lies in the ability to create an in-store shopping experience that is convenient and unique enough to make it worth the visit. However, because today’s shopper is savvier than ever before, and consumes media in different ways, both new and established retailers should invest marketing dollars in social and digital media.

On the social side, be smart and targeted. Don’t establish a presence on ALL social platforms; rather, pick the two that the majority of your customers are on (likely Facebook and Instagram). Post regularly, but not all the time, because that last thing you want is to annoy people and have them unfollow or mute you (four to five times a week is recommended).

Showcase inventory, spotlight employees, and show what happens behind-the-scenes. This will humanize the brand and create a deeper connection with your followers, ultimately increasing their loyalty.

While more than half of shoppers now use digital tools to pre-shop, the overwhelming majority still want to complete the transaction in-store.

When retailers think about their digital marketing, they shouldn’t just think in terms of capturing online sales. Providing a great store locator, giving access to real-time in-store inventory via a robust, interactive website, and having a well-executed local search engine optimization (SEO) plan are among the highest value digital activities for any brick and mortar retailer.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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