What to Expect at RECon 2019

Article originally posted on National Real Estate Investor on May 16, 2019

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ICSC’s RECon conference—the “Super Bowl” of retail real estate—is just days away. Thousands of real estate developers, brokers, owners and retailers will soon descend upon Las Vegas for the huge networking and deal-making conference.

At this year’s show, held May 19 to 22, hot topics will include the leasing needs of emerging retailers, changing consumer preferences, how new generations could impact future business decisions, and the rise of mixed-use components and food and beverage concepts in shopping centers.

While massive store closures, challenges in backfilling space, the impact of e-commerce competition and evolving consumer shopping habits are taking their toll and changing the face of retail, many industry experts remain optimistic about the retail sector’s future.

“I’ve been doing this for almost 40 years now, and this is probably one of the most exciting times,” says Greg Maloney, president and CEO of JLL’s Americas retail unit. JLL is sending about 320 professionals to RECon in 2019, up from 260 last year, and expects some 3,000 meetings with retailers and investors during the conference.

The firm will host a 10,000-sq.-ft. booth, featuring its own restaurant, and a party for roughly 1,500 to 2,000 people.

More JLL professionals are attending RECon this year, according to Maloney, because the company has expanded its business lines, but more notably, retail isn’t just retail anymore; it’s mixed-use with offices, hotels, apartments, etc.

“Our head of office is coming for the first time,” Maloney notes. “Our hotel people are coming. They used to send one or two hotel people and now seven or eight are going.”

“We have so many more opportunities at the properties, so your creative juices get flowing and you’re saying, ‘What can we do to make this thing better?’” he says. “And guess what? We’re not constrained to only looking at the retail community. Now we can look at anything at all. We never would have put a grocery store in a mall 15 years ago. If you’re really passionate about this business, this is the time. I tell our younger people, ‘Don’t be afraid of this. Embrace it. This is exciting.’”

Who’s attending RECon 2019 and what’s new?

ICSC expects more than 30,000 attendees this year, comparable to the 2018 RECon event, according to an ICSC spokesperson. There will also be an increase in exhibitors, with more than 200 new entrants for a total of approximately 1,050. Some of these will be experiential, social-media friendly concepts like Candytopia, Electrify America and Marvel Adventure Lab Photo Booth.

At RECon’s new “Health and Wellness Center,” Kaiser Permanente, which is opening retail clinics in Target stores across Southern California, and affordable fitness concept Retrofitness will make their RECon debuts, demonstrating the continued shift to health and wellness.

The “Innovation Exchange” will showcase companies that are using technology to transform in-store shopping, including Virtual APT, Athena and Toolbox Group.

And “Retail in Focus” will spotlight specialty retail and emerging brands, including Foxtrot Delivery Market, which provides a new twist on the convenience store, and pop-share businesses Guesst and Batch.

Union of online and physical retail

“We’re going to hear more about the convergence of online and brick-and-mortar, because online retailers are opening up more brick-and-mortar stores, and brick-and-mortar retailers are starting to expand their online presence,” Maloney notes. “I think you’re going to see more about how it’s not ‘us against them.’ It’s all of us together.”

Gregory Healy, senior vice president of supply chain and logistics consulting with real estate services firm Colliers International, agrees.

“I think this year’s RECon will continue to build upon the concept of an all-in model for retail, where retailers are looking at some really creative models to connect with consumers both physically, as well as digitally,” he says. “That same trend is reflected in how retailers are bolstering their online presence, while also reinventing how they leverage their physical footprint to drive business.”

Colliers International is sending more than 300 representatives to RECon in 2019. Last year, the firm went with a two-story booth at the convention and was the first to do so, says Anjee Solanki, Colliers’ national director of retail services for the United States.

“This year, we’re hosting panel sessions at our booth for clients and brokers to hear from our national Colliers experts,” Solanki notes. Sessions will include “Repositioning Retail Today” and “The Retailization of Healthcare.

Some topics that executives with real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield believe will be big at the show include permanent pop-ups, what healthcare can learn from retail, mall valuation trends, emerging retail concepts and strategies, and why experiential retail is important for both bricks and clicks, according to a company spokesperson. Cushman & Wakefield anticipates sending around 315 representatives, in line with last year.

“I’m most interested in seeing the solutions that retailers are developing to mitigate transportation costs and drive consumers to stores,” Healy notes. “[This includes] drive-through pick-up windows, retailers partnering with gyms, and realignment of store footprints to accommodate both pick-ups, as well as returns from the online channel.

“It’s this really integrated approach that’s fascinating to see all come together,” Healy adds. “Also, I’m curious to learn more about the adoption of automation/robotics for retailers both in their warehouses, but also in stores. Get ready for this. It’s coming!”

What will people be talking about at RECon?

One thing attendees will likely be discussing is how do we get more deals, according to Maloney. “We’ve got retailers that are still skittish about growth. They’re not sure what’s going to happen in certain properties throughout the country.”

“Our message to our people is get them comfortable with what we’re doing,” he says. “Explain how properties are being reevaluated and actually repurposed into more mixed-use environments that are going to include more food, more entertainment, more value. Those are the three big things that our consumers want. We have to deliver that to the customer, because if we don’t, they’re not going to come to our properties. We need an excitement; we need change. We need things that are going to drive foot traffic.”

Healy predicts that people are going to be talking about Amazon’s announcement that it’s promoting one-day delivery for Amazon Prime members. “This only further puts pressure on retailers to increase their speed to customer, typically translating to having more inventory closer to consumers,” he says. Therefore, more product equals more warehouses.

“This line in the sand will only increase the relevance of third-party logistics companies and their abilities to fulfill these requirements for retailers.”

Other pressing topics

“All indicators point to a continued expansion of the food-and-beverage category in U.S. retail real estate, with consumers increasingly preferring to dine out and retail center owners seeking to diversify their centers with experience-focused uses like food and beverage,” says Brandon Famous, chairman of CBRE’s global retail occupier executive committee.

Currently, 750 CBRE personnel are registered to attend RECon. However, with last minute and walk-up registration, it likely will end up being around 800, according to a CBRE spokesperson. CBRE has averaged 800 professionals at RECon for the past several years.

CBRE also sees ongoing interest from international retailers to enter the U.S. market and for domestic retailers to expand abroad, especially now that they have data analytics tools available to make the most informed decisions on store sites, Famous says.

“Additionally, we anticipate speaking with many retailers [at RECon], as we do daily, about optimizing their portfolios for the right balance of stores, online operations and supply chain real estate,” Famous notes. “This is a complex process that smart retailers are continually striving to balance in order to best meet changing consumer expectations of retail.

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