Since connecting people is what we do, we’re starting a series of interviews with our clients to share what others in the industry are experiencing as shopping centers nationwide begin to reopen.
The first of this series features Andi Simpson, Vice President, Marketing from Urban Edge who operates properties primarily in the northeastern United States as well as a couple Puerto Rican properties.
Q: Are there any practices your properties have implemented during the pandemic that you plan to keep/enhance?
Andi: Too early to tell but do think the reminders to practice good hygiene (hand washing) and social distancing when appropriate will be with us for a long time, hopefully reducing the likelihood of contracting any virus/cold.
Q: What differences have you noticed when it comes to openings in different geographic locations? (Puerto Rico vs. US)
Andi: Puerto Rico is “the little island that could”. They always have been. The level of partnership, alignment and sharing of resources really is an example to the world. They truly are a community in every sense of the word. All major mall and shopping center owners and operators talk monthly and the onset of the shut downs only increased this communication. The Puerto Rico mall community created an official owners association committee to better propose operational protocols in the hope of influencing their own future with well prepared and thoughtful protocols and planning to share with officials. They met with the Director of the Economic Task Force and the Secretary of the Health Department and eventually the Governor. All were really impressed with their diligence and approach. They were able to receive approval to reopen their malls several weeks earlier than initially thought.
On the mainland, where the pandemic has hit harder, we are following both local, state and federal guidance. Urban Edge Properties is primarily focused in the northeast with properties from Philadelphia to Boston. The reopenings are happening at a thoughtful pace based on how our government is prescribing.
Regardless of location, people want to shop again. Puerto Rico opened to lines at the door and lines at stores. We anticipate this on the mainland as well once soft goods reopen, especially at retailers like Nike, Adidas, or anyone selling athleisure lines.
Q: As your centers begin to reopen, have you noticed any trends in which safety measures shoppers seem to value most?
Andi: We are not at a point where we can determine trends. We think we will see trends and preferences mainly related to hygiene and social distancing and potentially how our customers and tenants embrace curbside or parking lot pick up over the long term surface once we see the majority of our tenants reopen. We may see this in Puerto Rico before the mainland and certainly have our eyes open.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge for your team?
Andi: We are used to being together. The entire Urban Edge Properties team has been working at 120% since we began working from home, we have had a Town Hall every Friday with all employees and our departments are Zooming to stay connected. But our property teams are such “boots on the ground” and “roll up your sleeves” kinda people, the remoteness is more difficult. Our property managers have been on site throughout the pandemic (about half of our tenants never closed) to be sure we are very present in our communities and for our tenants. We are all looking forward to the day that we can safely regroup to support each other.
Q: What has helped your team most during this pandemic (communication tactics, technologies, etc)?
Andi: We put an incredible amount of time into our re-opening planning to create a series of templates and guidelines for our teams to follow and start with. I think the initial challenge was “where to start”, every municipality and every property is different. There is no property or community that is exactly the same - one size fits one, not all. By creating a “kit of parts” each team was able to modify and customize based on these templates. From signage, to property flow, tenant communications, and equipment – we thought through these to give our teams a strong place to start prior to any re-openings.
Q: In your opinion, what does the future of retail look like?
Andi: Retail is certainly very much alive. The pandemic has accelerated some of the trends that we were seeing before COVID and has changed others. Well-located and thought-out real estate that serves the needs of its community is still critical. It’s about answering the question: What does our community need? And the answer is going to be different for many locations.