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Like many retailers, New York City-based G+G Retail will tout a new concept at the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Spring Convention in Las Vegas. The company, which operates 500 mall-based Rave stores, which target teenage girls, as well 70 Rave Girl units that go after a younger audience, is looking to open 12 prototypes next year in March or April. Some details of the new stores have yet to be determined, but G+G executives have decided to increase their units’ square footage from an average of 2,400 sf today to 2,800 sf to 3,000 sf. Josh Podell, the retailer’s VP of real estate and construction spoke with GSR about his plans for the convention.

GSR: What is your biggest objective at the convention this year?

Podell: My No. 1 objective is to explain to everyone what’s happening in terms of the changes. I want them to understand that how they perceived our business and our stores over the past 30 years in changing dramatically. From a mall owner standpoint it’s going to benefit them tremendously because we’ll have a much nicer-looking store. A lot of mall owners want to make sure that what build is very nice because they’re putting a lot of money into their centers now. It’s not the old days when you just put down a tile floor and sheetrock ceiling and that was it. The settings are much nicer today, and they’re sensitive in that they want retailers to put their best foot forward with a store prototype.

GSR: In what ways are you going to push the new concept at the Spring Convention?

Podell: The fixture changes are very significant. We were a rounder operation, and the fact that we’re ordering custom fixtures and folding now–-we never folded anything ever–-things like that are dramatic changes. The level of talent we’ve hired is only the best of the best. It’s very different from the way we used to do business. Over the past month I’ve probably had 15 different portfolio reviews with the regional offices of Simon or the corporate offices of CBL, General Growth and Westfield, and they’re all very optimistic.

GSR: Is it difficult to meet with all of the landlords that you want to see at the show?

Podell: It’s impossible because, ideally, you want to meet with everybody, but you just can’t. That’s why I usually take April and May to spend some quality time in their home offices, so I can try to meet with as many people as possible. I generally leave Las Vegas for the smaller developers. I wouldn’t typically go see a landlord in the Midwest that has three or four malls and have a portfolio review when I could see them in Vegas.

GSR: What kind of deals have you gotten out of the convention in the past?

Podell: I generally don’t come out of the convention with any new deals. In my opinion, if you came out of the convention with 20 new deals, you should have had those deals the month before the convention because it’s very rare that a space comes up and it’s available a week before the convention starts. If you are always following up and making sure that you know of every opportunity, it’s rare that spaces somehow avail themselves at the convention. But it does happen. There are a lot of retailers that use the time at the convention to site with landlords and say, “I want to give you this space back, or we’re not going to renew this year.” If you come out of the convention with some deals, all the better. But I typically haven’t.

GSR: Do you spend a lot of time trying to meet landlords of centers that you’re not in?

Podell: Yes, especially this year because there are a lot of landlords who were sensitive to the build out and didn’t want us in a particular space or center, but now I’m convincing them slowly that we’re changing enough that they’re going to want us.

GSR: What is the biggest challenge for retailers at the Spring Convention?

Podell: We don’t work with a lot of real estate brokers because we’re only in the malls. But I would imagine if you were a retailer that did a lot of work with brokers, that would make it very difficult. You would want to meet with the actual landlords themselves, but you would also want to meet with the brokers who are representing you. It would be tough to do that. For us, it’s just a matter of making sure you meet with as many people as you can. It’s a challenge. We’re booked every 15 minutes.

GSR: Do you have a booth?

Podell: Yes, we got the booth about four years ago when we had a strip-center program, and landlords would come to us, and we kept it because we thought it was a great marketing tool. We do our meetings there as well.

GSR: How would your business change if the convention didn’t exist?

Podell: It would be more difficult. I would have to travel more. I would have to travel to see the smaller developers that I see at the convention. It’s also a terrific networking place. It’s where I develop so many relationships. People who you speak to over the phone 20 times and have never met, it gives you a chance to sit down and really talk to them. They become less a number and more of a person. And let’s face it: This is a relationship business; it always has been.

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