Are retail applications unlimited? It all depends whom you ask. Yet one thing is for sure–retailing in America is rapidly changing. Many factors have had an impact: High gas prices, resurgence of residences within America’s downtowns, the current wave of mixed use developments, open-air lifestyle centers, healthier eating habits, wrinkle-free on-the-go clothing, everything recycled, huge number of baby boomers retiring soon, and on and on.

So, how do these factors affect retailing in America? First, there’s the site location–depending on whether it’s for new construction, existing rehab or a new retail application in a non-commercial space or location.

We are seeing more retailers going “small,” reducing costs and increasing profits, while going for a minimal land pad. This is especially true with the restaurants such as Zaxby’s and Panda Express. These freestanding examples have limited menu items and express check-in, while fitting on one-third to one-half less acreage than conventional eateries. The Dollar Store, Ace Hardware and Sears Appliance Store are three retailers who have found a way to differentiate themselves among their significant competitors by offering themselves in a “small package,” fitting certain market locations.

Third-tier markets are fast becoming villages along the fringes of dense suburban areas, from Howie-in-the-Hills to Clermont, Dade City to Wesley Chapel, Lake Wales to Winter Haven and Ocoee/Apopka to Orlando, to name a few. Many of today’s retailers are designed for these locations because the land costs and incomes are lower.

With gas prices on the rise again, and likely to stay high over the long term, retail has to connect with all people. Obviously, store variety will diminish as one moves further away from dense population centers.

We are finding significant opportunities in towns where a vacant lot stands adjacent to a retail building and has rehab on one side and a building for removal on the other. These assemblages are ideal for mixed-use urban development, combining retail and residential.

Retail is increasingly directing the “overall development” of an area. We are now thinking of the concept in terms of today’s changing culture. We want retail goods cheaper, yet still close to our home, workplace and entertainment.

In most cases, the retail deal starts with land. Those searching for the right site need to be thinking outside the box. The standard plan is no longer simply finding a corner with a light and submitting it to a retail chain. Retail is the driving force behind increasingly dense projects for both the urban cores and suburbia.

Why not put a pharmacy or bank on the first floor of an office or residential building, each with drive-through convenience in the parking garage? Why doesn’t Lowe’s have a call-in number and drive-through window for small order pickups? That’s one less parking space taken when the customer only needs a single bolt to finish his weekend job.

Now the “pop-up” store is spreading across America’s college campuses. This temporary mini-store concept is going direct to an estimated 18.3 million college students with an estimated $8.5 billion in discretionary spending. Havaianas and Victoria’s Secret Pink are two examples from the fashion world that are taking advantage of this lucrative college crowd.

Public schools, airports, public river walks, or wherever people gather is where traditional or new retail concepts are being applied. The retail engine, large or small, begins with a “prime-located” site.

As America’s retail culture continues to apply itself in new and varied ways, the land brokers will also be challenged to think creatively as they present new site ideas to retailers and developers. America’s retailer must wear many hats as they apply their trade to an ever-changing marketplace.

The views expressed here are those of the author and not of Incisive Media or its publications.

Mark Cooney is executive director of land services with GVA Advantis in Tampa. He can be reached at [email protected].

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