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Key Takeaways From Our NEXT Retail Summit

March 29, 2023

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Our inaugural NEXT summit drew industry leaders from around the world who shared their expertise and insights.

As part of our mission to bring value to our retail partners, Brookfield Properties’ NEXT retail real estate event brought a community of industry experts and thought leaders together to share ideas, explore trends, network, and collaborate about the future of retail real estate. Held at La Cantera Resort & Spa in San Antonio, the event drew more than 200 attendees.

In true Texas style, NEXT was bigger and better than we could have ever imagined, thanks to the generous contributions of our guest panelists at our general session, who shared their secrets for longevity, growth, customer retention, employee engagement, and more.

Here are their six key drivers for winning in retail:

1. Be agile

“Adaptation is sometimes revolutionary and sometimes evolutionary,” said Bahram Akradi, Chairman and CEO of Life Time, Inc. “Sometimes you are faced with something like COVID, where you have to pause and say, ‘How do I deal with this?’ At the time, we had 30,000 employees and we couldn’t operate our business.” With government bailout funds unavailable for large companies like Life Time, Akradi was forced to pivot quickly. So, he and the entire Life Time C-suite decided to stop paying themselves so they could continue to pay their entire staff and vendors. “We made the decision to protect Life Time’s brand and reputation and that commitment made our team members more involved and more passionate. This year, we’re already breaking every record in the history of the company.”

2. Lead with quality

“There’s never been a more important time to get everything grounded in quality,” said Janet Hayes, Chief Executive Officer of Crate & Barrel Holdings. “We’ve branded this year as the year of quality, and we’re using all channels to talk to our customers about it. It’s really changed the filter for us.” According to Hayes, quality and purpose is currently top of mind for Crate & Barrel customers. While they are purchasing fewer pieces after feathering their nests during COVID — a boom for the home furnishings industry — they’re focusing on meaningful, well-made pieces that will last for generations. And that factors into the price they’re willing to pay. “Quality will be remembered long after the price is forgotten,” Hayes added.

3. Make it personal

According to Marcelo Tau, COO for David Yurman, offering high-quality products is just the beginning — those products need to be backed up with personalized service. “When you have the right product, the quality — and you care about the customer — that’s what drives success,” Tau said. “Our focus is personalizing the customer experience, which starts online in many cases, when the customer is browsing and looking for ideas. Those customers then come into our stores and are met with a friendly brand ambassador who will talk to them. When you buy a high-value item, there is that whole experience of understanding the piece and its history. When I first started at David Yurman, I was surprised by the number of people who collect the pieces over time. That’s the reason there’s so much loyalty.”

4. Good for the environment is good for business

As consumers increasingly lead with their moral compass when making purchasing decisions, brands that can demonstrate their commitment to ESG principles are winning. “What we found at Rothy’s is that doing good for the planet is also good for business,” said Rothy’s Vice President of Global Retail Development Giovanni Lepori. “By keeping plastic out of landfills and being able to recycle at this point close to 150 million bottles of plastic, that’s what really has helped us in getting to where we are today and to the billion-dollar valuation that we received a year ago,” Lepori said. “Rothy’s was built from the get-go as a sustainable brand.”

5. Deliver a memorable in-store experience

“When we talk about experiential retail, what we talk about often is something that’s customer centric, something that’s digitally enabled, something that’s multisensory,” said The Business of Fashion North America Managing Director Rahul Malik. “But really what I think we’re talking about is something that is emotional. My call to action, as you think about the different initiatives that you’re prioritizing — are they helping you to deliver and create an emotional experience for the people you want to be targeting and reaching?”

Rowan Chief Executive Officer Louisa Schneider founded her business entirely upon that premise. “No one gets their ears pierced alone,” Schneider said. “They bring their parents, their friends, their loved ones. It’s a milestone, emotional moment everyone remembers.”

Miss A Co-Founder and Chief Merchandising Officer Jean Baik launched in 2013 as a direct-to-consumer brand. But it wasn’t until opening her first brick-and-mortar store in 2016 that Baik realized the power that shopping in person offers. “Brick-and-mortar brings your products to life,” she said. “It creates an environment where customers can come and have a lot of fun. In our stores, we have a conversion rate that’s over 90 percent.”

6. Connect with your community

Executive Chairwoman and CCO Kendra Scott, who founded her eponymous brand when she was a single mother, focuses her giving back efforts through the Kendra Scott Foundation, which to date has given more than $50 million to causes that support women and youth. “When I founded Kendra Scott, I really wanted the philanthropy part of it to be how we would measure success,” she said. “How when I’m 90 years old sitting on my porch in Wimberly, Texas, that I’m going to look back on this and say, ‘Yes, we built this amazing brand, but we have done significant things for the women and children in health, education, wellness, and empowerment.’ And that is what excites me and gets me jumping out of bed every morning to keep going.”

Building upon his father’s longtime support of local youth sports, Dick’s Sporting Goods Executive Chairman Ed Stack launched the Sports Matter Foundation in 2014 to address a systemic lack of funding for public school sports programs. To date, the foundation has donated more than $80 million to support young athletes across the country. “Kids need a place to go after school,” said Stack. “Through our Sports Matter Foundation, we’ve touched over a million kids who wouldn’t have been able to play sports without the foundation. This year is our 75th anniversary [of Dick’s Sporting Goods] so we’re going to be giving away 75 $75,000 grants across the country to schools or leagues that need help so that these kids can play. It all stems from the example my father set.”

At Brookfield Properties, our goal is to build deeper partnerships with our retail community as we work toward transforming the now, igniting the future, and revolutionizing retail. We’re grateful to the inspiring thought leaders in our industry who brought their fresh and innovative ideas to our NEXT retail summit and look forward to exploring what’s possible together.

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