Over the past few years, as Amazon has turned the retail industry on its head, a lot of doubt has been cast on the viability and unsure future of brick-and-mortar businesses. Next week, BuiltWorlds will host a Retail Day as part of its Buildings 2.0 Conference. This event is entirely devoted to the future of the retail industry and the forces morphing it. One of the most exciting speakers at Retail Day is Garrick Brown, the National Retail Research Director at Cushman & Wakefield. BuiltWorlds’ journalist, Jim Lichtenwalter, had an opportunity to catch up with Brown. Their conversation covered a lot of ground, including the future of retail, why BBC America’s “Killing Eve” is the best show on television right now, and where you can find the best hotdog in Chicago. Check out their discussion below:
Can you describe what Cushman & Wakefield does in one sentence?
We are a full-service real estate firm specializing in brokerage, property management, valuation, and corporate services.
What are you planning on talking about at Retail Day?
I’m tackling two topics that intersect: retail in the age of Amazon and the “amenitization” of retail. The reality is we’re not going to need as many standalone retail destinations as we did in the past. We’re going to have a lot of retail shopping centers that go away, but nowhere near as many as I think a lot of people fear. Increasingly we’re going to see a lot of shopping has become much more mixed use in their nature. There’s going to be a huge demand in urban markets where we’re seeing a high rise office where they can actually command much greater rent upstairs if they choose the right retail downstairs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much demand for retail and amenity. Our paradigm is shifting away from the standalone retail destination, and increasingly towards retail being part of an organic whole.
So, you don’t think that suburban America is going to turn into a wasteland of empty shopping malls and parking lots, right?
No, I don’t. The story of retail over the next decade is going to be one of redevelopment or mixed-use. The suburban million-square-foot class B-malls, that go to a death spiral aren’t going to become warehouse space as much as people have theorized. Whether it’s mixed-use office, multi-family homes, medical centers, or hospitality, it’s all going to be about mixed use and it’s going to be about the retail component, but stripped-down. That’s gonna be a slow-moving train moving towards us and it still hasn’t really quite happened.
These centers are going to need to be reinvented. The A-level centers are going to be fine. They’re going to be our destinations that are more purely retail. Even though some of those that’d be landlords, to hedge their bets, are going to incorporate mixed-use development. But at the end of the day, the fix for retail isn’t adding more retail; the fix for retail is people. The more you can shift away from just pure sales and retail towards putting people in those areas and those centers, whether it’s office buildings, medical offices, apartments, hospitality, or a mix of all of those, that’s going to be what bolsters what’s left.
So how is the retail industry relevant to Cushman & Wakefield’s work?
We have a thriving and vibrant retail division for brokerage, both in terms of leasing and investment. In the USA and Canada, we have about 300 active brokers that specialize in retail. We also have a huge office and industrial division that is involved in e-commerce and urban retail ground floor. Retail is a critical part of our business.
Why are you excited to be speaking at BuiltWorlds’ Retail Day?
Besides being able to sneak in an Italian beef sandwich, one of the things that excites me is setting the record straight about the future of retail. The story of retail doom and retail apocalypse has gone mainstream and there’s a lot of misperceptions about it. There are real challenges facing retail, but the perception has probably become worse than the reality. A lot of it’s being able to educate people on this gigantic shift in evolution. This is occurring at unprecedented rates. I think retail is going to change more in the next 10 years than in the last 40. But retail is not going away; it’s just shifting. I think really educating people on how it’s shifting, where the growth is, what is working with consumers is important.
I feel evangelical about retail. It’s critical to let people know about the real challenges–away from the hype– and that it’s not all gloom but it’s certainly not all sunshine and lollipops. If you know what you’re doing, this is a market where you can position yourself very well, certainly from an investor standpoint. This is actually a market where because of the jitters the market has over retail, this is a market where you can actually acquire some great assets and achieve yields that you wouldn’t have been able to get two years.
Moving away from Cushman & Wakefield and the state of retail as a whole, I want to ask you some questions about yourself. Starting off, what was your first ever job?
My first job was as a burger flipper at Carl’s Jr. I lasted three days.
Yeah. I wasn’t very good.
You weren’t good, or did you just have enough?
My last day there they asked me to clean the grease vat, and I was like “you want me to do what?”
I worked at Chick-fil-a for five years, so I totally understand that. Cleaning grease is not fun. Moving on, who is your favorite leader and why?
That’s a really good question. I think Angela Merkel would have to be the world leader that I respect the most because I think she’s been the most balanced in dealing with the real challenges we’re facing that a certain degree.
What is your favorite moment from your career?
It would have to be speaking to the Harvard MBA real estate program alumni, which that actually just happened two weeks ago.
That was definitely a big highlight. If Harvard really knew me, I’m not sure they’d let me on campus. Laughs
What did you speak to them about?
Same topics. A lot of that presentation is what I’m going to be giving at Retail Day
Oh great! We’re getting the Harvard treatment. What app do you use most in your phone?
Sadly it has to be the United Airlines app. I’m on the road about three days a week.
On a similar note, what is your biggest source of news and information?
Google News searches. I get about 65 a day for every major city and different keywords that I use.
What was the last app on your phone that you used?
What book are you currently reading?
I am reading Submission by Michel Houellebecq. It was a recommendation by a friend. Basically, it’s about a guy in his forties who is struggling to find meaning in his life. It’s set against the French election of 2020.
What TV show are you currently watching?
I cannot more highly recommend Killing Eve, which is on BBC America.
You’re literally the fourth person to recommend that to me this week.
It’s just a really stylish, well-done thriller. The soundtrack is incredible, the story is great. Sandra. Oh, plays this Canadian-born MI-6 analyst that suddenly becomes obsessed with this sociopathic assassin that may be French or may be Russian.
Garrick, last question. I’m springing this one on you. Since we were talking about food in Chicago before I started recording, I have to know, who has the best hot dog in Chicago?
I’m still partial to Superdawg, even though Wiener Circle gives it a run for its money. I just love Superdawg.
Be sure to get your Buildings 2.0 tickets now. Move fast, there are only 12 tickets available.