Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 2.23.29 PMThis week, Lori Kilberg and Benno Rothschild of Hartman Simons each moderated a panel at Bisnow’s 5th Annual Atlanta Retail Real Estate Summit. The panels featured leading retailers, brokers and developers. In this week’s Four on Friday, we share four key takeaways about the Atlanta retail market from the event.

1. Malls are evolving, not dying, and technology is increasingly important to that evolution. Sharon Polonia of Simon Property Group said the company is in the process of recycling department store space – and has filled 90 anchor spaces to-date. The company is also aggressively pursuing several technology initiatives to create an on-property experience and entice shoppers to return. These include same-day delivery and an app called Beacon that knows a shopper’s favorite stores and shares information about sales and inventory of items, among other things.

Furthermore, Simon is toying with a loyalty program in which shoppers can scan receipts to accumulate points, which can then be traded for free food, upfront parking or the chance to win a large prize like a car. 

 2. Creating a connection is key. David Birnbery of The Shopping Center Group said experiential retail has raised the bar, and that knowing your customer is crucial to success. Randy Starr of Topgolf echoed his sentiments, touching on the importance of social media to building relationships with customers. Topgolf has an aggressive social media strategy that begins 16 weeks before a property is set to open with specific benchmarks to reach. “’Build it and they will come’ doesn’t work anymore,” Starr said.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 4.53.53 PM3. Retailers are back in the business of expansion – but development hasn’t caught up. Several projects are in the conceptualization stage, but won’t be delivered for two to five years. In the meantime, Birnbery said demand for Class A & B retail space has never been greater. Zach Taylor of Marcus & Millichap noted that three out of four retailers are expanding. In fact, Planet Fitness is planning 25 locations in Atlanta, but has only been able to find sites for 12 so far, said Stanley DeMartinis Jr. of Planet Fitness.

4. Mom-and-pop tenants are back in the game. Michael Puline of DLC Management Corp. said there’s been a huge increase in the number of mom-and-pop tenants looking for space, particularly in tertiary markets. The growth can be attributed to access to capital and a decrease in debt.