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The TAKEAWAY - 2017 ICSC Western Conference

09-Oct-2017 -  By: Gary K. Dempster • FAIA • LEED AP • CRX • CDP
After listening to several sessions at the recent ICSC Western Conference, I jotted down a few key takeaways:
  • Retail is not dead, bad retail is dead.
  • It is about service, not the transaction.
  • We need to win hearts, not just heads—it is about the emotional connection to a center, not price point.
  • Retail needs to be local not formulaic.
Back in office, I realized that all of these ideas refer to context in some way. Context has long been one of the animating principles of our practice because it has always been at the heart of successful retail—from markets to malls to the new hybrid centers that we are designing today.

When we talk about context we are not only referring to the physical context, although we carefully consider climate, geography, the architecture of surrounding structures. In order to design retail centers that resonate with their communities and make that emotional connection with visitors and customers, we study the local culture, history, the rich details of daily life that make a place unique.

Successful retail belongs to the customers, the locals have a sense of ownership.


They go to the center not just to shop, but to experience the environment. It's not only teenagers hanging out at the mall, the best retail attracts folks from every generation and our designs must make them comfortable in the stores and restaurants, and in the spaces in between.

If a center is generic, with no connection to both the physical and social community, if the shops are only national chains that can be found anywhere and if "there's no there, there" customers will buy online. If, however, the center belongs to the community culturally and architecturally, if local retailers and restaurants are part of the mix, if there are places for gathering, spots to see and be seen, then people will come to shop and more. It will belong to them.


Gary K. Dempster, FAIA, LEED AP, CRX, CDP
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