How to Make Retail Centers Cool Again


Let’s just say it—the retail world is experiencing a major about-face. The traditional retail model has been turned on its head, replaced in part, by e-commerce, on-demand and subscription delivery services. So, how can a brick-and-mortar developer keep up with the changing needs of consumers?

My thought—make retail centers cool again. How? Inject creativity into every step of the redevelopment process.

It’s true that most firms follow a similar general approach to redeveloping retail centers; what makes the difference is how new ideas and trends are pulled into design and execution. The process itself isn’t rocket science—but executing the client’s vision in a fresh and exciting way can be. Here are four ideas for breaking out of the boring mold.


Step 1: Start at the beginning.
To know where you are going, it helps to know where you have been. Learn what you can about the redevelopment’s needs, and explore a variety of options for engaging and retaining guests with different experiences and activities. Look beyond storefronts to recreational areas, passive green spaces, healthy lifestyle opportunities and untraditional dining options.


Step 2: Connect with the community.
When redesigning a retail center, you work for three unique customer bases: the developer/management team, the tenants and the consumers/guests. While much can be learned from the developer/management team, it’s a good idea to reach out to tenant and consumer groups to recognize specific needs, regional idiosyncrasies and demographic trends. Run focus groups, collect surveys and hold social media contests to gather valuable feedback.

Step 3: Make collaboration your middle name.
Once you’ve defined the client’s needs and uncovered their unique style preferences, consider hosting an internal design charrette. By bringing a variety of design concepts to the table and working directly with the client, your design package will perfectly align with their vision—and strengthen their investment in the project.


Step 4: Integrate tomorrow’s trends into today’s designs.
There are endless opportunities for incorporating outside-the-box ideas into the designs of today’s retail world. Whether traditional youth playgrounds or adult recreation equipment, passive green gathering spaces or programmed entertainment venues, health care, government services or even community centers, there are so many ways to expand the uses of retail centers to draw guests in and keep them coming back for more.



Jim Goggan, RA, AIA, LEED® AP

With over 35 years of experience in the real estate industry, Jim leads Woolpert’s commercial/retail development efforts. He’s known for his commitment to quality and forward-thinking designs.


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