EPISODE 073 : 08/04/2022
Rebecca Fitts is a Senior Commercial and Retail Real Estate Business leader with more than 15 years of experience on both the developer and retail sides of the business. She is the Director of Real Estate at Leap, the Omni Channel Retail Platform for Modern Brands. Rebecca also co-hosts the weekly podcast “Retail is your Business” focusing on the consumer experience at the intersection of innovation, technology and business strategy.
Host: Ned Hayes and Kira Cleveland
Guest: Rebecca Fitts
Listen to every episode
Topics discussed in this episode
- Detailed small business insights from Olympia, Washington
- Small business resiliency and adaptation during COVID
- Doubling community outreach during the pandemic
- Opportunities for small business loyalty programs
Watch Spark Loyalty’s Small Business Success Channel
Ned Hayes [00:00:01] Welcome to Spark Plug, where we talk to smart people working at the intersection of business and technology brought to you by Snowshoe, your smarter loyalty leader Spark Plug is happy to welcome Rebecca thoughts to the podcast today. Rebecca is a senior commercial and retail real estate business leader, with years of experience on both the developer and retail sides of the business. She is currently the director of Real Estate at LEAP, the omnichannel retail platform for Modern Brands. Rebecca also co-hosts the podcast Retail Is Your Business, focusing on the consumer experience at the intersection of innovation, technology and business strategy. So welcome, Rebecca.
Rebecca Fitts [00:00:44] Thank you so much for having me. Excited to be here.
Ned Hayes [00:00:46] Well, let’s start right off by hearing about your career history. Will you tell us about your path that led up to this moment?
Rebecca Fitts [00:00:52] Sure. It’s funny, I love this question because I think I’ve spent a long time telling my parents there’s a squiggly line and then there is a ladder. And certainly I think my resume probably is more of a squiggly line. But when you give it a narrative, hopefully it all makes sense. You all can be judge and jury on this for sure. I got my start really in retail and real estate on the PR marketing side of the business. And I wanted to be a designer, I wanted to be around fashion, I wanted to be around consumer goods, but wasn’t really great or had a lot of passion for selling or drawing and such. So I spent time anywhere from Vera Wang at the beginning of my career, so high fashion and their PR department. And I ended that part of my career at a company called Stupid Berets, who happened to have about 300 stores. When they finally decided to go out of business and they went out of business and line with the crash in 2008. And like a lot of people, I was looking around for what was next. I certainly bonked my head on the wall and thought, Oh, I’m just going to go back in and get a PR job at the same salary. And there really weren’t those kinds of jobs anymore. And that job was really changing. And I knew I wanted to do something in retail, and I ended up partnering with a friend who had the opposite skill set me and was formerly a buyer and at places like Lucky. And we decided to do pop up shops in a different part of Manhattan every month and to pay the rent. We co-opted smaller brands and we had something really good going and people would roll their eyes when they’re like, Didn’t I see you walking down the street with a couch one day? But that was really good. So we had these great stores and just learned a lot about how to run a store. The customer experience everything from hanging tags and hangers to shrinkage, people stealing even from our small pop up shop. And I loved the whole experience and I was the one finding the locations and talking to landlords about short term leases at a long term lease. And I think they also looked at two women and probably didn’t think our money was really green. I mean, it was that kind of atmosphere at that time. Anyway, after that experience, it really set me into a place where the big players were looking for someone who was looking at omnichannel, was looking at the customer experience, and I was lucky enough to go to GGP, which is now Brookfield, on to a special team that reported into the CEO and work on how to make malls more productive and really had omni channel in my title and tried to work with all the retailers in the mall to make their spaces more productive. And we had a great time and we I think, made a lot of great changes. But it was like a startup within a startup and we failed fast and that team broke up and I got to stay on on a retail development team, which was really trying to get direct to consumer brands to come to the property. And at that time, mall was a four letter word. And then from there I went on to Westfield to do the same thing for one of their most unique properties in New York City, the World Trade Center, and again, have been very lucky throughout my entire career, was doing some consulting and was able to take that work and go into Warby Parker on their real estate team and really look at what the direct to consumer brand was doing as far as rolling out physical stores. And that led me to say one of the best ways to get a job that you can get there is meeting the current founders of Leap. Even a year before I came on and having conversations with them so that when it came time to come on board, it was an easy conversation to have. And here I am today.
Ned Hayes [00:04:32] Gotcha. It sounds like quite a journey. You’ve been there with malls and with Warby Parker. I’m curious if there was anything early on in life in your childhood or elsewhere that led you into this line of work where you’re leasing lemonade stands at ten years old? Oh.
Rebecca Fitts [00:04:46] I wish it was the leasing part, but I have always been attracted to spaces and what you can do with them. And I think a little bit goes back to fashion and liking to get dressed and and being a shopper and a consumer that. Led me to this. And even to this day, unfortunately for my poor husband, I love to go on retail walks and see what the new pop up shops are and experience and touch and feel and shop. The products won’t be the first time I’ve said this on a live podcast, but I’m a gold medal shopper. Somebody’s got to be. And I think that was really the enjoyment. I grew up on a farm in upstate New York and we had some barns that were being used, and if I were really smart, I would have leased one of them out. But I did enjoy merchandizing the space and making it my own, whether it was for hanging out or doing an art project or something.
Ned Hayes [00:05:33] Right. Well, I know in the U.K. they call the kind of journeys that you went on in retail a retail safari.
Rebecca Fitts [00:05:40] It’s interesting because I think if you go on a safari, you’re curious, you want to see interesting things. And I think a big part of it is curiosity and what are people creating and how are they thinking about their companies, particularly from my standpoint. So by we’re going to leave some of what’s going on in their head, how did they get into the space in the first place? Were they only operating online? And all of a sudden they made this leap to four walls? And what did that feel like for them? And I think it’s different for a lot of different companies and brands and individuals.
Speaker 3 [00:06:10] That’s wonderful. Well, let’s transition really quick from safaris. Took the day job, but I know that people may not know exactly what retail real estate is. Can you tell me more about that field?
Rebecca Fitts [00:06:21] Sure. Interesting. And I love the question as well because I think people think it’s a sliver industry and it a little bit is. But I think it’s really important and it’s certainly getting a lot of attention right now, which is really anybody who’s selling consumer goods, looking for a physical space. And it’s amazing to me and I think one of the reasons I enjoy it so much, how many factors go into really finding the right space from the data side of it? And where are you getting that data to the art side of it? So the science to the art and I don’t want to say hoping that you find the right fit, obviously there are some people who have a real knack for it and you know it. I even know people and I love this and hopefully everybody has a little bit of asset. You’re attracted to a space that you’re calling, but that all that other stuff goes in it. And so it’s really about finding space, doing leases like you would do for residential or industrial, which is getting a big move right now. But for companies and people here, retail and they may have really specific thoughts about it, but I’m loving everything that’s going into the field now that why it a medical yes I know we can do a show without talking about the global pandemic but health and wellness coming out of it, even women who are having infertility issues and that that’s something that we can have in society that can be on Fifth Avenue. So the sky’s the limit in some ways. And creativity and thinking about where do these things belong and how do you get them great space that is going to work for them in every way and little corny but spiritually and that the economics are going to work for them.
Kira Cleveland [00:08:00] That’s beautiful.
Ned Hayes [00:08:01] So who are the stakeholders in retail real estate? Of course there is the brand, but there are also investors shoppers. Is there anyone we’ve left out of the equation?
Rebecca Fitts [00:08:10] This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, and I have someone on my team who has an urban planning background and it’s so cool to have her on the team because I’ll talk a little more about what Leap does. But one of the things is we do stories and we cluster them together and retail can seem like, Well, what good are you doing in the world? But I do think that in some ways we’re coming into places. There’s still retail. The kinds of brands we work with need a lot of foot traffic, but we have come into areas where certainly the retail might have been lagging and we’re filling up spaces. And I think it has a nice impact on neighborhoods, on urban planning and on what’s going on on the streets and those residents in those school districts. So are they dramatic changes? No, not necessarily. Do I think we may get to a place where we can go into Fishtown or the equivalent of the Lower East Side in New York and maybe begin to make some changes and also work with people who are thinking about urban planning like business and economic development folks. We’re starting a little bit of that as well. And then certainly also the place that I play is really direct to consumer brands and modern retailers, that there are these other stakeholders who there’s a lot of talk about capital venture and investors in these businesses can they go the distance and do you want to put your money there? Warby Parker Going public Allbirds going public. Are you going to put your money where your mouth is? So interesting twist to that question on like who are the stakeholders in it?
Kira Cleveland [00:09:44] Oh, it’s definitely very illuminating just how big the impact is of that field. When you are looking at real estate opportunities, what are some of the biggest considerations you’re taking into account? Like what are the factors that you’re weighing? When you’re looking at a real estate opportunity, it changes.
Rebecca Fitts [00:10:00] But if I were going to make a brand agnostic, I mean, I certainly look for the foot traffic. And unless you’re a real destination or you need vehicular traffic versus foot traffic, you need the foot traffic and you probably need some great and see again, depending on where you are in the bell curve of being a brand. And it’s always nice to have a corner, but that’s certainly not something you get every time. And then I certainly think then we look at the actual structure and again, someone who really enjoys walking around New York City and again, not necessarily always shopping, but is there great frontage because those are the billboards for a lot of these brands? Certainly I’ve been somebody who screeches on the brakes. If I see a really great window, whether that’s that I run, I actually shop it or I want to put it on my Instagram. So those are the things that we’re looking for. And then internally and I have a lot of great lessons at Warby Parker on this because they’re really known for delivering such a great customer experience. You might be attracted to that location, the foot traffic might be amazing, but if the space is too wonky as far as the construction, a weird beam or an elevator or a weird staircase, are you going to be able to deliver a great customer experience? And that really is, you know, why are you having a physical store? And I think that’s certainly one of those reasons that you want to connect with your customer in a different way.
Ned Hayes [00:11:23] Right. Actually, building that in-person experience is what matters. I’m in New York and invest in a retail store if everyone’s doing e-commerce. Right.
Rebecca Fitts [00:11:30] Exactly. And you want to bring a different experience than what they can get, your e-com may be fantastic in actuality, but this is this other channel where you want to meet your customer, right?
Ned Hayes [00:11:40] So what considerations do you keep in mind when you’re helping a client or a partner design a physical store? I mean, with supply chain issues, sometimes we could end up with empty shelves. So how do you mitigate for that? How do you plan around supply chain issues and create an experience that’s actually worth going to see?
Rebecca Fitts [00:11:58] Such a great question and it really is everywhere right now. I mean, I think they’re kind of two ways to look at it. And one way, certainly that leap is looking at it is and I’m really proud of this and I hope everybody on the company has my help. Certainly the design and construction team is is that you don’t have to make a build out that is half a million dollars. You can do it for a lot less and you can do it much more sustainably. So if your fixtures are on a boat coming over from China, which very well likely that that is something that’s happening in your world right now, how do you fill in with what you have locally? My design and construction team is such a partner to real estate as it is that a lot of companies that I haven’t necessarily delivered perfect spaces and some of the solves that they have come up with, not necessarily even for fixtures. But hey Rebecca, you delivered a space to us and it’s got a rug in it and it’s a completely wrong color for the brand. And this is a great story. They painted a rug and it totally worked out perfectly. I’m sure that’s not what they thought when they were going to do it. So one is being really resourceful in actually building out the space. And then I think the other thing that is really important and there have been a lot of learnings around in general is if you don’t have the physical inventory to fill up the store, is it worth it to open and goes back to retail real estate? You have a great relationship with your landlord where you say, hey, it’s not about that. We don’t have the store built out, but we actually just don’t have the inventory. And if we open with not enough inventory, it’s probably certainly going to impact how much sales we can do. And it’s also going to impact the customer experience because, boy, there’s nothing like somebody like gold medal shopper coming along really wanting something. So glad you’re finally here in a physical form and then you’re not having it. So I think brands today are really thinking deeply about those things for sure. In the planning phase, it’s nice. They’re still really some really beautiful, cool stores opening up and I don’t think they necessarily waited for the perfect wood to be delivered or the perfect wallpaper or the perfect whatever. And that they got really resourceful.
Kira Cleveland [00:14:12] Absolutely. As you’re an expert in physical retail, we’d love to ask you a bit about brick and mortar versus e-commerce. Expand a little bit on that. And as an example, we were really surprised to see Amazon Open physical bookstores in 2015 and then in March of this last year to close their physical bookstores and a variety of other stores that opened as well. Can you comment on the shift by Amazon and what that means to the world of physical retail?
Rebecca Fitts [00:14:38] It’s interesting. I have read a lot, looked at Amazon so much as I’m sure a lot of people have in this field. They’re fascinating. First of all, I think a lot of people know Amazon Web Services, their cloud based business does a lot of their business and really supports them. And that’s super cool. And who wouldn’t enjoy having that? And it then allows. Them to experiment in these other areas. And it’s interesting when you see them have physical stores in whatever format they are. The bookstores, I think they used to have their top brand stores. They did a roll out of kiosks. It’s like you almost forget that you can just have it delivered to your door and you’re like, This is their core business. And I’ve had to actually have some internal talks with myself where I was like, That’s not really the business in there. They’ve just got this great arm to experiment and they’re going to experiment. And this, I think, is what is really key until they get it right. And then what I’m seeing with them too is like because they have this flex power economically within the organization, they can experiment, they can fail fast. And it seems like, by the way, I’m with you, it’s like you’re reading the news and you’re like, I’m going to go to the Amazon bookstore. And then you’re like, No, I’m not going to go to the Amazon bookstore was like, What is happening here? They can flex that muscle so quickly and they can pivot and adjust so quickly. I imagine. And again, this comes from reading that they’re looking at the data and if they’re seeing things that aren’t working, they can pivot that quickly. And to me, that’s the fascinating part of it. Most people still like to have Amazon deliver things to their door and they get at that brown box. But what they are doing in the physical world is so interesting and I certainly get including myself, some, hmm, what’s this all about? And I think you have to almost train your brain to say they’re doing a cool experiment, one I may or may not want to be a part of, and let’s see if it works. And that’s what I think really holds people’s attention about it, particularly if you’re entrenched in retail and you’re looking at it. But even if you’re not, I think you’d be curious. I haven’t gone into one of their fashion stores yet. There are only two of them in the country, but I think it’s probably an interesting experience for sure. I know they’re doing salons in the UK, I know which really I was like, If you’ve really gone out on a limb and I’m not hearing much about that, but it could be because we’re in the U.S. They’re fascinating in many ways and you’re trying to emulate them. I think you need to have that engine behind you to emulate it.
Ned Hayes [00:17:05] Well, let’s turn the focus over to leap. This is the company that you’re currently the director of real estate for. So can you tell us more about your company and your role?
Rebecca Fitts [00:17:14] Yeah, absolutely. So Leap is a tech platform. Interestingly enough, as I talk about Amazon being techie and we basically are a platform of brands and spaces where driven by data and we basically are solving the problem of taking the risk out of doing physical stores for direct to consumer brands and modern retailers. And the way it works is that a brand comes on to the platform they put in their Shopify information or their policy information, some financial information. We have an algorithm that tells us a number of different things, particularly for my side of the business. It tells me where the store should go, looking at their e-comm data, obviously, and then some other factors that we think are really important for our business model and for the success of stores. And then we underwrite the brand for basically four different things. The first thing we do is we take the lease. So my department is going out across 13 markets and leasing space for brands. We have a couple of cool things that make us really different. And working with landlords, we have rebranding rights, so when we do a store, we are able to rebrand the space of a brand and it isn’t performing. And it’s a great thing for landlords because we won’t leave you with a dark space. And for us if we have a brand that isn’t performing, then we can switch them out and either hopefully put them in a better place or put a brand in that is going to be more successful. And also in that, we have this cluster strategy which again, if you think about platforms, we’re putting stores together to push down on operating fees, real estate, etc., and those are platform advantages. The same reason you and I would use an Uber or a seamless on either end of it. And then we also underwrite the brand for all the CapEx. And so we look for second generation or white box spaces. And this goes took us proud moment that I think my team and my design and construction team is really doing to build that look like full store build out beautiful unique stores because that’s why brands are coming to us. They’re coming for their own store that the door sells their name on it, but at a really affordable price. So we’re also saving these brands money and then we underwrite them for all the retail operations. So that includes everybody who works in the store. And what’s cool about that is I don’t know if you all ever worked in retail, but when I worked in retail as a part time job, I want to say there was a 100% turnover. It wasn’t a job people like. They didn’t treat it as a career. They had fallen into it. And I think because we cluster stores together that you can work a. Cross a couple of brands that people are staying longer, they’re more engaged, they’re more interested. There is a little bit of a longer runway or a much longer runway to oversee a group of stores, but that it’s all not one brand. We have a great cluster in New York on Bleecker Street, where you can be at ring concierge at 400 Bleecker, but you can walk across the street and work at Mack Weldon or Goodlife or something. Maybe your Little Words project. It’s one of our best clusters. And then on the other side of retail operations, we do all the omnichannel. So that’s how productive your store is. And I’m so happy omnichannel has come into itself. So you can use your store to pick and pack curbside pick up concierge appointments, and you can do that all on the platform. So you’re pressing button saying this is how we want the store to operate. And then finally, LEAP has collected over 4 million data points across all our stores. We feel we can help drive traffic, so we put in money for retail marketing, as does the brand. We roll it up into a four well panel and we charge what’s called cost plus, which is an operating fee. And then we take a very small percentage of sales for the halo effect for our physical store coming into its own, as well as a percentage of sales. And that is the model in a nutshell.
Kira Cleveland [00:21:16] Wow. It sounds like there’s a lot of value add you get to provide your businesses and your clients. That’s phenomenal. And it sounds like a very unique company. There’s a lot of creativity in there. We would love to know if you can tell us more about data you use and how proprietary is the data used by the lead platform or is there a secret sauce in the algorithm? What are the cogs and things that make it work?
Rebecca Fitts [00:21:39] Sure, we think there is a secret sauce in the algorithm and I can talk to some of it that I think is different than other folks algorithms. Probably some of it I feel like my founders might be like, what? And then some of the other secret sauce is you want people to emulate what you’re doing. It’s not a form of flattery, but it proves the concept. And people are doing similar things, but not exactly what we’re doing. And so I think that’s actually kind of a nice place to sit. So folks who are in retail as a service are certainly our colleagues in the space, but that we’re all kind of different, which I think is nice. The algorithm looks at things and thinks about things that an algorithm probably doesn’t think, but it looks at anything from seasonality, which I think a lot of folks didn’t always think about how much of your customer is actually where we’re thinking of putting, you know, a lot of e-comm brands are like, we’re going to go do stores. They look at where their e-com is the highest and that’s where they should put the first couple of darts or the first couple of stores. And that probably feels really easy and natural and organic for them. But again, digging down to that next level and also we operate stores for all kinds of different brands. So it could be anything from fine jewelry to home to apparel and having to look at that from that lens every single time. So I think we’re really interested in that as well. And even down to the merchandizing, which I think is something to look at, what I do on the spectrum, there are kind of on the other end, but it’s fascinating on to looking at a brand and everybody on the team may think it’s the best thing since sliced bread and we can’t wait to shop it and with the following on Instagram and whatever, and we’ve definitely had pause where someone will say, Well, you know what, though? They only have so many SKUs and can we really take them to physical retail? And then they really hurtle and have a great revenue stream and really make money and make their rent. So is the occupancy costs really going to work out here for that? We’re taking on the bulk of the rent and doing a lot of these things, but I think we’re also really looking very closely at who are qualifying to come on to the platform.
Ned Hayes [00:23:47] Right. There’s a word that came about some time ago. I think this has come up, this conversation to omnichannel. Right. Does omnichannel actually help clients to move more sale to change what physical retail becomes because they have an omnichannel experience?
Rebecca Fitts [00:24:03] I think it does. I mean, I think a lot of people are divining omnichannel in all different ways. But I think if you are going to open the physical channel, part of it is about meeting your customer where they want to be met. And it also doesn’t mean and I work in a business, so I love to hear when brands want to do this. But I think we’ve come a long way from thinking, I’ve got to go roll out 100 stories even. And what does that really look like? Or are you a brand that lives in this world where you’re like, I can pop up occasionally and people can touch and feel it and there is that demand there and then they get it and then can go back online. But then I need to come back out of it. So I think we’re finding our way and it sounds a little corny, but what does omnichannel mean to you? And people are defining it for themselves now. But I certainly think having all these and I know people are inventing new names for channels, I don’t have any of them right now in my head, but the channel. So are you selling on social? Keeps on growing in leaps and bounds. And I don’t want to say I thought I was the last person. I think I’m pretty innovative but in a hot second and I love it when other people confess. I was like, Oh my goodness, Instagram has my number and they know what I like and they’re going to show it to me. And then they’ve seen me react to it, and so then it’s just going to keep on coming. So I think there’s a lot of creative ways to put channels together that work for you.
Kira Cleveland [00:25:24] Awesome. I totally agree. Kind of looking at Leap again, LEAP aims to put modern brands and premium locations. Can you talk about the effect this has on the neighborhood and the larger community?
Rebecca Fitts [00:25:36] Yeah, it’s interesting work on that. So I’m curious myself what some of the impacts are going to be. But I do think that it’s ultimately good and I’m certainly biased and drinking the Kool-Aid. But I grew up in a town in upstate where there was a lot of change over to the economics, what was going on in the town. We had an Air Force base and the Air Force base closed. We have a college. It’s still doing well. But what did people do there for a living? And it certainly had an impact on what kind of stores we had and we are definitely playing the long game in. Even the length of the leases that we’re taking, which I think is great. We’re saying we really want to be here, but we want to be here in a way that’s really going to work for and I hope the larger good of the neighborhood. But nobody really wants vacancies, so we’re really not going to leave a vacancy. And I hope that impact is really good. Not only is it an impact on who’s right next to you, which I hope is great and this is part of the company culture, but we’re thoughtful, so we would never put in women’s underwear and then come in with our women’s underwear brand and put it right next to it. So we’re really being conscious about how do we make this best for hopefully everyone and then a landlord who might have to if they put a brand in who wasn’t late, which is also fine and there are many of them, but if they file Chapter 11, you’re probably going to have some litigation and then you’re going to have to replace the box. And we think we’re hopefully following that problem out of the retail world in a small way right now where you won’t have to do that, that we’re going to not leave you with an empty box, we’re not going to leave in your neighbor with no co tenant, and that we’re taking on more and more real estate. And I’m excited. I think this is kind of interesting right now. We are definitely because of where our brands are on their bell curve looking at Maine and Maine. But I think there is definitely a time coming around the corner where we’ll have brands who are going to say, now, I can really be a destination. Or there’s a group that cluster brands that can really go here. It fits who they are. They’re going to drive their own foot traffic and they don’t mean Maine and Maine. And I think those are incredibly interesting times, certainly for folks who are looking at retail real estate, and yet not to date myself. But you definitely can talk to people in an issue like nobody used to go to Lower East Side except for the party and buy drugs. And now there’s a lot of great art galleries. The food and beverage is there. I think the retail is coming and that’s a good thing and you want to see that kind of evolution.
Ned Hayes [00:28:05] So one of the services we’ve offers is in-house customer relationship management and loyalty marketing. So I’m curious if you could speak about loyalty and customer engagement. Why are those important aspects of what you do?
Rebecca Fitts [00:28:18] Sure. On loyalty, what we’re doing is really interesting and it goes back to some of the other things in the model. If you shop at a LEAP store and then they’re clustered together, you will get an email immediately after. And it’s fun when people might not know they’re shopping in a Leap store. And then I get the email that says, You might be interested in shopping any one of these other brands. It may even call out a specific product. So if you buy really comfy sweat pants from up west, it might call out some other things that are in that category. And I think it gives people a little, Hmm, I was on Elizabeth Street or I was on Bleecker Street and I didn’t necessarily think about that. So that loyalty is really great and often could potentially be a discount. They’re then looped into everything that’s going on in those stores. So hopefully that brings loyalty across some diversity as well, which we’re finding speaks to a lead customer. And then on the customer management, I’ve said this at other companies, but here it’s extraordinary when I go and tour stores, yes, I’m excited to see what an empty space turned into. But the people who work in the Loop stores are amazing. They’re so happy to be there. I think they tackle the customer journey, the customer issues, good or bad, and a lot of that goes to training and that people and stores are everything. I went a while back, I think it was around the holidays and I felt like I was on the Ellen Show. My team was running into the store, so excited to see these people and they had no idea who we were. We always have to introduce.
Kira Cleveland [00:29:55] Ourselves, but they were equally excited to see us even.
Rebecca Fitts [00:29:58] Before we said.
Kira Cleveland [00:29:59] Okay. We work for.
Rebecca Fitts [00:30:00] Leaper on the real estate team. They just thought, hey, these guys are really excited to be in a Frank and Oak store, and then we let them on. So that’s a huge part of our success. And I know a lot of people who work in retail recognize that and I hope that whole field is changing. And I know that it is that it can be a career for people and they realize you can be creative in it, but recognize that it’s hard. You’ve standing up sometimes for not 8 hours a day, but you’re dealing with public. It’s probably one of the hardest things that you can do in a job. And yet we have a huge team that goes out and does it every day.
Kira Cleveland [00:30:36] That’s amazing. It sounds like a beautiful blend of culture that you guys have created with dedicated, hard work and relationship.
Rebecca Fitts [00:30:43] That’s beautiful and a lot of fun. It really is. I’m going to have to get you guys into a sleep store.
Kira Cleveland [00:30:48] I’m excited. I’ll run in exactly along those lines of loyalty. I know you mentioned email marketing. You guys send out what other marketing strategies do you employ? What makes for a successful retail program, in your opinion?
Rebecca Fitts [00:31:01] That’s great. Again, not my 100% area of expertize at the business at this time, and we’re definitely on social media and I can say that. So we’ve come a long way because we’ve grown our marketing team and all our corporate teams. And I think that our our social media is really straightforward. It’s great, it’s not too quirky or funny, but I think it’ll grow into itself and it’s supported by the brand’s own marketing and they have a nice way of being quirky and funny and being the brand, which is when you think of the only platform, that’s what you’re allowing these brands to do to focus on being a brand. And then I do think that we do some other things that are really interesting, but we’re not being so, so innovative. Coffee We’re not going to do a coffee concept in the store because of permits and things that would really change our model. But we can bring a great coffee cart outside. We can do great collaborations. Not only do people who are consumers really appreciate and enjoy collaborations, but all these brands know each other and they talk to each other. It’s a joy. It’s not even in a competitive way, and they may even be in the same product category. So it’s really interesting to see how business is being done and that they collaborate with one another and people come out for it. They’re excited. Hey, I’ve got two of my favorite brands that are coming together, so my marketing team is definitely doing a lot of those kinds of things at the local and the market level, and that’s getting folks excited and maybe it always has. I’m not sure if there’s a COVID thing at play or what’s going on there, but we’re really seeing that that’s working.
Ned Hayes [00:32:36] Result was one thing we’ve seen with retail is that because everybody can go online, everybody can compare prices and convenience really matters. I mean, DoorDash, GrubHub, all these things are happening in real time. I can get almost anything in the world to my front door. How do you create retail loyalty as a physical presence that can effectively compete against a world in which people are just measuring convenience or low price?
Rebecca Fitts [00:33:02] It’s a great question. The store experience still is something that people are coming out for, and if they’re not coming out of the store experience, they’re coming out for the touch and feel, which holds into the experience. So even if I’ve bought a pair of shoes with all of our cable before who actually is on the platform, they do sneakers that are manufactured in Italy. They have a huge following is that I probably want to try it on because it’s unique and it’s funny because my size might actually be different and then I’m being somewhat humorous when I say this, but I think it probably if I went outside and took a poll, it’s like humps of a camel on who are the returners. And I’m sure you have hard core returners in your life. Instead of going in dressing room, they want it delivered to their door and they know how to return, like they’ve mastered the art of returning. And they’re folks like me who would rather donate it to anything, including the Salvation Army, depending on the price or a friend or a good non-for-profit, and then return it because we’re not returners. So for me, it really bodes go to the store, try it on, because if it comes to your house and you try it on and it’s a little wonky or it hurts your feet, you’re going to be in the return basket, which means printing out a label potentially, even if you’re not paying for it, you’ve got to get it to your dorm, A.P. guy, to your mailbox. And for me, that doesn’t say convenience. I think it’s interesting. I don’t know if we’ve hit this point to where we got so many boxes during a global pandemic that has gone on for two and a half years, that I also think there is this pent up demand where people want to physically be out with each other and then physically be out and touch and see things. I’m not going to say shopping is America’s new pastime again or anything like that, but I do think there’s probably some of that.
Kira Cleveland [00:34:52] I totally agree. I’m definitely more of the camp with you, Rebecca. Horrible returner so long.
Rebecca Fitts [00:34:59] To get somebody on who’s going to balance us out, who’s like, no, you have to walk the line. Yes.
Ned Hayes [00:35:04] So I’m curious if you could speak about the future of retail. Take out your crystal ball and tell us what’s going to happen in 10 to 20 years at retail.
Rebecca Fitts [00:35:12] Well, the crystal ball so dangerous. It’s so fun. Well, I know there’s a lot of talk about this. It’s not my area of expertize or certainly where I’m really passionate about, but you never know. It’ll be interesting to see what the metaverse brings and a lot of talk about that. Will it only be brands? Will there be a mall? That’s a metaverse? What will the customer experience be in the metaverse? So I think there’s certainly some of that, which is to me really futuristic, but it’s probably in my email box as we speak. I’m going to be saying I found the pandemic to be very sad in many ways, and I certainly was worried about a lot of my local retailers and even national retailers. And certainly you hear great stories about people worried about restaurants and food and beverage. But what I think it did for New York and a lot of other high streets and even malls is that it was like a snake shedding its skin. And now a lot of new things are cropping up. And while I certainly don’t want another experience like a global pandemic, we do seem to have things that come in every couple of years and shake up our economy, our life, and it somehow changes or tweaks or makes retail innovative to that next level. And I don’t know what that will be. Having lived through 911, 2008, a global pandemic, how will we morph ourselves again? That will be interesting. And there was a lot of talk about our direct to consumer brands here to stay. And I don’t know, but I think it’s a very cool world that in the time of this podcast now, the four of us could have come up with a cool brand, opened up a site on Shopify and experimented with it, and that might never go away. And people are going to solve problems for that and then solve problems around retail as well.
Kira Cleveland [00:37:06] Absolutely. I like the list of different times that things have been shaken up. I know it’s not really the best.
Rebecca Fitts [00:37:13] Memory road you want to go down, but you’re like, Oh.
Kira Cleveland [00:37:15] Yeah, that happened. Generational disaster. Bingo. No, I said, Wonderful. Well, as a last question, it’s one of our favorites. I’d love to know what you want your legacy to be. What do you want to be remembered for?
Rebecca Fitts [00:37:28] That is such a great question, and interesting part of where I am right now in my life is thinking about that. I don’t know. I mean, I certainly would like to be remembered as someone who helped brands out and expand their businesses. But I also think this goes back to I wanted to be in fashion, but where you fill that void for me. I do think about my days of my pop up shop and I think it’s really interesting. They were hard times. We didn’t do that well. We had a lot of learnings, but the happiness that I felt when I turned the key in the door. And so maybe I’ll come full circle and I’ll be a retailer. I certainly help myself on the back with the gold medalist shopping. If you like my taste level, why am I not putting them all together someplace and trying to sell you on them? So that thought certainly runs in my mind. And then I think there is this thing that runs through probably all of us, which is still from Warby. How do I also do good in the world? So as that I’m going and opening a shop in a place that needs some economic redevelopment and I’m filling in a void there. Or am I doing something around retail that is good for sustainability and the environment? I’ve certainly thought a lot about it all goes back to returns and not returning. How could someone help me be a better return or how of I’m going to give it away? Can I make that process easier or that my clothing is getting to the right place and God forbid that it’s not going into a landfill? And I think there are all these things out there. But how do you connect them? And is it a service? Is it not? But that’s what’s on my mind these days as I think about what might be next.
Kira Cleveland [00:39:03] Well, thank you so much for your openness and authenticity with that inquiry. And you’ve certainly been a wealth of knowledge around retail real estate. So thank you so much.
Ned Hayes [00:39:13] Yeah. Thanks for being with us.
Rebecca Fitts [00:39:15] Thanks so much. Really appreciate it, guys. So much fun spending time with you.
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