San Antonio was host to this year’s ICSC US Shopping Center Law Conference, which occurred from October 25 through October 28, 2017. In-house counsel, counsel from outside law firms, tenant’s lawyers, landlord’s counsel, paralegals, lease administrators and others involved in the retail business came together to discuss the changes occurring in the retail industry. Attendance was strong with more than 1,350 attendees, over 300 of which were first-time attendees. This premier event brings together first-year lawyers and experienced practitioners to learn from each other and share experiences in this rapidly changing industry.
Against the backdrop of the industry disturbance caused by the Amazon/Whole Foods merger, the Conference offered attendees over 100 programs, including workshops, seminars and smaller peer-to-peer sessions, as well as roundtable discussions. With the diversity of program offerings, the Conference really has something for everyone. There are many larger introductory sessions on leasing, risk management and ethics. Or, for the experienced attorneys, there were many smaller interactive sessions that allow the opportunity to learn from not only the presenters but also from other experienced attorneys. Formal learning opportunities were available for attendees at all levels of experience. As important, however, the Conference also presented attendees the chance to network – putting names and faces together. In this age of technology, with many deals negotiated over email or the telephone, the Conference allows practitioners to create personal connections which often ease transactional friction and help deals to be resolved more quickly and efficiency.
The keynote panel discussion kicked off the Conference bright and early on the first full day of the show. Val Richardson, ICSC Vice Chairman and VP of RE at The Container Store, Will Higham, Consumer Strategist, Futurist and Founder of The Next Big Thing and David Darling of Ramo-Gershenson discussed the changing retail landscape. The panelists noted that at this moment in time, with over 7.56 billon square feet of retail space in the United States, we may be somewhat over built (or under demolished) but this is in the process of rebalancing. They noted that the threat from e-commerce may be overblown with about 12% of total retail sales coming from e-commerce and 50% of those on-line sales derived from brick and mortar retailers. Pure play e-commence is less than 5% of total retail sales. Many previously pure e-commerce players realize that they need brick and mortar locations to really grow their business. The panel emphasized that the real key for retailers is to remain relevant to their customers – they need to fortify the fundamentals and sharpen the brand. Bankruptcy filings are populated by those retailers that did not heed that advice – those that do not innovate risk irrelevance. Developers need to focus on creating a sense of place with their new projects and recognize the importance of experiential retail.
The impact of millennials cannot be overstated – and currently they are interested in retail venues that offer activities, not products – a workout, a movie, a night out with friends. The new anchor might be the bowling alley or a local retailer that is unique in the community. The panel acknowledged all the change that is facing the retail industry, but they did so with a sense of optimism. Change can be hard and the unknown is scary, but it is not new in the retail industry, and the interplay between bricks and mortar and e-commerce will bring many exciting new industry developments.
Notwithstanding all the turbulence in the industry, the Conference presented a wonderful opportunity for attendees to make new connections and solidify existing relationships. The sense of optimism was prevalent in all of the sessions. San Antonio and the Riverwalk presented a great first-time venue for the show. All are looking forward to connecting again next year, October 24 through October 27, 2018, in Orlando for the 2018 Law Conference.