OKC retail on center stage at ICSC RECon
Covering nearly two million square feet of exhibit space and hosting 37,000 retail professionals, the annual ICSC RECon Convention in Las Vegas, held each May, can seem a tad overwhelming to the uninitiated.
However, for a community like Oklahoma City, the trade show is huge part of its retail development strategy.
“Our presence at RECon is really two-fold,” said Tammy Fate, manager of retail development and recruitment for the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber said. “First, we are meeting with companies and developers to pitch them on doing business in Oklahoma City. Second, with our booth presence we are trying to raise awareness of Oklahoma City as a major retail destination.”
According to Fate, this year’s RECon was the most active yet with 27 meetings. It is also good to think of RECon as the beginning of the process and not the end.
“Deals rarely get done at the show,” said Fate. “However, RECon can really set the tone for the next six months of your schedule. Since this year’s show (in late May), I’ve already hosted two groups I met with there and have a lot more planned in the coming months.”
Momentum is a buzz word that gets used a lot, especially in Oklahoma City. But to Fate the momentum in Oklahoma City is very real, and was the theme of this year’s show.
“You can feel the momentum of Oklahoma City when talking to out-of-state people,” said Fate. “With the convention center, park and streetcar all becoming a reality, you can really see another tipping point coming for our community. These are the types of projects that get developers excited. They’ve seen how they have boosted retail development in other communities.”
These projects don’t just present prime development opportunities, they also tell an impressive story to out-of-state retailers and developers. While a lot of retail decision making is all about numbers and spreadsheets, a community’s identity can also play a big role in whether or not to expand into a market.
“The MAPS programs are probably our strongest message,” said Fate. “They show people that Oklahoma City is a place where big things are possible and that the community is on the same page. That sense of civic pride, partnership and vision is really appealing to those who are thinking of making a big investment in our city. People want to invest in a city that feels optimistic.”
Of course, if you believe the headlines, brick and mortar retail is dead … or at least on life support. Fate says retail is simply changing, not dying.
“There is no doubt online shopping has changed retail,” said Fate. “I don’t think shopping in person is dying. I just think it is changing. Stores that are providing a unique experience to the shopper are thriving.”
Fate said cities have to adapt to retail development as well, and that starts with developers.
“Every year I think our relationship with developers, local and national, becomes more vital,” said Fate. “With retail changing the focus now becomes, ‘how can we help create something unique?’ I feel like less emphasis is on how we can recruit a certain company here. A good developer who can create that one-of-a-kind shopping destination will attract those national retailers.”
You might be wondering why so much energy is focused on recruiting and developing retail. The answer goes way beyond creating a sense of place and quality of life. In Oklahoma, cities are mainly funded through sales tax. That means shopping. Every dollar you spend in Oklahoma City helps to fund core city services like police and fire.
That is why the Chamber’s retail recruitment strategy focuses on new-to-market, destination retail. Attracting people from outside of Oklahoma City to spend their money here is a great way to increase funding for the city.
But don’t think that means local retail is an afterthought.
“Local retail is extremely, extremely important to us. So much of our local identity is defined by our unique, one-of-a-kind local restaurants and boutique shops,” said Fate. “We are thrilled every time we can recruit a Container Store or Costco to the metro. However, lots of cities have Costco. It takes a healthy mix of local and national retailers to cultivate a city and provide a variety of diverse offerings to you as the consumer.”
According to Fate, developments like Chisholm Creek and Classen Curve are a great example of developments that not only attract national tenants, but have proven to be great locations for local retail as well.
The first half of 2018 saw major retail announcements like Costco and the Container Store coming to OKC. While Fate wouldn’t indulge what was on tap for the rest of the year, she did say the next couple of years could be the most critical in terms of retail development in recent memory.
“How the areas on the streetcar route and around the convention center and park are developed will be a big part of what Oklahoma City looks like for the next decade,” Fate said. “It won’t be just about developing property. It will be about finding the right people who can think big enough to do something truly game changing to match these major investments from taxpayers.”