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The Official ICSC Blog

Mark Toro: Building The Experience Before The Box

By: Mark Toro

The retail industry as we know it has changed forever.

The consumer drives today’s dynamic marketplace more than ever before and, in order to survive, retailers and landlords must acknowledge that shoppers have infinite control over where, when and how products and services are purchased. If we are to succeed in getting our customers out from behind their keyboards and into our stores, we have got to provide an experience.

No longer will developers be able to simply build a “box,” open their doors, and expect retailers’ cash registers to ring. Instead, we have to view our customers’ (the retailers) customers (their shoppers) as guests on our property, offering them the same set of experiences that they would be provided in a five star hotel or resort.

We have always been in business with our tenants, in the sense that we share the responsibility for sales volumes. Now, we are also responsible for delivering our guests an experience to increase dwell time and ultimately spending.

The New York Times revealed in a recent study “that people are happier when they spend money on experiences instead of material objects,” evidence that “The Experience Economy” is here to stay. While e-commerce is expanding rapidly, brick-and-mortar stores still drive a greater percentage of purchase decisions. To play on this strength and compete with the unbridled growth of online shopping, we must deliver mixed-use developments with energy and around-the-clock activity, making each guest’s visit memorable.

Having had the opportunity to test “The Experience Economy” at Atlantic Station with significant results, North American Properties is using lessons learned to craft a unique experience at Avalon, a $600 million mixed use development located on 86 acres in Alpharetta, GA.

As Steve Jobs said, “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.”  We began the design process for Avalon by studying 15 best-in-class mixed-use developments and resort-inspired destinations, focusing on how they work.  The result is a unique design approach, “building” the guest experience before we build the buildings.

Avalon will offer activities like outdoor concert series, yoga in the park, family camp-outs and an outdoor holiday ice skating experience similar in scale to Rockefeller Center. Our on-site, hotel-style concierge and valet parking attendants will deliver five-star personalized, consistent service to every guest, resident, office worker, and employee, because we are not only in the retail business, we are now in the hospitality business.

Mark Toro founded the Atlanta office of North American Properties in 1996 and since then has led the acquisition, development and redevelopment of more than 7 million square feet. An industry veteran, he has completed more than 60 projects, totaling 19 million square feet, in his 26 year career in commercial real estate.

Toro is currently focused on building North American’s portfolio by identifying opportunities to acquire or develop retail, multifamily and mixed-use assets, adding value by leading a select group of best-in-class professionals engaged in development, leasing, management, marketing and finance.

Prior to opening the Atlanta office, he served as Managing Director for Faison & Associates and Vice President of Development at Cousins/New Market Development Company.  Toro holds a BS in Civil Engineering from Rutgers University.

Follow Toro on Twitter (@MarkToro) and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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