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Considering all the changes we face with COVID-19, many of us cannot travel or have serious restrictions on travel. Where we used to visit sites ourselves to better assess locations in a market, many of us cannot, yet still have critical real estate decisions to make. This means retailers may need to rely even more heavily upon their local broker network.

We all work with brokers, whether to target specific areas, or simply show us where opportunities exist. Traditionally, they send a list of locations to consider, which we then research, analyze and prioritize. From there we either travel to those locations or send someone in real estate to assess and capture all the detailed site attributes we need to properly evaluate before presenting to RE committee. Without the ability to visit many areas, we must rethink how we assess locations.

The easiest answer is using our trusted brokers, with whom we already have relationships. That said we need many more details than usual, as they may be our only means to physically visit these locations. These details may include far more granular information about site attributes, competitors, signage and more. Whatever details we normally would use to properly analyze and assess locations, we must now rely on others to capture. While this can give some of us concern, with proper steps, it can work exceptionally well.

Some TAS clients had already decided to leverage technology to have trusted brokers gather all the critical details they need. In doing so, they also created a vetting process inside the technology, and automated much of the reporting, filtering, and mapping functions. Those that have successfully achieved these partnerships have begun to spend their time analyzing priority locations and offering insights about network and market optimization, while the vetting process eliminated those not worth their efforts before ever reaching their desk or inbox.

These TAS clients are giving limited access to their online and mobile tools to their trusted brokers. They create forms in the tools requiring vast amounts of key details to be input – including signage, visibility, pictures of store fronts and access points, updates to nearby competitors and more. Gathering all this critical local information as a requirement to submit a site, rather than sending a list of locations in a spreadsheet, accomplishes several significant things.

Among those is constant local data updates, which clients can use to further understand their markets and location strategies. It also serves as an early screening tool on locations. Many of my clients include analytics in these tools, which can quickly provide feedback both to research and directly to the brokers about the validity of any location. Since the screening is happening on the front-end, brokers waste far less time pursuing deals that will not make it to committee, and retailers can act on those best locations much more quickly. Our clients that have leveraged this approach have seen an increase in both productivity and approval ratios. They report that their return on results have been exceptional.

So, these challenges we face in real estate due to COVID already have a solution - one that several large retailers have already been using with significant success. As you review the real estate decisions you face going into 2021, could leveraging tools and technology this way benefit you both now and in the future?

If you choose to leverage technology the way many TAS clients are, there are some things to consider. First, what data should those external users have access to, and what data fields should you allow them to edit, collect, and update? Do you want to restrict their access to that data based on geographic boundaries or their specific territories? How else can you use the vastly improved data collection efforts to your advantage, by having constantly updating and improving field data about potential locations, competition and more?

Fortunately, if you want to consider this approach and all the advantages it offers, you do not need to figure it all out yourselves. We have helped leading retailers use these tools and can guide you along the way. To learn more, reach out to us at sales@tradeareasystems.com. And if you are among those already doing this, you may be realizing what TAS clients have seen. That is – on average – 3x increase in productivity, 4x improvement in REC approval ratios, a significant reduction in dead deals and related RE costs (travel, etc.), and payback period measured in just weeks.