A Tale of Two Conferences:

Recently I attended two conferences—one brimming with optimism and possibilities, the other burdened with the fear of obsolescence.

The first was a tech conference in Los Angeles called BlockCon, attended by entrepreneurs, techies, investors and one commercial real estate guy from Alabama.

Why was I there? Over the past year, I’ve become nearly obsessed with learning about the potential of Blockchain and distributed systems. (See sidebar.) These technologies associated withcryptocurrencies including BitCoin, will have tremendous impact on almost every realm of commerce and finance. This will be the future of the web and, if you gain a good grasp of the technology and what’s possible, it would be commensurate with understanding the potential of the Internet before the arrival of Netscape.  It’s that big.

I was unsure of how I would be received at the conference but I was greeted warmly and embraced as everyone in the nascent field has the ethos of inclusion and a sense of needing each other’s input to succeed. Every seminar, every conversation was like finding a clue leading to buried treasure.

These people want to figure out how to harness this new technology and use it in a wide variety of endeavors. They are convinced that they are going to change the future for the better and make a bunch of money while doing it.

Surrounded by these innovators, I was reminded of something hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky said: I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been. These guys are going where the puck will be.

Five days later I attended the ICSC Retail Real Estate Conference in Atlanta.  The difference between the two conferences was stark.  At ICSC, the mood was more measured; there was a prevalent sense of unease about where the industry is heading. Instead of openness and a desire to embrace of the future, landlords were hunkered down, plotting how to hold on to what they have.  Industry veterans who had recently been downsized were interviewing in a shrinking job market.  Speeches were given conjecturing that the coming Retail Apocalypse is overblown. And maybe it is, but if you aren’t scared to death of what Amazon and the West Coast can and will do to the brick-and-mortar of the retail world, you’re crazy.

Retail is clearly in a state of flux. What’s worked in the past isn’t working as well anymore. At Shannon Waltchack, we view many of the big power centers and sub-prime malls as dead money. However, we envision a winning category within the world of retail real estate.

To illustrate our perspective, let’s talk mattresses. If yours is more than eight years old, you probably bought it at Rich’s at Brookwood or in the basement of another department store. If you buy a mattress today, you go to your neighborhood strip center less than three miles from your house.

This need for convenience and higher visibility has caused cosmetics, jewelry and other product categories to abandon the mall as well. Even emergency care clinics have stretched beyond behemoth hospitals for greater accessibility.

We are convinced the retail real estate that wins will be the sites that present the least amount of friction for the customer. After all, Amazon is nothing but a big friction eraser, making it smoother than ever to make all sorts of purchases.

Convenience centers are more Internet-resistant than any other retail type.  Think about the typical retailers you see in these centers: hair, nails, sandwich shops, chiropractors, dentists.  These tenants provide a service or a product that the Internet can’t.

At Shannon Waltchack, we’ve never been hand-wringers. We don’t see ourselves as victims of the inevitable. Instead, we lean forward into the realm of possibilities, changing with the times and anticipating opportunities. That’s what made our contribution to the revitalization of downtown a major achievement for us.

Just as I was surrounded by forward-thinkers at BlockCon, we at Shannon Waltchack love the company of business associates committed to moving to “where the puck is going to be.” With this philosophy, there’s not just stability—there is success.

Surrounded by these innovators, I was reminded of something hockey superstar Wayne Gretzky said: I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been. These guys are going where the puck will be.

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by Derek Waltchack