FLINT TWP. — From an economic development standpoint, Genesee Valley Center shopping mall is holding its own, despite widely reported downturns in the national retail climate.
That was the gist of a broad message about retail health locally and nationally from Miles McFee, mall general manager, who was a guest speaker at the July meeting of the township’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC).
“As everybody knows, brick and mortal retail is predicted to die off due to internet sales,” McFee said. “I am here to say that is not the case.”
He cited $658 billion dollars in retail sales during the 2016 holiday period of which 8.5 percent was from the internet and 91.5 percent came from traditional retail channels.
Yes, smaller retailers are closing in secondary and tertiary markets where there may be too many stores, but several retailers are in expansion mode including Apple, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Nike to name a few, he said. Dollar stores also are bouncing back after a retrenchment several years ago.
He said that 86.8 million square-feet of retail development took place last year alone. In total, there is 7.3 square-feet of retail per capita in this country, which is five times more than in Europe and other countries. But the U.S. square-footage has seen a lot of shrinkage in the past seven years – down from 40 square feet per capita in 2010, he said.
“Retail is going through a right sizing right now,” he said. Retailers are reevaluating their markets, closing less productive stores and investing in the more productive ones.
But overall more shopping centers are not being built and the industry will see more contraction in secondary and tertiary markets, he said.
But for now Genesee Valley Center and its anchor tenants is stable, he said.
“We are here to stay,” he said, noting that the mall has survived ups and down during it more 40 years of existence.
Mo Pete’s Sports Bar is expected to open in late August or early September and an H&M store is coming by late September or early October, he said. Other stores are in the pipeline that he cannot yet talk about, he said.
GV has lost some smaller stores through bankruptcies and such but also has been able to maintain its leasing momentum, he said.
“We do have activity and interest in the market,” he said, noting that many retailers in the Detroit market are looking to make the jump to Genesee County.
GV marketers are pursuing more restaurant and entertainment uses in its Outdoor Village section, after determining that it is better suited to those uses. They also are looking at indoor entertainment for children and to non-retail tenants such as medical offices or professional tenants such as brokerage firms.
GV also is looking at alternative uses for its second-floor food court, McFee said in response to a question from one of the EDC members about vacancies on that level.
McFee said he never would have put a food court on the second level because food sellers are more interested in standalones with a drive through. But they have wooed big names like Chick-fil-A and Starbucks. There are mall out-parcels available for development by the right business, he said. He also noted intent to do something with the closed Cinema 10 building, which the mall also owns.
McFee touched on many trends including that the Baby Boomer generation is aging and purchasing less and the Millennial generation is less interested in consumption and more into having a variety of experiences such as traveling and changing jobs. To adapt to changes, retailers are trying to marry brick and mortar and internet sales. An example is the JC Penney store at Genesee Valley which now sells appliances. Customers can now buy online and pick up and return locally. In the past, it was too much of a hassle for customers to buy online and not be able to pick up or return locally. Technology is playing a big role in changes, especially mobile technology.
Social media is a potent marketing channel which McFee credits with getting better results than billboards. Mobile apps, texting and emails help drive sales. Mall management can assist its retailers having flash sales by sending out an instant notice to its database.
McFee also talked to the EDC about ways they can work together. He said he maintains communication about zoning and other issues with Tracey Tucker, the township’s building and economic enhancement director. GV is open to marketing trend nuances that Tucker might know about but the mall’s leasing team might be unaware of. He also said he would be open to help from Tucker in wooing a retailer that might require some extra TLC to get them to the negotiation table.
Flint’s water crisis did not help and led to the mall having to post signs reassuring customers that its water does not come from Flint, he said. As soon as they hear the name Flint the immediate reaction is “oh you guys are in bad shape,” he said. But McFee disagrees. The Flint area is coming back, he said. McFee also said he is neutral about Flint Township’s proposed name change.
“I would be OK with it, either way,” he said.