There's a heated battle between firms trying to one-up each other in providing the most comprehensive and useful data to aid developers and retailers find the best sites for new projects and to help assess those locations after they open. The annual Trade Expo at ICSC's RECon (formerly known as the Spring Convention) has become the place where these firms annually showcase the latest advances in technology and in their consulting approaches.

For example, Thomas Buxton, president and CEO of Fort Worth, Texas-based Buxton Co., which provides customer analytics for the retail industry, emphasizes that retailers too often rely merely on demographic data when assessing opportunities rather than digging deeper and poring through psychographic data in trade areas, which provides more precise information on spending patterns and other habits within the community. Buxton estimates that 10 percent to 15 percent of all closings result from retailers relying on more broad demographic data.

“Retailers don't care about the demographics, they care about what you spend money on,” Buxton says. He adds developers can also use the data to find out what products the residents in a proposed area would buy to help them identify retail categories for their centers.

Meanwhile, Dean Stoecker, president and CEO of Orange, Calif.-based SRC says retailers and developers need to cope with the fact that soaring gas prices are changing consumption patterns. Consumers are not willing to drive as far when shopping, thus shrinking the effective trade areas for retailers and shopping centers.

That's just one example of how quickly trends can change within a trade area, making it essential for retailers and developers to constantly reassess how macroeconomic and microeconomic trends may be effecting sales or altering trade areas. That's precisely why SRC has added functionality to its Web application www.demographicsnow.com to more frequently update population estimates and data. The population information will include 600 variables such as income, ethnicity and consumer expenditure so real estate professionals can see timely market information. The cost for the service ranges from $650 to more than $500,000 for a national retailer with thousands of stores.

“The analytics increases the speed of the deal,” says Stoecker. “The content vendors are acknowledging that their data is lifeless unless it is a part of a technology offering.”

On a slightly different front, just in time to take advantage of the downturn in the commercial real estate market, the CoStar Group, a Bethesda, Md.-based provider of commercial real estate information, launched CoStar Showcase last month, a new product that will help commercial brokers show listings to as many interested parties as possible.

The Showcase, which will feature both “for lease” and “for sale” spaces, complete with broker contact information, will allow visitors to CoStar's Web site to review the listings free of charge and without registration, while simultaneously providing one-click access to the same listings through heavily trafficked Internet search engines, including Google and Yahoo!

The product will be aimed at a wide variety of users, including commercial brokerage firms, real estate investors and retailers looking to get rid of excess space.

Pricing for Showcase service will be determined on a case-by-case basis, though firms marketing large portfolios will be able to take advantage of discount rates. CoStar currently features more than two million commercial properties in its database.

Other providers showcasing their wares at the Trade Expo included Pitney Bowes/MapInfo, SitesUSA, ESRI and GeoVue

Simon Segway

Simon Property Group has boosted its fleet of Segway Personal Transporters (PTs) to more than 225 for security personnel patrolling its 125 malls in the United States. The largest owner of malls in the U.S., Simon now also has the largest fleet of PTs deployed at its centers in cities across the country, including San Diego, Las Vegas, Miami and Boston. The Indianapolis-based REIT launched the PTs in 2004 at a mall in Texas and by 2006 had broadened the program among its various properties. The Segway (i2) gives Simon security personnel an additional tool to enable them to respond quickly to emergency situations at the REIT's properties.

Greening of DAVACO

DAVACO, the Dallas-based provider of retail services including in-store merchandising, and shops-in-shops has joined the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to execute, oversee and support green building programs for its retail clients. DAVACO's roster of national retailers include department stores, big-box retailers, drugstores and convenience stores and restaurants. By supporting green building practices DAVACO can complement its clients ROI by integrating the council's initiative to conserve the earth's resources while decreasing operating and maintenance costs.

Shopper Estimator

ShopperTrak RCT is preparing to roll out its gauge to monitor retailer's consumer traffic called Market Mall Estimate. The technology will provide detailed data including estimated shopper visits for malls and markets and store categories so retailers and real estate executives have the information relevant to make market decisions. Slated to be unveiled later this year in top U.S. retail markets, Market Mall Estimate will project store visits for store categories ranging from accessories to apparel and electronics, providing retailers and mall operators with competitive benchmarking data. It will also offer data measuring the impact of marketing campaigns, offering comparative analysis of stores within the same category at the same mall as well as in other markets. Market Mall Estimate, tested by several U.S. retailers, aggregates traffic of retail locations that ShopperTrak monitors.

Solar Kohl's

Kohl's Department Stores plans to convert 50 stores to solar power in Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey as part of its plan to provide solar installations to more stores across the U.S. before 2009. The Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based discount department store chain will convert 80 percent of its store in the three states to solar power, a silent, renewable energy source. Solar installations are also under way at three locations in Wisconsin and Kohl's has already converted more than 25 of its 88 California stores to solar power. The East Coast program alone is expected to offset 370 million pounds of carbon dioxide over 20 years or the equivalent of removing more than 33,200 cars from the roads for one year. On average, solar panels provide 30 percent of a Kohl's store's annual energy.