With the largest retail real estate developers and retailers having saturated home markets, there is an increasing drive across the globe to invest outside firms' home markets. But doing so brings along with it challenges as companies have to learn the vagaries of new markets, including local customs and tastes, different laws and lease structures and exposure to new risks.

To address these concerns, ICSC is devoting the 2012 Retail Real Estate World Summit, taking place in Shanghai, China from September 11 through 14, to the challenges of globalization. To discuss the summit and its goals, ICSC assembled a panel of leading lights from around the globe that took place as part of ICSC's RECon show in Las Vegas.

The panel included Alfredo Cohen, director, of Venezuelan firm Constructora Sambil; Sandeep L. Mathrani, CEO, General Growth Properties Inc.; Michael Rodel, COO of South African investor Rebosis Property Fund; Peter Sharp, senior vice president, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in Asia, Ian Thomas, chairman of Canadian firm Thomas Consultants Inc. and Marcus Wild, CEO of Austria-based SES Spar European Shopping Centers.

"My original thought was that the Summit would explore how American companies or European companies needed to go to the Far East to grow our businesses," said Mathrani, who, along with Rodel, is co-chair of the event. "But over the last six months to one year, I realized the purpose of the Summit is to facilitate a cross-border exchange of ideas. It's as much about us being exposed to what's going on in China and India as it is about us accessing tenants based in those locations or capital that is based in those locations. ... The knowledge base goes both ways."

"It's really an opportunity for everyone to be exposed to the opportunities that present themselves as the globalization of retail unfolds," Rodel added. "Developers have historically focused on opportunities in our own geographies and don't look at what's presented elsewhere in world. ... Today, growth is generally moving from West to East and from North to South across the globe. So if your objective is to grow, you have to understand those trends and opportunities in different countries."

One of the factors that's altering how retailers operate is the streamlining of supply chains, which includes more inventory going straight from factories to shop floors. That has implications for how stores are set up and on what retailers may be the most successful going forward, according to Wild.

"There's no line between retailers and producers and manufacturers," Wild said. "It's about distribution of lines or brands. It's not about retailers. ... Even Walmart is increasing the number of its own brands in stores." Wild added that this will put pressure on retailers that sell multiple brands.

Local vs. global

A persistent theme of the panel was the challenge of being global companies that can relate to local markets. Most of the speakers said that when operating in other countries, they have had the most success when finding a local partner to invest with. Walmart, for example, has aligned with indigenous retailers in South Africa, India, Japan and China and had success, according to Sharp. Meanwhile, it stumbled in Germany and South Korea when it tried to go it alone.

"All nations have pride in their own cultures," Rodel said. "They don't want to see outside developers coming in and taking charge. ... Respect for local people is important."

"The cliche is think globally, act locally," Thomas added. "You need to understand the customs and idiosyncrasies. You can only do that will a great local partner."