Smart phones and tablet computers are becoming all the rage, especially since the new technologies provide firms with opportunities to develop proprietary applications to complement their existing offerings. Although smart phones have been around for years, in many ways, 2010 appears to be the year that these applications are going mainstream within the retail real estate industry.

For example, Redlands, Calif.-based geographic information systems software firm ESRI is promoting a new Business Analyst Mobile Application for the iPhone and the iPad. The mobile application allows Business Analyst subscribers to have convenient access to the same tools when they are on the go.

“This is pretty exciting. We can give RECon people something they can get out on the street and use,” says Simon Thompson, director of commercial solutions at ESRI.

And that's just one of the key tools of the trade that will be highlighted at the Trade Expo at ICSC's RECon show in May (see sidebar).

In addition, the Trade Expo will be showcasing a variety of cutting edge products and services ranging from the latest mall furniture designs to software providers to high-flying aerial photography firms.

Going Mobile

ESRI's mobile application has three components. It can provide the user with information about a particular place, such as their current GPS location. It can “match” data on particular locations based on pre-selected data to quickly identify or eliminate potential sites. And it can paint a portrait of contacts or customers based on their zip codes to identify a variety of profile data ranging from age and income to lifestyle and expenditure reports.

The iPhone and iPad application gives clients access to the same business analysis application that they can use on the web, their desktop or laptop. ESRI will preview the application at RECon, and the application will be available for download by early June.

In addition, ESRI will be promoting its Smart Map Search extension to Business Analyst Online. Smart Map Search allows users to quickly find sites that meet a use criteria based on specific market factors, customer demographics or segments.

Users can choose from any of the 600 variables that ESRI has available to build their own profile for a target market or target customer. Smart Map Search uses those pre-selected criteria to quickly search for matches and creates a list of MSAs or zip codes that best match the criteria.

“It's instantaneous and dynamic. You can see your map change in front of you, and quickly highlight just the areas that best match your intended use,” Thompson says. “You have the all the benefits of the complex analytics, but in a really simple interface that cuts hours off the research and due diligence process.”

Hot new products

DuMor Inc. will be introducing RECon attendees to the six new products that the firm launched in 2010, including a new contemporary style bench, planter and trash receptacle. Bench 182 features a more modern curved design with the same durable cast aluminum and perforated steel construction.

“We're trying to offer products that would appeal to a multitude of markets — those that still prefer the traditional look, and those designers that are looking for something more contemporary,” says Steve Richard, vice president of sales and marketing at DuMor in Mifflintown, Pa.

RECon Attendees can check out the latest in high-res aerial photos at Aerial Express.

The company is the one of the leading off-the-shelf provider sof current digital aerial imagery in North America.

Over the past five years, Aerial Express has flown some 1.5 million square miles to capture the most current images, and during first quarter 2010 the company has already logged 80,000 square miles. The quality of those images is continually improving along with advances in technology that produce higher resolution images that are noticeably sharper than what was available even a few years ago.

“The high resolution images available today offer a very crisp image, down to the cars and parking lot lines,” says Luke Pritchard, president and general manager of Aerial Express in Tempe, Ariz. Those images can be used with a variety of either Internet or desktop-based mapping applications to create state-of-the-art presentations and market reports.

Aerials Express also will be promoting its new ParcelPoint, a product that it is offering in partnership with First American Spatial Solutions. ParcelPoint provides customers with an extensive database of available land parcels across the U.S. The database currently holds information on some 120 million parcels in the U.S. The parcel data can also be paired with the aerial imagery to create a complete picture of a particular trade area, Pritchard adds.

Innovations in analytics

Several exhibitors will be showcasing the latest innovations in customer analytics and mapping technology. “Demand for our products are at an all time high, because companies want as many data points as possible to make sure they are not making mistakes in site selection,” says Charles Wetzel, president and chief operating officer at Fort Worth, Tex.-based Buxton, a customer analytics and site selection consulting firm. Not only are retailers and developers relying more on supporting data to select the best sites in a challenging economy, but clients also are using that data for a broader range of applications such as marketing, merchandising and inventory control, he adds.

Buxton has been working over the past 18 months to develop more customer analytics applications for use on the desktop and online. “As retailers and analysts are getting more comfortable with data, we're seeing that they want more applications at their fingertips,” Wetzel says.

Buxton is introducing two new applications associated with SCOUT, the company's core customer analytics product for the retail industry. Micromarketer Desktop, developed by Experian and offered through Buxton, allows customers to work with SCOUT to leverage Buxton's model while conducting their own market planning models and apply it to a specific site or market.

It is a robust desktop tool that allows customers to see the model from a mapping perspective, but it also has a lot of the demographic and psychographic data built in to do their own analysis, Wetzel notes. Buxton also offers Micromarketer Online through its partnership with Experian in a more streamlined version that is easier to use for the everyday business person.

The customer analytics industry has changed in light of the current economy, and it's not all about where to put new stores. “It's about optimizing what you have,” says Joe Rando, president of Trade Area Systems, in Attleboro, Mass. Trade Area Systems is promoting the integration between two of its key products for retailers — Trade Area Analyst and TAS Online.

“We are the only company that has an online mapping and demographics system that supplies information to the user, while also allowing the user to supply information back to the system to be shared with the rest of the enterprise,” Rando says.

TAS Online allows users to access online reports, as well as upload photos, maps, data and comments about a particular store. All of that data entered in the field then ties back to the desktop system and the broader organization.

TAS Online connects departments to each other, enhancing communication and information flow. “So someone can be in the field and use the online application to input data or images on a particular site, and then everyone in the organization can see that improved data almost immediately,” Rando says. “A number of our customers are really taking advantage of this ability to share data and using this for more than just site selection, but also using it for store optimization.” TAS Online also is built on top of Microsoft Bing Maps. So it gives users access to aerial and oblique photos and maps with the demographic and custom data component layered on top.

Property listing services

The CCIM Institute will be introducing attendees to its new property data exchange. CCIMREDEX, which launched on March 31st, is available exclusively to CCIM's 15,000 members.

CCIMREDEX has two unique components. One is that it allows members to enter property and listing information in a single spot, and then that data is sent out to a variety of third party listing services such as CommercialSource.com, Proxio and RealUP and listing syndications such as Google, Oodle and OLX.

This is a private platform that is only open to CCIM's membership, and the individual CCIMs can control the data and where it's sent. Currently, CCIMREDEX has agreements with six third party listing services, and brokers can choose which firms they want to receive their data.

The second part of the technology is that the data exchange is linked to a variety of applications from vendors such as ClientLook, Environmental Record Search and REI Wise.

“Similar to the iPhone, we have all of these applications added onto the system that allow CCIMs to use a variety of tools,” says Todd Kuhlmann, CCIM, vice president of CCIM TECH and director of CCIMREDEX in Dallas.

For example, CCIMREDEX gives CCIMs access to applications that allow them to do everything from analyzing a potential investment to generating marketing materials such as postcards, flyers and brochures. “One of the big advantages of this type of connection is that it continuously evolves,” Kuhlmann says. “So we are continuing to add new tools and features.”

Signs go green

Demand for more energy-efficient LED lights continues to drive new innovation and business for The Icon Companies. The firm is promoting its new Lo-Pro LED product, an innovative low-profile light that utilizes LED technology.

“There have been similar products on the market in the past, but they tended to fail due to exposure to high heat,” says John M. Noonan, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Icon. The Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based company is one of the largest illuminated sign products and maintenance services firm in the U.S.

Lo-Pro is made to withstand high heat, is four times brighter that standard lights, and is very sustainable as it has a longer life and uses much less electricity. Lo-Pro is a high quality, low-profile letter that can be used in both exterior and interior signage applications.

The LEDs in Lo-Pro are replaceable. “Other low-profile letters you had to throw away when lighting failed,” Noonan says.

Icon is also responding to retailers' demand for more services to maintain or refurbish existing signage. Through its ImageCare Maintenance Services (IMS) company, Icon provides LED Retrofits that replaces neon lights with more efficient LED lights. The retrofits are very popular right now as retailers continue to “go green” and adapt to more sustainable business practices. The retrofits can result in energy savings of up to 90 percent, so the conversion produces a very quick return on investment, Noonan notes.

A second program Icon offers is its ImageCare Renew, which uses a re-pigmenting process to freshen the look of faded signs. “Rather than throwing plastic in a landfill, you can re-pigment the sign face,” Noonan says. The process makes faded signs look new — all for about one-third the cost of a full replacement, he adds.

The latest software

The goal for software firms such as Yardi Systems Inc. is to help its clients to be well positioned to capitalize on an improving economy. “Our clients have asked us to help them leverage their technology to improve their operational efficiency and competitiveness,” says Spencer Stewart, Yardi's national accounts executive. In response, Yardi has developed a suite of products for the commercial and retail industry that is built into its Yardi Voyager system for property management and accounting.

For example, retail managers can use the Yardi Commercial Suite to expand the Voyager platform to encompass much more of their business. The system can be used to automate workflows such as e-procurement and payables processing, provide online services such as work requests, use paperless documents, execute retail sales entries and rent payments, create electronic transactions for payment processing, integrate document management, and add business intelligence.

The Yardi Commercial Suite also adds the Yardi Commercial Portal, Yardi Payment Processing, Yardi Procure to Pay and Yardi Insight among other products to the Yardi Voyager property management and accounting platform. “These new products can benefit retail companies of all sizes by increasing efficiency, lowering operating costs and reducing paper,” Stewart says.

Inside the Trade Expo

What you can expect from this year's RECon.

The Trade Exposition at the RECon 2010 convention will welcome more than 100 newcomers to its list of 1,100 exhibitors, as well as introduce changes aimed at improving the overall experience for attendees. “After RECon 2009, ICSC decided to make some important and positive changes to the conference, many of which were a result of feedback we received from our members,” says Tim McGuinness, vice president of global trade expositions for the ICSC.

One key change is that the floor plan and booth layout have been consolidated to improve efficiency by bringing all of the elements of RECon — the Leasing Mall, Trade Expo, educational sessions and meal functions — into a more compact area. As a result, retailers and developers are now interspersed throughout the show floor, making each more accessible to the other. The Trade Show exhibitors are clustered within the Leasing Mall according to industry category.

The entire conference also has been consolidated into a streamlined three day schedule. The Leasing Mall and Trade Expo will both open on Sunday, May 23rd and run from 2 to 6 p.m. As always, it will be open all day (8am-5pm) on Monday, May 24th and Tuesday, May 25th. “We're excited about this year's event as our attendee numbers are tracking ahead of last year and our exhibitor base is as strong as ever,” McGuinness says.

Another new addition to this year's RECon is being delivered by Toronto-based Mobile Fringe, which is the official mobile marketing partner for the ICSC. Mobile Fringe is building an application for RECon that attendees will be able to download to their iPhone, Blackberry or smartphone. The application will include a variety of information including a schedule of events and speakers, as well as a map of the Trade Expo show floor.

Mobile Fringe also will be attending the Trade Expo as an exhibitor, and plans to introduce attendees to its mobile platform for malls and shopping centers. The retail application made its debut in Canada last fall at major mall properties such as the Toronto Eaton Centre and more recently at Yorkdale Shopping Centre in Toronto.

Retail centers can use the custom application to communicate with shoppers on items such as promotions, news events, and sales. The mobile application also allows the mall manager to put a mall directory right in the palms of shoppers' hands. “Our unique Kompass mapping technology allows people to figure out where they are in the mall and find specific retailers,” says Steve Sorge, president of Mobile Fringe.

The mobile retail application also has the ability to link to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Mobile Fringe is a mobile marketing and mobile development company that specializes in creating applications for iPhone, Blackberry and other smartphones.
BMT