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Commercial Ecosystems: A New Investment Approach To The Ever-Evolving Retail World

4min read
Business

Throughout my career, I've learned that the most fruitful business decisions start with an optimistic vision for the future. Whether that's seeing the potential to build new communities through real estate development or how investing in the right innovations can move entire industries forward.


Bold visions must be supported by comprehensive research, confident and capable teams, meticulous planning and, of course, good timing. But, it all starts with a vision.

Having served as a Commissioner on the New York City Planning Commission under Mayor Bloomberg during a period when the Commission approved several major influential rezonings, I gained a new appreciation for how development can transform or reinvent a neighborhood.

As a real estate executive, I have always aspired to work on projects that champion communities, empower businesses and enrich neighborhoods through thoughtful design and planning. Community—a group of people and businesses in a physical space—is my primary focus. If the streetscapes are inviting, if people are encouraged to walk through an area, if the layout is thoughtful, then the developments can become truly community-oriented spaces. After decades building community through real estate, I began to explore what other investments could enrich the lives of residents and businesses in neighborhoods.

Retail has always been a big part of my life. After college, I started my career in real estate by launching clothing stores in SoHo and the Village. These experiences in New York City retail were all-encompassing. For each store, I had to build my understanding of the market, the customer base, sales, inventory and communication without the help of the magical research tool that is the Internet. It was an exciting time to be in retail in those burgeoning neighborhoods, but the work of coordinating a business was often complex and labor intensive.

As my career progressed, I continued to work with retail tenants across many of my developments with Continental Ventures. I noticed in my conversations with them that not much had changed in the past 30 years in terms of logistics. Order fulfillment, inventory management and retail logistics are still elaborate processes that require mountains of back-end paperwork. I envisioned a simpler way of running a business: there must be a technology-enabled, full circle solution to make order fulfillment more seamless and less burdensome on brands and retailers.

Consumer expectations have also been evolving. Today's consumers want to buy from brands that speak to who they are and will often use online marketplaces to discover these brands. People want to know more about what they buy. The question is no longer just "What is a brand selling?" Consumers ask: "Where the materials are sourced?" "What is the environmental impact?" "What is the brand's mission?" Today, the role of a retail brand is not simply to get quality product into the hands of their customers. Consumers expect far more; they want to understand the story and message of the brand.

From what I have seen, retail evolves so rapidly that for a brand to be truly prepared for its future means it must have the flexibility to adapt. The interplay between online shopping and brick-and-mortar stores is exciting, and their relationship will continue to change as consumer preferences and expectations shift. The premise of omnichannel retail is that consumers need a mix of e-commerce and physical shopping experiences to meet their desires.

As a real estate developer, I recognize that physical presence matters in retail, and retail space remains an important element of any successful development. Research shows that more Americans are interested in urban living. For real estate developers, this means investing in walkable areas that meld together live, work and play—communities that include housing, employment opportunities, cultural experiences and shopping.

Shopping, of course, looks different today and my vision as an investor is to support technology that helps brands adapt to these shifts and engage their customers. If e-commerce continues to account for more realized sales, brick-and-mortar stores become an experiential complement to online retail. They are tactile showrooms, places for consumers to immerse themselves in the brand's mission, aesthetics and ethos. E-commerce and physical retail are not mutually exclusive—in fact, they enrich one another.

This dynamic is at play for one of my current SoHo tenants, ARJÉ. The brand positions each ARJÉ store location as a "home" and launches new clothing collections as "chapters." They express their philosophy through store design, which adapts to each new chapter but retains a cozy atmosphere with live plants, seating areas and a beverage bar. The online store reflects this friendliness and warmth, driving purchases around the world.

I believe in two models of investment: invest in what you know and invest in something related to what you know that has the support of a strong and knowledgeable team that executes the vision. My partner and I structured Continental Ventures as a multifaceted company that invests in integrated solutions for real estate-related businesses. We have had the opportunity and continue to invest in building communities, one building at a time; we are partners in a private equity lending business that supports this growth and most recently invested in an e-commerce marketplace and fulfillment business, Project Verte; all of these platforms are part of a larger ecosystem.

By investing in these types of companies, I have the opportunity to partner with forward-thinking leaders in e-commerce technology. With this investment, we work together to support a retail landscape that encourages brand-consumer relationships and nurtures valuable physical and digital experiences. I sincerely believe that innovation in e-commerce extends far beyond online shopping. It is all part of my vision for how people communicate and build community.

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
3min read
Career

2020 is Around the Corner: Here's How To Design Your Next Decade

Personally, I am over the top excited that we are on the cusp of turning the page on not only a new year but also on a new 10-year window of opportunities and possibilities!

You may be thinking, whoa…I am just embracing the fall season…yikes… it is tough to think about a new decade!


Yet it is this groundwork, this forward thought that you put in place TODAY that will propel you and lead you into greatness in 2020 and beyond. Designing a new decade rests in your ability to vision, in your willingness to be curious, in your awareness of where you are now and what you most want to curate. Essentially, curating what's next is about tapping into today with confidence, conviction, and decision. Leading YOU starts now. This is your new next. It is your choice.

Sometimes to get to that 'next', you need to take a step back to reflect. Please pardon my asking you to spend time in yesterday. Those who know me personally, know that I created and continue to grow my business based on enabling the present moment as a springboard for living your legacy. So, indulge me here! True, I am asking you to peek into the past, yet it is only in order for you to bring the essence of that past forward into this moment called NOW.

One of the best ways to tap into what's next is to clarify what drives you. To design a new decade, ask yourself this question about the past ten years:

What worked? What were my successes?

Make a list of your achievements big and small. Don't type them, but rather use ink and paper and sit with and savor them. Move your thoughts and your successes from your head, to your heart, to your pen, to the paper. Remember that on the flip side of goals not attained and New Year's resolutions abandoned, there was more than likely some traction and action that moved you forward, even if the end result was not what you expected. Once you have a full list of a decade's worth of personal and professional accomplishments, think about how this makes you feel. Do you remember celebrating all of them? My guess is no. So, celebrate them now. Give them new life by validating them. Circle the successes that resonate with you most right now. Where can you lean into those accomplishments as you power into the decade ahead?

Now comes a tougher question, one that I used myself in my own mid-life reinvention and a question I adore because in a moment's time it provides you with a quick reconnect to your unique inner voice.

If it were 10 years ago and nothing were standing in your way, no fear or excuses to contend with…what would you do?

Don't overthink it. The brilliance of this question is that it refocuses purpose. Whatever first came to mind when you answered this for yourself is at its core a powerful insight into defining and redefining the FUTURE decade. Bring your answer into the light of today and what small piece of it is actionable NOW? Where is this resonating and aligning with a 2019 version of yourself?

Then, based on your success list and your answer to the above question, what is your 2020 vision for your business and for the business of YOU?

Designing a new decade begins as a collection of 3,650 opportunities. 3,650 blank slates of new days ahead in which to pivot and propel yourself forward. Every single one of those days is a window into your legacy. An invitation to be, create, explore, and chip away at this thing we call life. One 24-hour segment at a time.

While you have a decade ahead to work on design improvements, you have the ability to begin manifesting this project of YOU Version 2020 right NOW. Based on exploring the exercises in this post, begin executing your vision. Ask questions. Be present. Let go of 2019 and the past 10 years so that you can embrace the next 10. Position acceptance and self-trust at the forefront of how you lead you. One choice at a time.

Don't get bogged down in the concept of the next 10 years. Instead position clarity and intention into each new day, starting today. Then chase every one of those intentions with an in-the-moment commitment and solution toward living a legendary life!