#SWAAYthenarrative

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.

5 Min Read
Career

How Fitness Saved My Life and Became My Career

Sometimes it takes falling to rock bottom in order to be built back up again. I learned this many years ago when the life I'd carefully built for myself and my family suddenly changed. But in those times, you learn to lean on those who love you – a friend, family member or someone who can relate to what you've been through. I was lucky enough to have two incredible women help me through one of my lowest moments. They taught me to love myself and inspired me to pass on their lessons each da

If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today.

In 2010, I was a wife, a mother of three, and had filtered in and out of jobs depending on what my family needed from me. At different points in my career, I've worked in the corporate world, been a stay-at-home mom, and even started my own daycare center. Fitness has always been a part of my life, but at that point being a mom was my main priority. Then, life threw a curveball. My husband and I separated, leading to a very difficult divorce.

These were difficult times. I lost myself in the uncertainty of my future and the stress that comes with a divorce and found myself battling anorexia. Over a matter of months, I lost 40 lbs. and felt surrounded by darkness. I was no longer participating in my health and all efforts to stay active came to a halt. I didn't want to leave my home, I didn't' want to talk to people, and I really did not want to see men. Seeing my struggles, first my sister and then a friend, approached me and invited me to visit the gym.

After months of avoiding it, my sister started taking me to the gym right before closing when it wasn't too busy. We started slow, on the elliptical or the treadmill. This routine got me out of the house and slowly we worked to regain my strength and my self-esteem. When my sister moved away, my good friend and personal trainer started working out with me one-on-one early in the morning, taking time out of her busy schedule to keep me on track toward living a healthy life once again. Even when I didn't want to leave the house, she would encourage me to push myself and I knew I didn't want to let her down. She helped me every step of the way. My sister and my friend brought fitness back into my everyday routine. They saved my life.

I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again. My friend has since moved away, but, these two women made me feel loved, confident and strong with their empowerment and commitment to me. They made such an incredible impact on me; I knew I needed to pay it forward. I wanted to have the same impact on women in my community. I started by doing little things, like running with a woman who just had a baby to keep her inspired and let her know she's not alone. I made sure not to skip my regular runs, just in case there was a woman watching who needed the inspiration to keep going. These small steps of paying it forward helped me find purpose and belonging. This gave me a new mentality that put me on a path to the opportunity of a lifetime – opening a women's only kickboxing gym, 30 Minute Hit.

About four years ago, I was officially an empty nester. It was time to get myself out of the house too and find what I was truly passionate about, which is easier said than done. Sitting behind a desk, in a cubicle, simply didn't cut it. It was hard to go from an active and chaotic schedule to a very slow paced, uneventful work week. I felt sluggish. Even when I moved to another company where I got to plan events and travel, it was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. I wanted to be a source of comfort to those struggling, as my sister and dear friend had been to me. I wanted to impact others in a way that couldn't be done from behind a desk.

I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again.

When I heard about 30 Minute Hit, I was nervous to take the leap. But the more I learned about the concept, the more I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Opening my own gym where women can come to let go of their struggles, rely on one another and meet new people is the best way for me to pass on the lessons I learned during my darkest times.

Kickboxing is empowering in itself. Add to it a high energy, female-only environment, and you have yourself a powerhouse! The 30 Minute Hit concept is franchised all over North America, acting as a source of release for women who are just trying to get through their day. I see women of all ages come into my gym, kick the heck out of a punching bag and leave with a smile on their face, often times alongside a new friend. 30 Minute Hit offers a convenient schedule for all women, from busy moms to working women, to students and senior citizens. A schedule-free model allows members to come in whenever they have a free half hour to dedicate to themselves. Offering certified training in kickboxing and a safe environment to let go, 30 Minute Hit is the place for women empowerment and personal growth.

Through my journey, I have learned that everyone is going through something – everyone is on their own path. My motivating factor is knowing that I can touch people's lives everyday just by creating the space for encouragement and community. It's so easy to show people you care. That's the type of environment my team, clients and myself have worked hard to create at our 30 Minute Hit location.

Fitness saved my life. If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today. The perfect example of women empowering women – the foundation to invincibility.

This article was originally published September 12, 2019.