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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Live, Work and Play Lifestyles

By Rand Stephens, Houston

Trends in real estate development that cater to people’s wants for a live, work and play lifestyle are here to stay. How these trends continue to morph is the question, but it is clear they will have dramatic impacts on the future success of anything resembling a community.

The concept of “community” is abstract, but here is one that resonates with me:

A group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical locations or settings.”

In addition to where we live, communities are also any place where people come together, like work, places of worship, health clubs, schools, entertainment venues like movie theaters, grocery stores, restaurants, hospitals, etc.

So, what are the underpinnings of a successful community? What differentiates one health club from another…a corporation from another…a place to live from another?

Creating places for human connectivity, or "people places" may be the single most important factor for a community of any kind to be ultimately successful. The emotional part of the brain drives us to connect with other people because it makes us feel better; human connectivity brings happiness, pleasure and joy to people's lives, and there is plenty of research to support this.

A great example is Starbucks. Everything about their stores and product appeals to human interaction. Starbucks has created a community at the store level around the total experience, which includes a quality cup of coffee. People wait in line to buy coffee. It makes no sense; there are plenty of places to buy a comparable coffee, or to make one at home, but Starbucks has made their stores people places and not just about the coffee.

The live, work and play lifestyle at its very core is a manifestation of people wanting to be connected and interactive with others. The best real estate development provides the infrastructure to support these base level needs in all of us.

Monday, February 3, 2014

US Retailers Continue to Innovate with their Concepts

635 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, Illinois (image via Walgreens)
by: Amy Erixon, Toronto

On November 21, 2013, Walgreens opened up its first net-zero energy store in the US in Evanston, Illinois. A net-zero building is one that produces as much power as it consumes. The store was twice as expensive to build as a typical Walgreens, but Walgreens believes that customers will choose to shop in sustainable stores over those of their competitors. One thing is already apparent; it is attracting a lot of tourists. I visited the store in Durham, and it is indeed a flagship, Walgreens plans to develop an additional 100 net-zero stores over the next two years.
The building design features both energy-saving devices such as LED lighting and frugal appliances, and energy producing components, such as solar panels and two turbine windmills. The store uses five geothermal wells, each some 500 feet deep, for heating and cooling. The windows are controlled by energy management system that opens and closes them at certain times according to the outside temperature. The store also has revolving doors that save 5 percent more energy than traditional vestibule doors. The hope is the store will be a net energy producer, selling excess power into the grid. A prominently displayed power meter shows customers how much power is being generated and consumed at various points of the day.    

Home Depot is making its omni-channel strategy a priority. According to ICSC, Home Depot will spend about $300 million developing its omni-channel operations this coming year, executives told investors this week. “By providing our customers with offers like ‘buy online, pick up in store,’ and ‘buy online, ship to store,’ we can drive sales-per-square-footage growth without adding square feet,” said Carol Tomé, Home Depot’s CFO and head of corporate service. The company, which has budgeted some $1.5 billion for 2014 capital expenditures, plans to open eight stores, most of them in Mexico. About $200 million of that will go toward improving mobile apps, the website and other omni-channel operations, Tomé said. 

The company has also experienced success with Skype-enabled kiosks that allow online shoppers to chat with in-store salespeople, says Kevin Hofmann, Home Depot’s president of online business. “Over 10 percent of all of our online orders are created in-store with a consumer or a professional contractor working together with store associates,” Hofmann said. “Our conversion rates are significantly higher when we bring the consumer and the associate together over the digital channel via interactive chat; we do that thousands of times a day."

We look forward to seeing some of these concepts roll out in Canada.  

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