Marissa Kasdan – As Retailers Adapt, Adaptive Retail Becomes the Trend

Western Real Estate Business

May 15, 2021

Flexibility and ease of construction are large priorities for shopping center owners who don’t want vacant storefronts, and for retailers who are eager to get up and running. The solution may be adaptive reuse and modular design.

The retail landscape’s slow and steady transformation — which emphasizes omnichannel marketing strategies and has large traditional retailers struggling to adjust to changing shoppers’ needs — has developers seeking new strategies to adapt to current trends. A record number of retailers were closing prior to the pandemic, but early 2020 threw the entire retail industry into turmoil. Retailers vacated a record 159 million square feet in 2020, according to Forbes.

As restrictions lift and consumer comfort levels rise, retailers still face a challenging future. Consumers realize they can survive on e-commerce alone if required but, remarkably, they have also come to recognize they don’t want to. Our desire to be with others, experience new things and actively participate in our communities has shifted our prioritization of retail beyond a source of acquiring goods and toward an opportunity for gathering and engagement.

As the line between digital and physical shopping blurs, retailers require less space for maintaining a large supply of goods as they can balance a smaller available stock with efficient delivery options. More importantly, the physical store gives businesses an opportunity to introduce new customers to their brand, express their unique style and approach and create memorable experiences for shoppers.

Local entrepreneurs, meanwhile, face the daunting cost of unique and quality tenant improvement for their shops. The investment, both in direct costs and time commitment, creates a barrier to entry. This is particularly true if a business owner is uncertain about the most beneficial size and location if they’re entering a built marketplace for the first time. Typical tenant improvements, including design, plan check and construction, often take six to nine months. Meanwhile, business owners continue to pay rent for non-operational spaces, in addition to associated construction costs. Pop-up shops, mobile retail and collaborative retail provide solutions to overcome some of these barriers, but often lack a certain infrastructure to serve both retailers and their customers.

KTGY’s R+D Studio studied recent shifts in retail trends and developed a conceptual design idea for combining the flexibility of mobile and collaborative retail with the convenience of fixed retail infrastructure. The Mod Market concept is a solution that eliminates the need for small business owners to repeat long and costly tenant improvement construction. It utilizes purpose-built steel modular components within a fixed interior infrastructure.

Designed as an adaptive reuse of a vacant inline big box retail space, the Mod Market concept proposes a system with raised platforms of gravity roller conveyors aligned with the height of a typical flatbed truck. Rollup garage doors line the rear loading zone of the space, accepting modules to the conveyor system and rolling them into place for a desired long- or short-term lease. Retailers create a uniquely designed modular space — constructed off-site — to reflect the individuality of their business and create a distinctive experience for shoppers.

Modules conform to 8-foot-4-inchwide components, accommodating a standard truck width, but can be used as single modules or combined as two or three modules to fit within a typical column grid while allowing for variation in store size. As business owners see opportunities to expand their customer reach in new locations, the mobile retail shops can be removed and relocated to another, similarly designed Mod Market location without reconstructing the retail space. The transition between mobile retail shops requires minimal time, reducing the period of vacancy and maximizing foot traffic. Meanwhile, fixed elements, including storage facilities, restrooms and shared seating areas, remain in place, serving the small businesses and maintaining a consistent sense of place. The adaptive reuse of former big box retail spaces to accommodate smaller retailers, as well as the reduced waste associated with purpose-built and reusable retail modules, further align with environmentally conscious shoppers and business owners.

As retail sales split between in-store and online purchases, foot traffic becomes an alternate tool in determining the success of retail spaces. The introduction of new retailers may be able to draw a new crowd of customers, but the time between active retailers, while the spaces are transformed through tenant improvements, creates empty storefronts and negative impacts on overall foot traffic. By developing a strategy for quick transitions between retailers, the Mod Market concept proposes an unconventional approach to physical retail spaces, embracing today’s trends and adapting to tomorrow’s evolutions.