Michael Tseng Of KTGY On The Future Of Retail

Medium | Authority Magazine

February 20, 2022

Bring a new aesthetic. If what you create looks like everything else out there, what makes someone want to stop? People shop with their eyes first. Design something that draws them in, incorporate elements mentioned above to make them stay.

As a part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Tseng.

Michael Tseng brings more than 20 years of retail design experience with an emphasis in planning and entitlements. Mr. Tseng skillfully leads the retail design team and oversees all coordination between the client, consultants and city agencies. His expertise includes new construction and renovation of regional lifestyle centers, neighborhood shopping centers and nationally recognized retail brands. His extensive knowledge of the entitlement process as well as his technical understanding of the construction document phase ensures his projects are delivered successfully. Mr. Tseng’s communication skills underscore his ability to understand the client’s needs ensuring the client’s vision becomes reality. Always ahead of the curve on today’s trends, Mr. Tseng brings leading-edge retail design principles to all his projects. In his role at KTGY, Mr. Tseng is applying his experience & knowledge in direct tenant work, such as Target, Wal-Mart and Fresh & Easy, to expand the depth of services KTGY’s retail studio provides.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I was very interested in design at a very young age. I finished art school in Taiwan and came to the United States to pursue my bachelor’s degree in Interior Design and Architecture. I started working in the Retail Design field in 1997 and have never looked back.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

The most interesting thing isn’t just one thing but rather my daily routine interfacing with KTGY clients. Every client is different, and it takes a lot of time to develop the relationship and trust with them. I love to interact with people and hear their success stories. Most of my experiences were built upon the conversations with clients, learning what works and what doesn’t.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We are working on a ground-up center in Chino, California that I am really excited about. Chino’s Town Center at The Preserve, developed by Lewis Retail Centers, is surrounded by tightly woven neighborhoods. KTGY’s design ensures that all aspects of the property were walkable and attractive, whether it’s from the parking lot fronting storefront or the street facing rear of the building that is designed to resemble a storefront. This creates a “Main Street” aesthetic and maintains convenience. These “false fronts,” located on Main Street itself, include windows with frosted glass, landscaping and sitting areas to hide the utility rooms, garage openings and back doors. This unique approach creates a welcoming experience for residents and new visitors alike, who can now participate in a walkable lifestyle with access to shopping, workspaces and nightlife.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There are several people that I am grateful for. In my early career, Brian Wolfe who was my department principal took me under his wing and taught me everything there is to know about retail architecture. When I started at KTGY, Sy Perkowitz educated me on how to manage the business side of retail architecture. Our CEO, Tricia Esser, frequently spent time with me on what a successful business looks like, setting goals and issue-solving within the studio. Her willingness to help me to reach higher goals and inspire me to always to be better is something I cherish.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I feel that my duty is to inspire my staff and the people around me to use their strength and continue to search for better. Failing is not a detriment, it is a learning opportunity and a blessing… if you get up and try it again and again you will succeed.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share a few examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

We are seeing many changes in retail, some of which were starting to gain traction prior, and the pandemic merely fast tracked them, and others feel like experiential game changers.

There is a shift toward more outdoor spaces and entertainment elements designed into retail spaces. Eateries are incorporating more open-air options into their design like roll-up garage doors and larger patio spaces. Everything from indoor skydiving to outdoor lawns that can host holiday events, or live music are becoming a draw. People still want to connect and to spend time together, but they are more intentional about it. For example, at The District at Tustin Legacy we are working with Vestar to refresh the center by creating three distinct gathering and entertainment spaces connected by parallel and bisecting landscaped paseos.

At the beginning of the pandemic people were adopting pets so quickly that many animal shelters proudly showed off empty stalls. Two years later and pets have become members of the family and so used to their owners being around. This has driven the creation of pet friendly amenities in many shopping centers. Small dog parks, or large lawn spaces that host pet “meet-ups”, bowls of water outside shop doors, and even specialty bakeries creating toothsome treats for pets.

Online order pick-up is something we are seeing remaining in place. The convenience of shopping online is something everyone has gotten used to, while they don’t want to walk up and down aisles looking for the items they need, they also want the option to pick them up within a few hours. It really is all about convenience.

And finally, choices, choices and more choices. There is no longer one way or place to shop. The lines are blurring between online and in person experiences. Whether you want to shop at a small boutique center that specializes in local goods or at a neighborhood center with national brands, you can do so in whatever way suits you. Shoppers can now purchase specialty items, once only sold at the register, online. If you order something online and it doesn’t fit, you can now return it in the store. Are you in a store and can’t find your size in the item you love? You can order online from where you stand.

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

Retail and even malls will absolutely continue to exist. Though, they will look different than what we are used to. In some instances, there will be a focus on reducing footprints to create and curate small store concepts. It depends on the client and the market. For example, incorporating local goods, eateries and entertainment spaces could be the remedy for a certain market. Art and spaces that are engaging that provide the perfect backdrop for their latest TicTok or allow people to stop and rest in an exciting and unexpected way may be the solution in another market.

KTGY is re-imaging mall sites to include residential and smaller shops. Sometimes re-imaging big-box anchor stores and other times replacing the oceans of parking each to accomplish the same goal of establishing walkable mixed-use destinations where shopping in person is just as convenient and pleasant as online. KTGY is working with developer San Hill Property Co, on El Paseo de Saratoga in San Jose, California, to bring to life their bold vision to revitalize a local big-box shopping center and make for a space to call home, connect and entertain creating a walkable, adaptive and vibrant main street destination.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a fantastic retail experience that keeps bringing customers back for more? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Looking at the local demographics, understanding the needs and desires of the community and designing spaces tailored to them. If the people are not interested in the spaces you have curated, the retail will die.
  2. Continue to pay attention to the changes around you. What works and what doesn’t and adjust as needed. There’s no specific way to do retail, nor is there a way to define retail.
  3. Create an environment that enhances the overall experience and keeps patrons engaged. This can be anything from incorporating tech — mobile check-in, interactive maps, increased EV stalls — to creating public amenity spaces that generate excitement. Design something unexpected and spontaneous like a public staircase that functions as seating or an oversized swing. Create places where people can engage with one another.
  4. Create spaces where new and fresh ideas can easily become a reality. Incorporate pop-up and incubator spaces that allow local entrepreneurs the opportunity to become visible and impact their communities.
  5. Bring a new aesthetic. If what you create looks like everything else out there, what makes someone want to stop? People shop with their eyes first. Design something that draws them in, incorporate elements mentioned above to make them stay.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger!

Be kind, be generous and be inspiring every day.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Follow KTGY on LinkedIn. We post updates on our work across the nation.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!