By Meghan Hall
The future of the U.S. retail real estate market is rapidly evolving, with major long-time players such as Sears filing for bankruptcy as many other e-commerce sites are opening up their first storefronts, changing the way consumers, property owners and tenants interact with retail spaces. Space formation, approvals, tenant coordination have become paramount to creating a solid consumer experience and is something that technology and consultancy firm work.shop seeks to streamline in its retail leasing and information delivery applications. The Registry spoke with Michael Greeby, the CEO of work.shop, about the company’s several applications and its perspective on the changing world of retail real estate.
Please tell The Registry a little bit about yourself and work.shop. What was it about retail real estate industry that prompted you to create the platform?
Hi, my name is Michael Greeby, CEO of work.shop from Chicago. We’re a boutique real estate technology and consultancy firm that takes great ideas to grand opening for innovative tenant and landlord clients. While my background includes 20-plus years in development, design, engineering and construction, I’ve always struggled to toe the line in the traditional roles and expectations of each discipline. I’m a curious person that constantly asks – “Why are we doing it this way? Are there better options?” My journey through the entire spectrum of the CRE industry has led me to discover that I am actually a designer trapped in an engineer’s body. This not only provides for continual internal struggle, but also some really cool superpowers which we leverage for our clients and design into all our software.
One unique advantage that work.shop has is that we are not merely software developers; we are practitioners that create, test and use our apps and platforms on real properties and real projects. Every solution originates from an actual problem, friction point or inefficiency that we personally have experienced. Better yet, the solutions are honed and hardened in the field. While each company and situation is different, chances are we’ve already built the workflow, tested the effectiveness of features and asked the question “Wouldn’t it be great if…?” We are too impatient to wait for someone else to solve the problem, and we revel at taking the initiative ourselves. If it hurts for us, it must hurt for others too.
work.shop has three primary products: Status Plan, DDCM and spark Merchant. How can merchants and landlords use these technologies individually-and in tandem with one another — to accomplish their goals?
Each of the three members of our retail delivery platform suite can be used as a stand-alone product, coupled together and/or married with our professional services to provide a concierge end-to-end experience. Status Plan is an interactive leasing and retail delivery platform that brings our clients’ lease plans to life and allows owners, landlords and team members to easily monitor and manage the 85-plus step deal inception to commencement process. The Digital Design Criteria Manual (DDCM) is a retail information platform that provides prospective and committed retailers a new and exciting way to quickly access critical details about the property, the design vision, signage opportunities, the municipality, construction rules and regulations and so much more. It is the second most important document next to the lease and can be viewed on a portfolio-wide or individual property basis. spark Merchant Information System is the first platform to finally give specialty retail and ancillary income professionals the tool they need to showcase pop-up, short-term and seasonal opportunities within the property. It additionally tracks prospects through the deal pipeline, allows for virtual space, cart and kiosk walk-throughs, and functions as a landlord/merchant portal to communicate everything from upcoming events to collecting monthly sales figures. Each is designed to help users close deals and open stores.
The thousands of registered users of our systems have repeatedly remarked how intuitive, easy and actually fun they are to use. The software saves them time by finding the answers they need at the instant they need them.
Are there any retail real estate markets in which work.shop is particularly active? If so, where?
We are fortunate to service clients and projects across the entire country, and obviously our digital platforms have no boundaries whatsoever. That said, our clients have been particularly active in Atlanta, Southern California, South Florida, Washington D.C. and New England. We have been approached and are actively pursuing opportunities in Northern California, Seattle, Texas and Chicago. Pretty much every major urban metro market is painfully hot right now.
What have been some of work.shop’s most memorable projects to-date? How did the use of your platforms impact the tenant design and construction experience?
We were fortunate to be selected by the Atlanta Braves to create and deploy the DDCM for their Battery Atlanta project, the retail component of their new SunTrust Park stadium. Their vision was to create a special place where both stadium goers and local residents could meet, shop and eat in advance of, during and after ballgames. The DDCM sets the standards for the project that all retailers and restaurants are required to meet and exceed to achieve the Braves’ vision. Along with the ownership and design team, we set the design and construction goals, defined the materials palette and technical parameters for all tenant storefronts, interior fit-out and tenant signage. The DDCM delivers a one-of-a-kind user experience for the merchants and their teams. It presents and organizes critical information in an easy and quick, search-friendly format that paper and PDF simply cannot match. Merchant teams get the information they need to design and built flagship stores, when and where they need it, and it saved each team member more than 15 minutes every time they logged into the system.
Another landmark project was Avalon in Alpharetta, Ga., an award-winning mixed-use project that redefined the concept of live, work and play. work.shop was selected to not only create and deploy the DDCM and our newest version of Status Plan, but also manage the entire retail delivery process for both Phase I, II and now the ongoing operational center. What continues to be most special is the complicated and detailed storefront design and approval process with ownership and the City’s zoning division, the Design Review Board. Status Plan has been specially modified to handle the property’s unique multi-stepped process for storefront approval and allows us to track and report more than 200 data points per tenant to the different stakeholders including the municipality, ownership, center management, leasing, development, construction and retail delivery.
work.shop was established in 2013, as the market was beginning to pick up again. Now, many large brand name retailers such as Sears and JCPenney have announced closures, leaving behind large-scale vacancies in shopping centers across the United States. How has this impacted work.shop’s perspective on the retail real estate industry?
These are legendary companies that regrettably lost their visionary innovative spirits. While personally I’m saddened to see them go, I also believe that they have been artificially propped up for way too long. Their departure will present huge opportunities for both landlords and up-and-coming new retailers. While I can only dream to have the success that these brands once had, one key lesson we’ve learned is to never fall victim to the mindset that “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Always look forward, learn from yesterday and fail going.
Has work.shop altered its services at all based on these circumstances? Why or why not?
We have not modified our services specifically based upon the recent wave of bankruptcies of retailers but have refined and actually accelerated our technology and feature development on our platforms. Although there is a large wave of Chapter 11 filings going through the system right now, this is nothing new and is in fact healthy as we see it. The perpetual cycle always creates new opportunities when you are looking in the right direction.
How do you see the retail real estate market evolving throughout 2019? Do you believe the use of technologies such as work.shop can have a significant impact on the market?
Technology and online retailers creating physical presence will be the primary stories in retail in 2019. While these trends started a couple years ago, the metrics are now clearly established, and we are seeing brands diverting capital to build their IT infrastructure and online presence and expanding their physical footprints. Brands like Bonobos, Indochino, Warby Parker and even Amazon have proven that by going from pure play online to building actual stores or “clicks to bricks,” that they can more quickly expand total gross sales. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, by opening a physical retail store they experience what others have referred to as the “halo effect:” the increase of online traffic to that store’s website by over 35 percent. It only makes sense to start online, prove your concept, test your market, build your customer base and then extend your brand experience in the markets where your most loyal customers already exist.
Because our software is designed to accelerate the leasing, design and construction process and improve user experience throughout the journey, we feel confident that our existing suite of Status Plan, DDCM and spark can be further leveraged by our clients to drive these trends.
It is also important to note that we are also preparing, as best we can, for an inevitable recession. We believe that our clients will be even more motivated to do more with less, and our platforms are geared to superpower teams to manage the nearly 100 steps required to take a store from idea to opening.
Since its founding, why has work.shop chosen to be self-funded?
Since day one, we have been self-funded and enjoy the numerous benefits by being 100 percent owners of our company. While outside cash certainly would permit us to grow more rapidly, I believe that it also would distract us from our core goal of developing the very best software as well as dilute our internal responsibilities. Because every penny we invest in our software is from our own coffers, we are forced to review the best ways to spend our limited resources; it’s too easy to unintentionally spend someone else’s money frivolously. But when the decision has been made and it’s go time, we can simply hit the accelerator.
Is work.shop looking to expand into other sectors of the commercial real estate market in the future? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Status Plan, in particular, is an open platform that literally allows users to put the status of any workflow on any plan. Simply upload your background plan, draw your space within the application and assign the data and resulting status. We are particularly interested in and have been prototyping both office and multi-family templates, [since] they are best suited due to the typical numerous quantity of tenants located in a given property.
Is there anything else that you would like to add that we did not ask?
I guess since you are asking, “What do you see as being the most disruptive technology to CRE in the coming years?” Short-term 360 and virtual reality will change the way we expect to interact with real estate on all levels. Customers will be able to have a much richer experience, and online shopping will really accelerate. Long-term autonomous vehicles will be a meteor to the industry. Everything will change when we get from behind the wheel. Design of everything will need to change, just the way design of everything changed when the car exploded in the United States and Europe. I’m looking forward to both. I can’t wait to see what the future will bring.