Virtual versions of nearly everything continue to be the norm for now, providing opportunities for experts from every industry to continue to share ideas and observations – something that may be more important than ever in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the recent Western Divisional Meeting of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), one of those professionals leading the discussion was Alex Ramon, Director of Retail Design for Larson Design Group (LDG).
Alex, who leads the LDG Phoenix, AZ office, led a roundtable session aimed at sharing research information, insights from industry experts and networking. Naturally, Alex said, most of the issues or concerns were related to the ongoing pandemic and how retailers from every sector have responded – in some cases proactively, but more commonly, having to react in real-time.
“Many brick-and-mortar retailers have been forced to consider downsizing their footprint and repositioning their square footage to how it will be the most effective,” Alex said. “Companies are looking at where the consumer’s dollar has shifted, and many are finding that their e-commerce, or the ‘buy online and pick up in store’ option, has become really dominant during the pandemic.”
Now businesses need to determine if that will continue to be popular when things get back to normal – for example, do they devote more physical space to fulfill the “buy online” orders instead of in-store shopping? It’s a crucial question for retailers, who usually can’t back out of the long-term leases they sign for large stores and warehouses, “so they’re having to get creative in what they do with those spaces, now and in the future,” Alex said.
Another topic that arose was the change in demand for certain sectors during the pandemic and whether that indicates a temporary reaction. For example, Alex said, there has been an enormous increase in demand for UrgentCare, FastMed and other “med-tail” sites that offer quick, affordable care – including rapid tests for certain infectious diseases – but some in the industry are wondering if that will result in oversaturation. There has also been significant demand in adjusting restaurant operations to accommodate state and local mandates for capacity limits, including offering drive–through and pick–up options, decreasing the footprint in dining rooms, and shifting square footage to outdoor dining.
However, just as important to industry experts is recognizing new concepts that, thanks to the pandemic, are likely to be more permanent.
One of these is the “ghost kitchen,” a single large location where dozens of quick service restaurants, or QSRs, set up facilities to fulfill online orders that are then delivered by apps like DoorDash, Grubhub, and Uber Eats. “It’s like a food court, in that there is a dozen or more restaurants preparing food there – just no customers at the physical location,” Alex said.
There’s also no long-term lease or costs for permanent construction to open a new location, factors that are hugely appealing to companies. These ghost kitchens offer QSRs the opportunity to serve a new market with little of the time and expense of opening a new physical location. Citing the company’s current work with a ghost kitchen company, Alex noted that online food ordering and delivery is a trend that was already experiencing a sizeable increase in popularity, “and now it’s here to stay.”
“We’re proud to be a partner to clients who are on the forefront of new trends and ideas, and to help them figure out ways to stay there,” he said. “In retail, if you’re not changing, you’re going to be left behind.”
Founded in 1986, Larson Design Group is a national, award‐winning, 100 percent employee-owned architecture, engineering and consulting firm with 12 offices in five states and a vision to elevate client relationships, enrich the careers and lives of its employee-owners, and enhance the communities in which it operates. For more information, visit www.larsondesigngroup.com.
The health and safety of our team members and clients is our top priority. Click here to read about LDG’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.