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Mall to plan future
Market analysis to help devise new strategy
Sunday, September 23, 2012
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
The owner of Liberty Fair Mall expects to analyze local shopping habits, the local retail market and the impact of the Sears store closing as it devises a plan to recruit new stores and improve the shopping center, according to a company official.
“We do have the capital, and we’ve got the (knowledgeable) people and the desire to maximize that property,” John Gibson, a managing principal of Hull Storey Gibson Companies LLC, said in a phone interview Friday.
First, however, the company must develop a plan to make the mall better. Gibson said that will happen in the next few months as company executives examine the local market.
Hull Storey Gibson will analyze purchases and local shopping habits to figure out what people want to see in the mall, and then work to attract stores that can serve the market and which are willing to move to a small retail market such as Martinsville, Gibson said.
The company also is interested in bringing in new concepts for stores based on new products and shopping concepts that occur in the future, he said.
The mall has vacant storefronts, and it will lose an anchor store when Sears closes. A tenant since the mall opened in 1989, Sears announced Sept. 14 that the closing probably will occur before the end of the year.
While he admitted that he does not know the mall’s full history, Gibson speculated that it has been affected by the local economic downturns and previous owners’ inexperience with operating indoor shopping centers.
“For a small-market mall to succeed,” Gibson said, “it requires continuous investment by the owner” and constant efforts to upgrade the facility and recruit new tenants.
He emphasized that Hull Storey Gibson is a major player in the mall industry, and he said it has a good relationship with many major retailers.
“We are talking to every national retailer we know” about the possibility of coming to Liberty Fair, Gibson said.
Gibson acknowledged that Hull Storey Gibson is not committing to long-term leases with any tenants now at Liberty Fair Mall. He said the firm will focus on long-term leases after it finishes crafting its plan for the mall.
He did not rule out the possibility of the mall eventually ending relationships with some existing stores to make room for others with a potential for higher sales or parting ways with any not wanting to make long-term commitments.
But Hull Storey Gibson is not looking to get rid of any specific current tenants, he emphasized.
At least some locally based businesses at the mall eventually may have to leave to make room for more prominent national and regional stores, Gibson said.
That is because national and regional stores generally are able to pay higher rents than locally based ones because they do more business overall, he said, noting that rents are based on the amount of business that stores do.
Gibson said the more rent that stores pay, the easier it will be for his company to pay off its purchase of the mall and improvements to the property that will help attract customers.
Still, there is “no plan to raise the rent on any tenants” right now, he said.
Gibson noted that properties do not go into a state of decline one week and then regain their former vibrancy the next week. Both take time.
Five years from now, he expects Liberty Fair to be “a fabulous property” that remains the area’s main shopping destination and is attracting more customers than it does now, he added.
Based in Augusta, Ga., Hull Storey Gibson owns 21 malls in the Southeast, including Piedmont Mall in Danville, which is set to undergo renovations next year.
Most of Hull Storey Gibson’s properties are in smaller-sized retail markets.
The company bought the 434,000-square-foot mall on Commonwealth Boulevard in May.