Retail CCIM Q&A

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Q&A with Cynthia Shelton, CCIM

Shelton

Despite a tumultuous two years, the retail sector continues to draw plenty of interest from investors. Considering the opportunities in the market, Cynthia Shelton, CCIM, senior managing director of investments and capital markets with LandQwest Commercial Orlando, spoke to Commercial Investment Real Estate magazine about what she expects in retail, where she has decades of experience.

Shelton details what to expect in the retail sector in the coming months, how Florida is attracting investments in CRE, and what being a CCIM Institute instructor means to her.

CIRE: Specializing in retail, you’ve seen firsthand what COVID-19 has done to the sector, including the initial shutdowns, public safety measures, increased regulation, etc. Two years into the pandemic, how does retail look to prospective investors?

Cynthia Shelton, CCIM: It was interesting that 2021 was my best year in real estate. Considering I focus on retail investments, you would think investors would have dropped out during COVID-19, but that didn’t seem to happen. Retail is hot — and not just in Florida. Some of the challenges remain, like with free-standing banks, health clubs, drug stores, and some big-box stores. 

We have seen banks shutting down locations because many people, even pre-pandemic, chose online banking more and more. Banks found that they didn’t need larger spaces in their branch locations. I read that a couple of chains have started using their branch offices to let people come in and meet clients, so these spaces are operating like a shared office space.

Similarly, some of the large chain drug stores aren’t renewing leases at the end of their terms, opting to instead close down or reduce in size. The trend in size reduction is something we will see more of; you can do the same with a 5,000-sf store as you did with 10,000 sf before the pandemic. In general, many retailers are looking at reducing size to save on cost. Many supply-chain issues are making it harder to get products, so that’s one more reason why more floor space is vacant. 

Considering I focus on retail investments, you would think investors would have dropped out during COVID-19, but that didn’t seem to happen. Retail is hot — and not just in Florida.

CIRE: Grocery-anchored centers have, for the most part, been a strength within retail. What has been key to the performance of these CRE assets? Is it as simple as grocery benefiting from sustained (or increased) demand?

Shelton: In general, grocery stores or grocery-anchored retail centers continue to be strong. People need food. Yes, you can have it delivered or shop online and have it brought to the car — that was something new that COVID-19 brought about. I believe this is a positive development that may continue. But have you ever gone grocery shopping and bought something not on your list? Sure! Most of us have walked pass something and said, “I forgot I’m out of that,” or, “That would be good for dinner this week.” We spend more money inside the store than if we order online and pick it up or have it delivered. 

CIRE: Within retail, how has the relationship between tenant and owner changed in the past year or two? Can you identify any considerations that are now much more pressing than before the pandemic?

Shelton: Many landlords gave tenants relief during COVID-19, and most tenants paid that back either with increased rents or longer lease terms. I do know many landlords will want better credit in tenants or guarantees. This could also be done through larger security deposits. Another interesting front is the potential to have outside seating or use more space to spread out more than they did prior, especially in restaurant spaces. 

CIRE: Working in the Orlando/Central Florida market, do you see any specific opportunities or challenges in that area? Migration trends suggest the Southeast U.S. to be a desirable location. How can CRE professionals position themselves to succeed in such a market?

Shelton: Florida, in general, has seen major population growth. Some of the cities in the Northeast U.S. had issues closing down during COVID-19. People were free to work from home, so Florida was the place to go. We continue to grow and expand in all segments of the real estate industry. Housing is in short supply, and it’s still cheaper here than in New York or Chicago. 

The Sunshine State draws lots of people from around the globe. CRE professionals can position themselves by getting educated, by taking CCIM Institute classes, and specializing in a product type or market. If you know your market, people will come to you. I’m known as the “Queen of Retail” in Florida. I get calls from around the country because of this. It’s not always something I can help with, but I can usually get them moving in the right direction. 

CIRE: As an instructor with CCIM Institute, you are directly interacting with the next generation of CRE talent. What do you see in these younger professionals? What do industry veterans need to know or understand about this next generation?

Shelton: It’s exciting to see the next generation of real estate professionals. They are the people who will change the industry with new ways of seeing and doing things. We, as veterans in CRE, can help them with the fundamentals and knowledge of the markets we serve. We should always be here to mentor the new generations, and they should be willing to work hard and listen to advice — even if they don’t always take it.

It’s exciting to see the next generation of real estate professionals. They are the people who will change the industry with new ways of seeing and doing things.

CIRE: On a practical level, how do you benefit in your business as an instructor with CCIM Institute? What insights do you get by working with driven, invested students?

Shelton: Best of all, the students contact me for advice and also send me referrals sometimes. If I help them and later need something, they are there for me. It’s a great two-way street. I’ve had to contact students and CCIMs around the country to get something handled, and the reception I get is amazing and they are always willing to help.

Nicholas Leider

Nicholas Leider is senior content editor for Commercial Investment Real Estate. Contact him at nleider@ccim.com.

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