Retail Returns

Despite the retail market's slow trek toward recovery, Carmen R. Austin, CCIM, associate broker at Saurage Rotenberg Commercial Real Estate in Baton Rouge, La., sees a lot of opportunity in this struggling sector. Infused with energy from this year's International Council of Shopping Centers' annual meeting and participation in the 2011 Jay W. Levine Leadership Development Academy, Austin, who describes herself as having an “entrepreneurial spirit,” shared some of her enthusiasm for retail's recovery with Commercial Investment Real Estate. For more insights on retail in small markets, see “Retail Tenanting Techniques” on page 22 of this issue.

CIRE: As a retail specialist, what kind of trends are you seeing right now?

Austin: In the Baton Rouge market, vocational colleges such as Remington College and Virginia College are taking over spaces that were once traditionally retail. I am also seeing tremendous development by Dollar General and Family Dollar as well as a steady stream of deals with major drugstore chains. Pizza places and frozen yogurt concepts are expanding in my market too.

CIRE: What were some of the major takeaways from this year's ICSC event?

Austin: It is amazing how technology and social media played such a large role in the meeting and how important these tools have become in doing business. Everyone was toting iPads, smartphones, and Blackberry Playbooks to their appointments and presentations and having tweet-ups at the social media pavilion. Overall, there was a higher level of optimism and productivity as well as a sense that the market is poised to rebound and that deals are getting done.

CIRE: How do you use these technology and social media tools to network and market your business?

Austin: I use Twitter, Facebook, and Linked­In to stay connected and network with my peers. The rapid pace in which we can receive news and exchange information is incredible. In fact, I usually hear breaking industry news first through my Twitter account. These sites have changed the way nearly everyone in commercial real estate does business.

CIRE: You've been involved in CCIM at both the local and national levels. Can you describe the value of these professional opportunities?

Austin: The best part about my experience as Louisiana CCIM chapter president in 2010 is the long-term, lasting relationships that I have built with my team members and chapter leaders. This is such a relationship-driven business and the value of making those connections is immense. I'm also very proud of our chapter's accomplishments. Even though we are much smaller than many of the CCIM chapters, we have produced two of the Institute's finest presidents: Barry Spizer, CCIM, and Richard Juge, CCIM. We have a high level of national participation and leadership, including six chapter members who have participated in CCIM's prestigious Jay W. Levine Leadership Development Academy.

CIRE: You earned an MBA prior to pursuing the CCIM designation. How have the two achievements complemented one another?

Austin: My first experience with CCIM education was incredibly eye-opening. I was introduced to a whole new concept that marries real-world experience with the theories learned in traditional university environments. The finance principles taught in CCIM's core curriculum mirror the tools I learned in graduate school. The major difference is that CCIM's courses provide students with the ability and accessibility to put these principles to practical use to help your clients and you make money.

CIRE: ICSC featured a panel of women who have played influential roles in the retail and commercial real estate worlds. What did you learn from these industry leaders?

Austin: It was so inspirational to hear from influential women such as Elaine Wynn, director of Wynn Resorts Ltd., who are heavy hitters within their respective fields. To hear them share their personal experiences - accomplishments as well as setbacks - as they climbed the corporate ladder to success was incredible. Their stories were told with such grace, sincerity, and openness. It made me proud to be a woman in a male-dominated industry where women have advanced so rapidly in such a short period of time. I can relate to many of the experiences and obstacles that these very successful women have endured.


Jennifer Norbut is senior editor of Commercial Investment Real Estate. If you have a story worth sharing in CCIM Q&A, send it to

Jennifer Norbut

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