Developers and REITs that specialize in grocery-anchored centers have been the most active retail real estate segment during the pandemic and, therefore, the most familiar with quickly adjusting to government-authorized standards.
One of those is Phillips Edison & Company, which owns and/or manages 312 such centers across the United States, so we asked PECO’s COO Bob Myers what the company has been doing to put its 5,500 “neighbors” back in business.
What significant challenges filled your work days during the pandemic shutdown?
"The biggest challenge has been keeping up with the most up-to-date information as the situation unfolded across the country. The rapidly changing and evolving guidance on the virus itself, along with the continuously shifting state and local mandates – which vary across the country – have kept us on our toes. We pride ourselves on being locally smart in the communities in which we operate, so we are constantly monitoring governmental requirements and local needs in over 300 neighborhoods."
How have you been helping the third of your tenants who were out of business during the crisis?
"We have worked closely with our neighbors to help them prepare for re-opening and, as of June 8, 92% of our total neighbor spaces were open. Initially, our leasing team reached out to all our neighbors and shared information about the PECO Connect pages on our website, which helped them understand their options in seeking financial relief dollars through the CARES Act. We used our proprietary platform, DashComm, to deliver information quickly. In addition to calls and e-mails, we’ve hosted webinars, produced multilingual videos and most recently distributed a video on reimagining your restaurant business – which included everything from saving on food costs and introducing meal kits to simplifying your menu."
I know that over the past few years, Phillips Edison has made substantial investments in technology across its wide-ranging portfolio. Did that pay off during the pandemic?
"Our investment in technology kept our team effective and productive when we moved to a remote work environment. Unlike many companies, the actual move was not a significant challenge. However, we have a strong and unique company culture and having a fully remote team meant that we had to find new and creative ways to keep them connected and maintain the culture."
Will any of the changes or new safety procedures instituted during the crisis remain after the pandemic has subsided?
"Our associates will be informed that they should not report to work if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 or have experienced symptoms in the 72 hours prior to start of shift. They will be required to adhere to state and local guidelines with respect to social distancing and PPE, as well as to handwashing and sanitation guidelines. We are asking our neighbors to do the same and to monitor store occupancy and sanitation procedures to government-authorized levels. We’re also encouraging them to implement self-service and contactless payment whenever possible."
Will you continue to limit capital expenditures into the next year?
"We will continue to make repairs and replacements that are necessary. Non-essential capital expenditures will largely remain limited until the pandemic situation has stabilized."