Big data drives big changes at a Cincinnati town center
Liberty Township, an affluent suburb of Cincinnati, is a town on the rise.
New housing and commercial developments abound and, as the town swells to a population of 40,000, its leaders predict that average household incomes that were $120,000 in 2017 will be closer to $150,000 in 2022.
One of the more popular new projects in town has been Liberty Center, which aims to live up to its name with more than 60 stores, a Cobb Liberty Luxury 25 Cinebistro, and 27 restaurants ranging from China Wok to Brio’s Tuscan Grille to The Cheesecake Factory. But well before COVID-19 struck, the owners were disappointed with traffic and sales and sought a new third-party manager for the property.
Birmingham, Ala.-based Bayer Properties won the job last year, and they did it using something that has taken quite a long time to develop a role in commercial real estate: Big Data.
“Liberty Center is a kind of cornerstone in the community, but there were some weaknesses in their leasing,” said Bayer’s director of marketing Elizabeth Thomas.
So Bayer hired Placer.ai, which tracks mobile phones to count traffic and review customer information inside stores and retail centers.
“We looked at who the customer was, what was their visit frequency, what was the frequency in some of the other centers? What was the problem for leasing right now? What was the solution?” Thomas said.
What Bayer found was that Liberty Center’s reading of Liberty Township’s growing population was a bit blurred. Merchandising within the store curation was too focused on baby boomers and, therefore, was not getting a lot of return visits from Gen Xers and millennials. Bayer conducted two focus groups—one of boomers and Gen Xers and another of millennials and Gen Xers—and discovered modern suburban customers that were looking for a more urban atmosphere at the centers they frequented.
“Gen Xers are a different type of retiree than the boomers. They don’t shop at Talbot’s. Some of them have adult children and are empty nesting and said they’d love a microbrewery,” Thomas said. “They’re also heavier users of fitness centers and buy athleisure wear and visit juiceries.”
As a result, Bayer recently signed the dance-based cardio fitness brand AKT to open at Liberty Center. A brewpub is on the wish list.
Thomas believes that Bayer’s use of Big Data will help it sign the right tenants, as well as educate current tenants in merchandising, marketing, and scheduling properly for their customer base.
“Tenants and site selectors are no longer willing to come off a hunch to sign a lease. They are more accustomed to seeing this data now,” she said. “And the data can be used on site to increase sales. We can use the data to show them things like they’ll lose 30% of their traffic if they continue to close at 7:00.”
Down the road, Thomas hopes to be able to merge the data with artificial intelligence and do predictive modeling.
“Our dream come true would be to have our hands on all the data the retailers have and learn how sales are being generated online,” she said. “’We think DTC brands are having trouble with the last mile and we can maybe be of help.”