ICSC New York National Conference

WDCEP President & CEO Steve Moore was in NYC last week to attend the ICSC New York National Conference. Here is what he came away with:

In sharp contrast to gloomy presentations at the ULI in San Francisco, the ICSC 2009 New York National Conference was upbeat, well attended and damn near bullish about retailers and the shopping center industry over the next 18 months.

A surge of last minute registrations (attendance not known at time of this writing) boosted the mood of the ICSC President Mike Kercheval who spoke in very positive terms about the industry, his organization and the health of retailers.

Solid Management Prevails

The theme throughout the presenters was that good managers had anticipated a difficult 2009 and had adjusted their budgets, staffs and projections accordingly. This was felt to be true of the ICSC as an organization, companies going through reorganization, and also retailers.

Speaker after speaker projected a “can do” and “how do we make this work” attitude and you could see that there was an intense focus on cost cutting, identifying value and actual performance.

A point made repeatedly was that retailers were performing well against budget. This is distinct from how well they performed against sales in previous years. Preserving cash, cutting costs, and keeping inventories low was the deliberate strategy for retailers this year which many speakers felt was not understood by the media who placed too much emphasis on sales.

Invest in Retail

Luncheon keynote speaker William Ackman (his views are available in more detail in the Globe Street release that just came out this morning), was particularly bullish on high end shopping centers. He cited in great detail the expansion plans of dozens and dozens of national retailers of all types. Pulling his data from SEC filings and other sources, he successfully argued that with the number of new stores planned in 2010 combined with the lack of new locations (malls) being constructed, there could actually be an uptick in rent in well positioned high end centers in strong markets (Ackman just purchased 30% of General Growth).

Shoppers: “You Can’t Take it with You”

There was the strong and consistent opinion, too, that the consumer, though saving more and shopping less, would not sit on the sidelines forever. The psychology of “looking good and feeling good” was referenced as a fundamental motivation for moving shoppers into malls coupled with the very New York view that “you can’t take it with you”. Sales growth, however, over the next few years may be moving online which is a great concern to the managers of shopping places.

Las Vegas

Indeed The Las Vegas RECON will be a smaller event in May, but the ICSC management strategy is to make the experience of the conference more intense and the time spent more productive. Kercheval outlined his plans to make RECON shorter, actually dropping Wednesday (reducing attendee costs), and smaller, using less space in the convention center making it feel much more crowded and busy. The redesign of all of the activities into the convention center will make the time there more efficient and less costly. ICSC has introduced two programs of interest, a “Booth in a box” to make it more possible for smaller companies to participate in Vegas and a “members in transition program” through which membership dues will be forgiven “for as long as we have to” for members looking for a job.

Overall the mood was upbeat.
There seemed to be a psychological boost among the crowd as a result of the General Growth refinancing. It might not be fair to compare this event to events of the past but the energy to rebuild, redefine and recreate was clearly evident.

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