Author: Terry Gearhart, MIRM
INcite Solutions Consulting
Recently there have been a couple of articles in the Virginian Pilot discussing the fate of the empty big box stores, like the former Ames in Virginia Beach, and nearly vacant venues in search of “re-purposing”, like Norfolk’s Waterside. I find a common theme in each – failure to adapt to change. In the case of big box stores like Ames, Hechingers and others, I view it less as a product of a declining economy and more as a result of failure to adapt…to that very economy, to competitors and to demographics. Nowhere is that thought more profoundly exhibited than in The Waterside, an iconic structure largely touted as the catalyst to downtown Norfolk’s revival when it opened in 1983. It now provides shelter to a few bars and eateries, awaiting a fate prescribed by Council members, ULI experts and even the random polling of the citizenry. The challenge facing our cities as they attempt to re-purpose these failed real estate properties is a bit daunting. Solutions will not be easy.
But I think it starts with the realization that all businesses change…or are forced to…over time. Whatever the solution is for today will simply not be the right one in one year, three years or ten years. It reminds me of the big run-up in local real estate. We knew it couldn’t last forever, but we simply didn’t know when it would end. So, instead of preparing for it, we simply plodded along, taking what the market would give us, thinking we’d figure the rest out later. We’ve been reaping the harvest of that planning malaise ever since. In that vein, I think it’s not fair to look back at some now-failed projects and say, “What were they thinking”. The better question to ask is, “How could they not see this coming?”
And so it is with our own businesses. We lament the speed of change. We barely get comfortable mastering one app before it’s been replaced with a brighter, shinier new penny. Just when we’ve become the wizz-kids of “mobile” and have set our cars up with every tech toy our back-seat prospects could drool over while we chauffeur them all over town…gas heads towards $4.00/gallon and de-constructs yet another brilliant business plan. We find a floor plan that sold great in the 90’s and parade it all over town hoping to repeat that success again, never-mindful of the fickle nature of our potential buyers and their ever-changing demo- and psycho- graphics.
At some point it comes down to some very fundamental thinking we have to bring to our businesses and our lives, and it involves determining our “philosophy” about dealing with change. Will we ride the skills we developed years ago into the ever-approaching sunset and bemoan, “no one understands how great I used to be!”? Or will we acknowledge that what we know today, how we work today, who we view as our customers today…simply won’t be the same by tomorrow. We need to embrace change and by doing so seek to understand the fundamentals of what is driving it and then find a way to adapt to it..and prosper. And I’m not sure the prospering will be all that hard. It’s not that I really think any of this will be easy. That’s clearly not my point, and it won’t be. It’s just that I know not many will people will commit to change and adaptation, so the playing field will be largely yours.
Terry Gearhart, MIRM
INcite Solutions Consulting