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retail construction in 2019 - state of the industry

Inside the State of Retail Construction in 2019 [Infographic]  

The Top Statistics and Trends in Retail Construction that Builders Should Know About

When walking through the double doors of a Macy’s or WalMart, chances are, most people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about those vaulted ceilings or sturdy foundations. But as construction professionals, we do. 

We know significant thought and planning goes into any and every construction project, and retail is no exception–a field that is growing in unique ways. All that growth has encompassed a lot of change, bringing positive trends and posing new challenges all the time.

On a personal level, consider where you were buying goods a decade ago versus where you are purchasing items now. Increasingly, consumers are replacing trips to malls and physical retail locations with quick online shopping sessions where they can purchase pretty much anything from a couch to paper towels in one click.  

Bottom line: it’s a consumer-driven sector, which means that the shopper’s convenience drives construction trends–such as the pending extinction of big-box stores. Consider other retail construction trends, such as the invention of smart buildings, the explosion of LEED construction methods, and the introduction of combined shopping and shipping options.

It’s a brave new world, which requires that the retail construction sector tap into new consumer behaviors, adapt to the changes they’re driving, and stay informed about the current state of the retail construction industry, the better to understand the future.

So what exactly is the current state of retail construction and what are the emerging trends you should know about? Read on and check out our infographics, below.

Where Retail Construction Stands Today

Retail construction - State of the Industry in 2019

The good news: Despite the changing landscape of consumerism, there’s still a healthy appetite for retail construction today. This is primarily driven by retail sales, which despite the ever-more-diverse nature of their provenance, remain strong.
That said, these changes have driven negative trends as well (at least from the perspective of affected companies), such as store closures. The first quarter of 2019 saw the closing of almost 400 mattress stores, nearly 100 Charlotte Russe boutiques and 84 once-beloved Sears locations. Absorption of closed facilities has been sluggish, but it is happening. Detroit, Las Vegas and Atlanta are leading the charts, with high demand leaving less space vacant there–and indicating booming economies.

Naturally, this varies across the United States, with Portland, Atlanta and Orlando peaking at the moment, while typically strong markets such as New York City and Boston are experiencing some decline. With leisure and entertainment now the strongest motivator behind visits to physical locations (clocking in over professional services, fitness and dining), retail purveyors are forced to become more creative than ever. Those that can adapt will do well, while those that can’t will contribute to closures–casualties of the free market.

Top Retail Construction Markets in the U.S.

Retail construction - Top markets for retail construction in the United States

So where in the U.S. is flourishing with retail construction? Right now, the top 5 retail markets (for active construction) across the US are:

  1. Houston: 4.1 million square feet
  2. Northern New Jersey: 4.0 million square feet
  3. Long Island: 3.9 million square feet
  4. Dallas/Fort Worth: 3.3 million square feet
  5. Miami-Dade County: 3.2 million square feet

So what’s driving the growth of these key markets? There are a large number of megaprojects being planned and delivered in these cities, as you read this. For instance, out of the 40 million square feet of Class A retail expected to be delivered in 2020, malls make up about 16.7% of this, aided by mega-mall projects like the American Dream in New Jersey and Miami.

Dallas is still showing strong for retail construction due to redevelopment efforts. For instance, a wellness company called Life Time is building an “18-story, 400-unit luxury residential tower … as well as a Life Time Athletic Club and other amenities as developers across the country lure residents with walkable projects.” Impressively, “Once construction starts, Life Time Village at Dallas Midtown will be the company’s largest such endeavor to date, building on Life Time’s plans to extend its brand beyond the walls of being an athletic club. Life Time is also planning similar village-like concepts in Coral Gables, Florida, near Miami and Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas.”

4 Key Retail Construction Trends

4 Trends for Retail Construction

Overall, retail construction is driven by many consumer needs and behaviors, but four of the most notable include:

1. Rise of Mixed-Use Properties

Mixed-use means two or more uses located in one large property space, most commonly office and retail, office and residential or residential and retail. Of the three types, projects that include retail are turning out to be exceptionally vibrant.

“Retail merchandising is dictated by the layout and scope of a project but is critical to its soul and vitality,” explains Metro Commercial, adding that walkability and a healthy lifestyle are prime drivers of mixed-use spaces that incorporate retail. “A variety of full-service and fast-casual restaurants with open storefronts and outdoor seating, grocery, in-depth fitness, spa, and beauty, as well as other convenience uses that provide lifestyle amenities. Whole Foods Market started anchoring mixed-use developments 10 years ago and [healthy grocery store] Sprouts is now in the game.”

2. Renovation Nation

Adaptive reuse is a massive trend these days. As we’ve discussed before, many companies are only interested in new builds, but retail construction also includes a large portion of renovations and refreshes of existing structures. As big-box stores steadily close, that’s a lot of acreage that opens up to development. Smart retail construction will do something with all that space.

This doesn’t necessarily mean buildings must be ripped down entirely, points out Voeller Construction: “Many buildings that have been around for a long time are modernizing and streamlining their operations to be more effective, efficient, and sustainable.” That need could represent a lot of good work for companies prepared to take it on the challenge. 

3. Alternative Use of Big-Box Space

You love Stranger Things, right? (If not, stop reading this article and go binge all three seasons on Netflix right now, then come back to us.) Aficionados of season 3 got the enjoy the retro vibes of Starcourt Mall, once an honest-to-goodness mall in Duluth, Georgia. It closed years ago, explains Hoar Construction (the original builders), “But the production team from Stranger Things breathed new life into the abandoned mall, transforming it into … a brand new attraction for the people of Hawkins, Indiana.”
Sure, not every mall can get such a Hollywood-style makeover, but there are plenty of uses for dead space (not including tearing them down for scrap and entirely new developments). For instance, we can transform them into housing with courtyards, connected by light rail or electric buses. Just leave it to forward-thinking developers and construction firms to breathe new life into the malls and centers we used to spend significant time in. 

4. Malls Are Going Experiential

Retail construction is also starting to respond to the massive increase in the desire for experiences. People, especially millennials, are tired of being house poor. Nor are they happy heading to the mall simply to buy a few shirts and a compact of powder. More and more, they want to spend their money on doing things, a desire to which smart businesses will cater.

This is true for malls as well, which are jumping on the bandwagon by providing “lifestyle centers and destination places for not only traditional retail shopping but experiential uses like eclectic restaurants, grocery marketplaces, entertainment, live events, music, nightlife and more,” according to an expert quoted in Bisnow.

The prospect of the rise of experimental centers is a pretty exciting one. And that’s before you take into account skydiving centers, trampoline amusement parks or Ferris wheels, which retail destinations are also starting to incorporate.

Or how about the House of Vans, championed by the classic shoe company, which is a “location where art, music, BMX, street culture and fashion converge.” In 30,000 square feet, you can find “a cinema, café, live music venue and art gallery,” while “the bottom floor holds the most unique feature of the building; the concrete ramp, mini ramp and street course.”

Companies Driving Retail Construction’s Future

retail construction industry - top companies

Not surprisingly, some retail construction firms are doing a stellar job grabbing hold of these opportunities. Which companies are driving retail construction? According to BDC, the top 5 performers include:

  1. PCL Construction Enterprises: $597,679,293
  2. VCC Construction: $497,753,319
  3. Whiting-Turner Contracting Co.: $459,159,319
  4. Shawmut Design and Construction: $441,400,000
  5. EMJ Corp.: $331,472,940

If you’re trying to catch up to retail construction giants, you can do so, as long as you follow the right trends. That means adopting the latest construction strategies and technologies, identifying the right opportunities and coming up with creative uses for reusable unoccupied space, and catering to the customer’s desire for convenience and experience all in one.

How to Excel in Retail Construction

Looking to learn the top tips for retail construction? We’ve got you covered, so download our ebook today!

Further Reading:  Construction Jobs: 5 Reasons Why You Should Start a Career in Construction

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.

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