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Boston ICSC New England Conference & Deal Making Summary 2018

Posted by Diana Perry on Tue, Jul 24, 2018 @ 12:07 PM

As we flip-flop between the Boston Convention Center in the Seaport and The Hynes in the Back Bay for another Boston ICSC New England Conference and Deal Making show, one thing was clear – things they are a changin’. From session, Women in Real Estate finally making it to the main part of the show to a morning keynote about revitalizing local food systems, Millennials living in the suburbs, grocery stores modeling Amazon-Go, and hearing the word “fracking” a bizarre number of times, this year’s conference was different from any past Boston ICSC event.

Women in Real Estate Boston ICSC 2018

There were many offerings at Boston ICSC including two keynotes as well as a spotlight speaker, six concurrent sessions to choose from and 36 knowledgeable CRE professionals sharing their insights on the state of the industry today. Kicking off the show was the Women in Real Estate session where the crowd consisted of female AND male attendees (already something new, shocking, yet hell yeah-ing). Throughout the talk, women were encouraged to find their voice and “raise their hand” in all situations said, Brenna Jordan, Vice President and Senior Legal Counsel of CVS Health out of Woonsocket, RI – something that many women are sometimes hesitant to do in Real Estate.

One Mighty Mill Lynn_Page_21
The morning keynote was with the ever refreshing, Jon Olinto, co-founder of B.GOOD and CEO of One Mighty Mill out of Boston. Jon’s genuine yet passionate demeanor hit us like a shot of espresso first thing in the morning jump-starting our own desire for farm-to-table healthier food. Throughout his work with the fast-casual restaurant over 14 years and building the B.GOOD brand to 65 restaurants across the country, Jon realized that the missing link of farm-to-table was wholesome wheat and flour. He then started One Mighty Mill, making products from milled flour with tagline, “Wheat you can eat”. Flour has become so industrialized to cost-cut and maximize shelf-life, Jon explained, that all the plentiful vitamins and minerals have been stripped out. Jon bought up <7,000 SF> of space at 68 Exchange St. in Lynn, MA where he is building his very own boutique mill to grind up wheat grown in Linneus, ME keeping the fiber-rich bran the way Mother Nature intended it. His vision includes experience retail, “almost brewery-like” Jon said, in that there will be a viewing area to see and learn more about the wheat and flour process. Products ready at launch this September include bagels, pretzels and tortillas. Jon has created an amazing story behind a brand once already and I’m certain he’s on track for #2. Can’t wait to check out the experience retail concept and try the three products. Feel good about what you eat, right?! (Note, image sourced from Jon Olinto's presentation at Boston ICSC)

Grocery Trends Roche Bros ICSC Boston 2018
Moving from fast-casual to grocery, I was able to catch the Grocery Trends session with Arthur Ackles, Vice President, Buying and Merchandising of Roche Bros. out of Wellesley, MA. To Jon Olinto’s point, we all now want to know where our food is coming from – something that Roche Bros. has been working on too by carrying less processed food and even catering to more vegans. Arthur thinks that “healthy eating is not a trend, it is a way of life now” and envisions “going antibiotic-free which may take ten to twenty years but it’s a new way of thinking.” He did admit stores sizes will most likely continue to shrink as customers embrace the small convenient market and that customers are continuing to shop at multiple stores to get all of their products (mentioning Instacart and Shift – a two hour delivery service). I asked if Roche Bros. would embrace a similar model to that of Amazon Go (grab and go concept) and he chuckled but replied with a smile and said they will continue to embrace new technology but would always offer all kinds of checkout options to cater to different customer preferences…smart. Roche Bros.has recently launched their Brothers Marketplace, a neighborhood market featuring a handpicked selection of fresh foods, local products, prepared meals, and grocery essentials in Medfield, Waltham and Weston but I think their most notable location as of yet is their Downtown Crossing supermarket at 8 Summer St. Their brand redesign was circa 2015 and it's pretty impressive. The Downtown Crossing market photos were smattered all across their presentation including a beautiful, fun, sleek and bright build-out with with paintings, chalk-drawings, oversized brushed metal signage. It includes a huge cheese shop, chop shop, seafood area, sushi station, and an enchanting flower area with tinkerbelle lights and dark subway tile. There is also lounge seating through-out the entire store, how fun! (Note, image sourced from Arthur Ackles presentation from Boston ICSC)

Real Reporter Millennials photo

In modifying grocery stores for more millennial habits and adopting more technology, it brings us to the session, Into the Mindset of Millennials. Here, a panel of actual Millennials sat on stage talking about Millennials, something I don’t think many of us have ever seen before. There was an excellent mix of panelists including: Liz Berthelette, Director of Research of NAI Hunneman; Alan Kelly, Director of Leasing - Northeast of Waterstone Properties Group; Christina Attaway, Marketing & Social Media Manager of Urban Meritage/Avantage Newbury; and Nikki Crugnale, Owner of Gräem Nuts & Chocolate store in Concord, MA. Key take-aways included the actual diversification of Millennials based on living situations and family responsibilities, the utilization of technology and social media in learning about and searching for brands, and how Millennials are challenging retail in demanding more unique products and retailers with values that match their own. There was even note to more Millennial men utilizing social media like Instagram to learn about brands, making them more so buyers than in the past. Millennial men are being enticed by cool tech products, unique clothing and shoes and identifying with brands such as Yetti, Quip Toothbrush, Birddogs shorts, Airbird shoes, Vineyard Vines, Tom Ford and others. The session concluded with a fun rapid fire "This or That" where panelists answered their favorite between two brands. Brands and products mentioned included: Tatte Bakery, Starbucks, Lush beauty products, Rent the Runway, Google Home, Instagram, Night Shift, Harpoon, Whole Foods and Sketchers. (Note, photo credit Alexis Ahern of The Real Reporter)

Steve Weikal headshot from MIT CRE website
The spotlight feature presentation included a talk from Steve Weikal of the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab in Cambridge, MA about how innovation and technology are creating new business models, tools and startups. One interesting point he brought up was how companies are maximizing the use of space that would normally sit empty including conference rooms, cubicles, lab space, restaurants and others. It’s almost like the zip car concept, renting it when you need it on and off; Steve referred to it as “real estate fracking”. He noted, “It’s the use of assets being broken into smaller pieces and put back together in new ways that are more profitable”, mentioning WeWork and Airbnb. His sliders were chalk-full of new companies and brands shaking things up. It will be interesting to see what’s next but more importantly, how to be at the forefront of it all. (Note, image sourced from MIT Real Estate website.)

There were many other great sessions including The Future of Retail, Breaking Up the Big Box and others that I was not able to attend but heard good things. 

Fun Fact: 34% of Millennials in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree or higher, more than any other generation – Quoted in the Into the Mindset of Millennials presentation created by Liz Berthelette of NAI Hunneman 

Topics: ICSC, retail real estate, millennials, Boston ICSC 2018, CRE, grocery trends, women in real estate