It may not be in the retail trenches helping customers find the right dress for an event, recommending good reads for a summer vacation or guiding them to aisle three for cereal, but R.H. Ledbetter Properties still plays a big part in retailers’ successes. As a developer, owner and operator of 1.8 million square feet of commercial properties across Georgia, Tennessee and Indiana, Ledbetter Properties knows that the behind-the-scenes decision it makes affects retail performance at the register.
“Our customers are the retailers, not the consumers, and our objective is to make our retailers happy,” explains COO E. Wright Ledbetter of the family owned company. “We view them as our business partners, so we work closely with retailers to make sure we are providing them with the best business environment for their needs so they can find success conducting their business.”
In the past few years, while retailers have suffered from poor sales because of diminishing disposable incomes, Ledbetter Properties has had to become even more creative in helping retailers maintain business. Fortunately, it has the resources to pull it off as a turnkey developer.
“Our typical strategy is to build and retain,” Ledbetter says. “We manage our properties and keep them leased up and well-maintained. We are a long-term investor. We’re not building and then selling to a faceless, nameless institution or fund. We are here. We are accessible. And we are successful when our retailers are successful.”
So if that means refurbishing and renovating existing properties or looking at new markets, Ledbetter Properties is ready to adapt and tackle the property challenges retailers are having today. The result could be breaking down boxes and right-sizing them for multiple retailers, such as taking a 25,000-square-foot space for an electronics store down to 15,000 square feet. Or perhaps it takes working on single-tenant spaces instead of the multi-retail developments Ledbetter Properties typically works on. Whatever the issue, Ledbetter Properties does its best to develop a solution.
And in times when a retailer’s fate is out of control – i.e., the unfortunate tales of stores such as Circuit City, Borders or Goody’s – Ledbetter Properties is quick to redevelop spaces and attract new tenants.
“We actually had three Goody’s in our portfolio and it took us less than a year to fill all three of them up, which is wonderful,” Ledbetter explains. “So to the extent that we can deploy additional capital to help tenants retrofit spaces, we will do that. Those successes along the way have been vital to our overall success today and our occupancy rate right now, which is well into 93-plus percent.”
During the market downturn, Ledbetter Properties never laid off a single person and was able to stay busy and keep employees engaged. As the economy begins to pick up, Ledbetter says retail development will pick up, as well. It has five ground-up projects on the boards that could foreseeably start within the next two years.
It has a steady stream of redevelopment projects, including the recent acquisition of a project in East Point, Ga. The development will involve 154,000 square feet for a major retailer, an additional 20,000 square feet of shopping space and four outparcels for restaurants or service providers.
“We were especially attracted to this property because of the market need for more retail and services.” Ledbetter explains. “We have a good relationship with the anchor tenant for this project and all other potential users of this site. Right now, we’re trying to match the right retailers with this market. It will bring new retail, new jobs and tax revenue to East Point.”
The company is also working to add significant value to a project it recently acquired in the North Chattanooga, Tenn., market. Ledbetter says the 50,000-square-foot anchor tenant is an “exciting national retailer that would become a major regional draw.” Ledbetter Properties is under negotiations with another 50,000-square-foot national anchor retailer for one of its retail centers in Rome, Ga.
“I would say that the complexion of retailers that we’re working with has changed in a positive way in the last year,” Ledbetter says. “We know there is a possibility for an increased number of opportunities going forward. However, we are still cautiously optimistic as the greater macroeconomic climate continues to improve. If housing and jobs continue to improve, these factors will fuel retailer expansion so we watch those trends closely.”
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