We talked to Najla Kayyem of Pacific Retail Capital Partners about its retail-led properties and the effects of COVID-19.
Tell us about you and your career.
Najla Kayyem: I am at my best when I take charge and can lead a team through a crisis. I’m an authentic, unapologetic, and versatile communicator who thrives in a connected world. With two decades of experience as a commercial real estate marketing executive, working for firms such as Related Companies, Caruso, Westfield, and RED Development, I’ve successfully launched, marketed, and managed some of the largest mixed-use developments and landmark consumer real estate projects in the nation. I joined Pacific Retail Capital Partners in 2015 to lead the strategic marketing and communications for the firm and its growing portfolio of assets.
How does Pacific Retail Capital Partners innovate?
Najla Kayyem: Our people are at our core. We trust their expertise and eliminate roadblocks to let them fly. Above all, we value accountability and timely, transparent communication with our investors, employees, and guests. That’s how we are able to see the big picture but also drill down to the tiniest detail. We design a thoughtful and results-oriented vision for each property then work proactively to deliver on that comprehensive master plan. We lead the modern retail revolution by pioneering customized strategies, embracing cultural shifts, and integrating digital advancements that serve our consumers. Our teams consistently exceed industry expectations by operating with the highest standards, being recognized as industry leaders, and embracing data.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Najla Kayyem: Aside from the pandemic, retail real estate has undergone a structural dislocation driven by consumer preferences, the internet, and lifestyle changes. Retail has also been one of the hardest-hit real estate sectors since stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March. A new economy formed overnight as this virus completely transformed the business and marketing strategy for many landlords and developers. During this rapidly changing and fluid situation, the Pacific Retail team mobilized immediately and developed a communication strategy around three main phases to this global pandemic response, Safety, Living, and Re-emergence. We moved through each phase at a different pace and for a variety of time, depending on what part of the country we were doing business in.
On the programming side, we have embraced and introduced a hybrid of virtual and IRL community events like drive-in movie and concert series, CosmeCon: a cosmetics and skincare virtual summit, and outdoor popup markets back into our operating platform. Bringing people together safely and community engagement is a back to basics staple.
The coronavirus pandemic accelerated trends already pushing retailers to the edge. We know we’re going to come out of this with fewer retailers and shopping districts, but the brands and assets who will survive and thrive in a post-pandemic retail world will be the brands and assets delivering innovative and meaningful retail and leisure by rising to the new demands within physical shops, integrating digital and offering excellent services or products.
What are the pandemic era lessons learned?
Najla Kayyem: The real estate market fluctuates, but our energy and enthusiasm are unwavering. Pioneering new ways to animate spaces and engage consumers are ever-evolving challenges we embrace. We’ve built a reputation for innovation and creativity with international award-winning marketing initiatives and special events. The pandemic required our team to plan, pivot, plan, and pivot again. The only constant was change.
Our business structure rewards nimbleness. Pacific Retail marketing teams quickly reassessed business plans and recognized the increase in consumer screen time as an opportunity to connect people virtually.
Within a weekend, we shifted away from decades of traffic-driving marketing and placemaking programming to a digital strategy centered on ensuring our employees, customers, and our immediate communities were protected, informed, and celebrated; and that our retailers could continue to transact.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Najla Kayyem: I’ve become a believer in the “always on” mindset as a marketer; because that’s how consumers and smartphones operate. I take time to decompress when I need to. I handle pressure pretty well, usually head-on. In fact, some of my best work has occurred in adversarial times or when I have “too much on my plate.” I try to eat a clean diet, follow stoic principles, take a time out to do hot yoga a few days a week, get decent sleep, and remind myself that I can’t control everything.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Najla Kayyem: We have a nationwide footprint with a world view perspective. We know this industry inside and out, and because of that, we are the preferred operating partner for institutional investors, developers, and special servicing groups. That’s why we’re as bold as we are approachable and collaborative.
We are strategizing many moves ahead, anticipating opportunities, navigating potential roadblocks, and creating thoughtful solutions that keep our assets and partners ahead of the curve. We are also 100% at the moment – evaluating, listening, prioritizing, and taking decisive action. This foundation of foresight and presence makes Pacific Retail a game-changer in acquisitions, master-planning, repositioning/redevelopment, leasing, marketing, and management.
Your final thoughts?
Najla Kayyem: For innovative retail owners and managers, there is an opportunity to acquire select, exceptionally located properties at discounted prices and unlock value through an integrated strategy of master planning, parcellation, densification, and localized marketing. Shoppers seek out environments where they can connect, engage, and gather in a safe place and space. Truly transforming retail centers into high-performing, well-planned, mixed-use experiential districts that draw in shoppers, add vitality to a local community, and become regional destinations is the key to long-term stability and value creation.
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