Design 3 International (D3i) was founded by three accomplished designers with more than 60 years of award-winning architectural design experience. The Principals of D3i, Simon Sykes, Jim Baeck, and William Lopez, have worked on five continents and designed everything from spectacular mixed-use projects to memorable retail destinations, and from dynamic entertainment-anchored concepts to high-end resorts and residential communities.
Baeck and Sykes, along with D3i’s Director of Marketing, MJ Dame, joined Megan Bozman of Pugh & Tiller PR for a discussion on how COVID-19 has impacted the firm’s marketing and business plans.
Adjusting Marketing during COVID-19?
Dame: We’ve been lucky to find new opportunities that we never considered and probably wouldn’t have if we hadn’t experienced COVID-19. For example, tenant improvement opportunities that involve reconfiguring spaces, provisions for outdoor seating, and allowing social distancing. Although we’ve previously done a lot of that, it’s something we never thought to mention as a distinct service, and now it’s becoming a core service for us.
Things are Upside Down
Sykes: One of the really interesting things that’s arrived from all of this is that, for years, as retail architects we’re asked to look at new storefront designs, and ‘what-if’ scenarios. While we do that, we never listed it as an explicit service. It was just a part of what we do. However, we’re in the retail, entertainment, and restaurant business, which has, of course, been dramatically affected by COVID-19. Tenants have requested studies to repurpose space. Things have been all upside down with new tenants coming in to vacated spaces.
One significant thing that happened was we received requests to study how to get people back to properties as the restrictions began to be relaxed. What do we do to introduce more, expanded outside experiences? Restaurants, initially, could seat patrons outside only, and now, in some states, can operate at only 50% capacity indoors. We’re exploring how to both expand and improve outdoor dining experiences, for example, converting parallel parking spaces into new dining areas. Rather than just putting a few more tables and chairs outdoors, we want to help our clients make it a renewed, interesting experience and bring in all the levels of whimsy that make people want to come back.
There have been studies on such renovations to the urban realm. For the last few months, many ideas have been implemented to get people to return. We’ve even designed a very popular drive-in movie theater atop a parking deck which generates revenue even during the lockdown. Easton Town Center has created a “sunset series drive-in” offering to-go food from the many Easton restaurants.
Clearly Articulating Value of Existing Services: Tenant Repositioning Design Packages
Baeck: The spatial needs of tenants are changing. Creative solutions and collaboration between landlords, retailers, restaurateurs, and architects are essential to adjust to this new reality and make customers feel safe and eager to return to retail centers.
The services Simon [Sykes] has been providing are things we’ve always done as part of master planning and overall design. D3i has expertise in addressing the dynamic spatial needs of commercial mixed-use environments. We can help landlords and tenants of retail centers work collectively on reshaping their properties to navigate the “next normal.”
D3i delivers design solutions balancing the needs of the brands and the retail centers, while simultaneously creating inspired and exciting experiential environments to enhance the customer experience. Our Tenant Repositioning Design Packages help developers navigate the process of lease reconfigurations.
Meeting Unrecognized Needs
Baeck: Some clients may not have realized the additional value we added. In some respects, the marketing is showing developers that there’s value in these services, and they might currently have a need that they don’t realize. Hopefully, it will start some conversations.
Sykes: We don’t just design environments, we help our clients find solutions. As interior designers, we work with people and provide these services, although we’ve never targeted this message before. Now we’re working to promote this new package to let them know. Many leases are being renegotiated. Some restaurants are expanding out while retailers retract, and such shifts will define the next six to 12 months.
Companies That Will Fare Well Are Those That Expand Marketing
Baeck: We’ve been fortunate to work on big projects, and those may now be delayed a bit. In the interim, we’re concentrating on marketing these targeted services which we’ve never broken out as distinct services. That’s where a lot of our work will be. We’ve published new marketing collateral, promoted our Tenant Repositioning Design Packages on social media, and sent to current clients and those we know may have that need.
Dame: Often with layoffs, marketing pros are the first to go, whereas D3i has taken the opposite approach and directed additional energy to marketing efforts. We’ve joined online sessions and reviewed content on how others are accommodating the shift, which has been enormously helpful. Companies that will fare well out of this are those that have not only maintained marketing but doubled down on their efforts. Rather than waiting until the next shoe drops, successful companies are actively seeking new opportunities and carefully conducting targeted marketing.
The Movement to Pedestrianize Streets
Sykes: Across all urban projects, there’s a movement to pedestrianize and close down streets, not just for seating. Creating more pedestrian areas may well continue after the pandemic.
Benefits of Slowing Down
Dame: The irony is we’re able to have better conversations now because things have slowed down, compared to the frenetic pace we were used to. People can go through their inbox to see new opportunities or answer a phone call from a vendor or consultant.
Sykes: Many organizations are always too busy to do the marketing, which is a double-edged sword. Now, we’re able to pick up the marketing pace and it’s been beneficial. We’ve probably had more marketing conversations over the last several weeks than the last 12 months.
When Do You See the Economy Re-Opening?
Dame: We work internationally and working remotely is something we’ve been doing for years, so we haven’t missed a beat in that respect. It’s rare that we’re in the same room or state as our clients. However, some countries have not been hit nearly as hard as the US, China, or Spain. While it’s not quite status quo, there’s been less deviation in some markets we work in.
Sykes: The US is slowly opening up, but I think in other parts of the world, we’re performing the same services. Our work in Central America has been continual.
Some are Viewing This as A Year Sabbatical and Survival Mode
Sykes: When the pandemic first started, some businesses were viewing it as a year sabbatical. Everything done in the next 12 months will be mitigation protocol to make things right in these microcosms, but in terms of big picture development and new projects, our developer clients expect the next 12 to 18 months to be spent in survival mode.
Supporting Clients in Any Way
Dame: Our function is to support our clients, whether they’re flying high or troubled. We’re sensitive to their needs and strive to be supportive to them throughout the pandemic. Yes, we’re all in this together and our success is their success.