The results indicate some significant, positive changes compared to last year's Levin Management mid-year survey:
At mid-year 2012, 64.2 percent of respondents reported the same or higher sales volume compared to this time last year; 35.7 percent reported lower sales. At mid-year 2011, 50.1 percent of respondents reported the same or higher sales; 49.8 percent reported lower sales.
At mid-year 2012, 62.9 percent of respondents said traffic is the same or higher than at this time last year; 36.9 percent said that fewer consumers are visiting their stores. At mid-year 2011, only 50.4 percent of respondents reported the same or higher traffic; 49.4 percent said that traffic was slower.
"This is real, tangible progress," noted Matthew K. Harding, Levin Management's president and chief operating officer. "Last year, we saw a 50/50 split. Half our tenants were experiencing satisfactory sales performance, and the other half had discouraging sales and store traffic. While 2012's results show we still have a way to go, the numbers clearly have gotten better."
Year-over-year national retail sales performance supports this claim. The U.S. Census Bureau's advance monthly retail and food services sales report for May 2012 (released June 13) showed a 5.3 percent gain from May 2011. Month-to-month comparisons do indicate a slight dip in national retail sales during April and May 2012, following an extended period of modest gains. Yet looking at the timeframe of March through May 2012, retail and food services sales were up 5.7 percent year over year.
Hiring and expansion plans within Levin's tenant base follow this positive trajectory. Although retail employment growth has been modest, 26.2 percent of survey respondents reported increasing staff since January 1, 2012, and 36.1 percent expect to hire more employees in the next six months. The figures are up from last year's 12.6 percent and 26.7 percent, respectively. Additionally, 27.5 percent indicated that their companies will open more stores this year.
Ultimately, Levin Management's mid-year 2012 survey captured a general feeling of optimism among retail tenants, according to Harding. More than nine out of 10 respondents (91.4 percent) feel that the second half of 2012 will see sales remain at the same level or improve; only 8.5 percent expect sales to decrease. A notable number, 28.1 percent, reported higher inventory levels than one year ago. Promotional pricing and markdowns continue to be a key to overall retail marketing: 43.1 percent of respondents said that these strategies are even more important today than one year ago.
"The results of our latest survey point to moderate but steady improvement. In short, our respondents feel good about the direction that their industry is headed, and the retail sales figures released by the government earlier this week bear them out," Harding noted.
Holidays and Impact of the Economy
In addition to its annual mid-year survey, Levin Management also conducts surveys prior to and after the winter holidays, tracking retailer expectations and actual performance. The positive mid-year 2012 results are in keeping with the most recent post-holiday findings.
In January, 71.2 percent of survey respondents reported that their 2011 holiday season traffic was the same or better compared to 2010. Nearly three-quarters of respondents - 73.1 percent - reported seasonal sales at the same or better level than in 2010. Levin Management's 2012 mid-year survey also asked tenants about their Memorial Day sales volume. The findings are slightly lower, but still in keeping with post-holiday results; 59.4 percent reported the same or higher sales compared to last year.
"The big Memorial Day Sales period is an important retail indicator," Harding noted. "Shoppers are still looking for value, so when they're offered sale prices we hope to see them reaching for their wallets."
What factors are impacting store traffic and sales? It comes as little surprise that a vast majority (65.9 percent) of the managers who responded to Levin Management's mid-year 2012 survey pointed to the economy as the main driver affecting traffic. Fewer reported unseasonable warmth (21.0 percent) and gasoline prices (13.0 percent) as influencing the number of shoppers visiting their stores. And among those who chose the economy, more than half (52.3 percent) reported that the impact was negative; only 11.9 percent cited the economy as beneficial.
Survey Respondents Report Internet Had Little Negative Impact
For the first time, Levin Management's mid-year 2012 survey also polled tenants about the impact of Internet sales on their businesses. The majority (60.6 percent) reported no effect, while 26.8 percent said the Internet was a positive influence. Only 12.5 percent said that e-commerce is having a negative impact on store sales.
"In the face of all we read about the growth of internet sales, we found this result to be very interesting,"
Harding also shared a number of factors that may have reduced Internet shopping impact. "Many Internet marketing and mobile campaigns are driving traffic to the stores," he said. "In addition, shoppers are not as pressured during spring and summer months as in the traditional winter holiday gift-giving season, and many people still view bricks-and-mortar stores as an integral part of their shopping experience."
With headquarters in North Plainfield, N.J., Levin Management serves properties ranging from neighborhood, community, lifestyle and power centers, to enclosed malls, downtown stores and mixed-use projects in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida. Celebrating its 60th year in 2012, Levin Management offers a full range of services including leasing, property management, accounting, construction management and marketing. The company specializes in repositioning, retenanting and renovating retail properties - areas that have become particularly vital for today's institutional, fiduciary and individual property owners. The firm's REO practice has been increasingly busy of late.