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Deals & Dealmakers

Pandolfoʼs passion for learning channels retail evolution

Conventional wisdom dictates that most of us, in some way, shape, or form, are destined to “become our parents.” At least professionally, the same could be said for Jeff Pandolfo, director of leasing for The Shopping Center Group, who now finds himself tangentially mirroring the role of both his mother and father.

“My parents were both teachers. Maybe I was just rebelling, but I had no interest in anything education related,” said Pandolfo. “Technology is great, and is definitely the direction the industry is headed in. But you have to be able to use it effectively.

“The education that we provide to people is very critical, so I see myself in a bit of a teaching role. I laugh about it occasionally because of the fact that i did not see myself going down that path.”

Like many in real estate Pandolfo — who has been with the Shopping Center Group for five years and is now responsible for growth and expansion of the company’s Northeast operations — said the decision to enter the industry wasn’t exactly a part of his roadmap.

“I always had an interest in [real estate], but it was more from a design perspective,” said Pandolfo. “Oddly — and incorrectly — I wanted to be an architect. At a very young age, I realized that I have very limited artistic abilities and was probably not going to work.”

Instead, Pandolfo, after eschewing thoughts of pre-med, landed on studying economics at Yale — yet another aspect of his background which he says has reared its useful head in his current position.

“There seems to be more [correlation] now with data and technology, and I’m starting to see hints of my econ background coming into use,” he said. “It’s critical to be able to speak to development and property development, and accounting principals; understanding the acquisition process.”

At this stage in his career, according to Pandolfo — who has also held positions at L&M and Extell Development Company — it’s important to know a lot about a lot, not just to carry out his own job responsibilities, which are geared towards client services, but for the future of The Shopping Group Center, where he is now responsible for both recruiting and hiring new talent. Already, he said, the New York team has grown to double its previous employee count under his watch.

Pandolfo entered real estate straight out of college despite never working in the industry, a trajectory that shows up in his own thought process while hiring.

“I look for some experience, and not necessarily relevant experience, I like creativity and I like somebody who has displayed a work ethic,” he said. “For me, that’s one of the most difficult things. You can’t teach effort. We can help guide people to be successful in their careers as much as they want us to, but the effort has to be there.”

Whether it’s hiring or analytics, Pandolfo said his new role requires him to see the “big picture” and, from his perspective, which is focused primarily on the world of retail, forecasting is as important as ever. The game, Pandolfo said, is changing.

“The need for retailers to develop an omni-channel approach is much more apparent,” he said. “For those that are potentially impacted by e-commerce, experience is becoming really critical.” With online retail absorbing chunks of the market, Pandolfo said that brick and mortar retailers are not only tasked with selling a product, but reconfiguring their operations from a physical and ideological standpoint.

“Suburban markets in centers that used to have department stores at the 50-yard-line now suddenly have a movie theater there, which is a significant change in the way a consumer actually experiences the shopping centers,” he said.

As a result in the shifting market, many retailers are beginning to tailor their stores to accommodate experience, over purely a means to move a product from their shelves.

“[Retailers] are trying to keep the consumer there shopping,” he said. “And if the point of sale is not in-store, at least there’s a perception that brand is strengthened by having that location and the consumer may learn what they need to learn at the store speaking to an individual that they can’t interact with online.”

“The more successful tenants are the ones that are figuring that out.”

Pandolfo said as the retail industry goes through drastic changes, his role, and the role of his colleagues at the Shopping Center Group, change with it.

He stops just short of making any bold predictions about what the future has in store, but said he knows it will definitely require guidance — maybe not too far off from the type that an educator might provide.

“There’s so much happening that our role becomes that much more critical,” said Pandolfo. “For development deals, it’s never too early for us to be involved because we bring a level of expertise … and we’re really working with the client to create the best possible product. That level of analysis is going to remain important going forward.”

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