Penciling out ICSC: Where are firms spending their money, and is it worth it?

By Katherine Clarke | May 20, 2013 09:00AM

Retail and other commercial real estate brokers have been busy scheduling meetings and gearing up to make deals at this year’s Las Vegas RECon, hosted by the International Council of Shopping Centers. For most, the event, which plays host to more than 1,000 developers, retailers and brokers over four days, doesn’t come cheap.

Firms and their brokers have been forking out big bucks to ensure that they make a splash at the event, which kicked off yesterday with a series of panels and workshops, including one discussion chaired by Douglas Elliman retail maven Faith Hope Consolo. The combined costs of booths, parties, flights and accommodations take a chunk out of the wallets of independent broker contractors, most of whom pay out for the cost of their own flights and contribute towards the cost of a booth for their firms.

But deals generated through their attendance at the conference make the upfront expense well worth it, brokers say.

“Annually, Marcus & Millichap can generate 25 percent to 30 percent of its annual retail sales business at the Las Vegas show,” said J.D. Parker, first vice president at the brokerage firm. “It’s by far our biggest and most productive show of the year.”

The national firm is taking a 50-foot by 100-foot booth at the event, which will be comprised of tables for meetings as well as private conference rooms located at the back of the space. Approximately 30 sales agents will attend from the firm’s New York City office, Parker said, while more than 250 others will come from the company’s national offices.

Meanwhile, commercial firms such as Lee & Associates and Meridian Capital Group are taking a 600-square-foot and a 20-by-40-foot booth, respectively, on the conference center’s leasing mall.

The space can be expensive, especially if the brokers aren’t members of ICSC. Space on the leasing mall can run up to $26 a square foot, according to the ICSC’s website; members of the organization can pick it up for the bargain price of $9.25 per square foot. The conference hall’s exhibit space totals over 1 million square feet in all.

Some companies will try to engage the conference’s attendees with food, drinks, mini-receptions and fun gimmicks, sources said.

Lee & Associates plans on making social media announcements, blasting e-invitations and doing product giveaways to drive traffic to its booth, said a spokesperson for the firm. While Jeffrey Roseman of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank wouldn’t give too much away, he said the company’s relationship with mobile casino gaming company Cantor Gaming would lead to some “neat Las Vegas-esque aspects” in its booth. Attendees will also have to drop by NGKF’s booth if they want to come to the firm’s party, since party-goers require a wristband they can only get at the booth, he said.

NGKF’s booth has been getting progressively bigger over the last few years, Roseman said, but he did not know its exact measurements.

“We keep taking over the space next to ours. It’s like Pac-Man,” he joked.

As for gimmicks, Eastern Consolidated’s Adelaide Polsinelli said she would applaud any company that provided “a chauffeured golf cart to drive through the exhibit hall, which spans over 3.2 million square feet.”

For some of the biggest property owners attending the conference, a booth is not necessary, Roseman said.

“Some are a lot more low-key,” he said, “because you have to come to them anyway. A lot of people that control an enormous amount of space don’t need all the bells and whistles.”

The costs associated with Lee & Associates’ booth and its party – a reception at the Culinary Drop Out restaurant at Las Vegas’ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino — are mostly committed by the firm’s agents, a spokesperson said. NGKF agents are paying for the price of their own travel and accommodation.

By contrast, Meridian Capital Group is covering all business-related expenses for its agents, including airfare, hotel, ICSC membership and conference admission, according to managing director Jonathan Stern.

ICSC is known for its all-out parties, and they can come with a hefty price tag.

“It’s not cheap,” said Parker of Marcus & Millichap’s Retail Trends-themed event at the Renaissance Las Vegas Hotel on Monday evening. “We’ll have over 1,000 people in attendance.”

All firms declined to comment on the exact expenditure for their events.