European vacation

Retail brokers go globe-trotting, use other strategies to find foreign clients

May.May 01, 2012 07:00 AM

Lansco’s Robin Abrams in Barcelona
A flood of foreign retailers opened stores in New York in recent years, feeding off the city’s record tourism numbers. And for retail brokers, the race is still on to find chic international brands interested in launching Manhattan outposts.

To do that, many real estate professionals will scout for overseas clients this month at the industry’s largest global event, the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual real estate convention in Las Vegas. But many overseas retailers — especially those that don’t yet have a presence in the U.S. — won’t be at the show.

So some determined brokers are going to them, with trips to Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Last month, for example, veteran retail broker Robin Abrams pounded the pavement on a 10-day trip to Frankfurt, Barcelona and Lisbon, hunting for potential stores to bring to New York.

In an e-mail from Barcelona, Abrams told The Real Deal she’d identified 30 to 40 brands ripe for a U.S. expansion. At one store, the manager told her the company was already looking for a New York location.

To find leads on the trip — which was part business, part vacation —Abrams headed not only to the top shopping districts in major cities, but to lesser-known areas.

“Most cities have their streets with Chanel, Gucci and Louis Vuitton,” wrote Abrams, an executive vice president at Lansco. “But I like to find the high-end retail that is unique to that city.”

Meanwhile, French-born Bertrand de Soultrait, a sales associate at SCG Retail, travels to Cannes in the south of France each fall to find clients at the global MAPIC retail conference.

He’s currently representing Sushi Shop, a French restaurant selling traditional Japanese fare, and Thailand-based beauty products retailer Mt. Sapola in the hunt for space in New York City.

But it doesn’t always take an overseas trip to land a foreign retailer as a client.

Laura Pomerantz, principal at commercial firm PBS Real Estate, said she finds international clients by mining contacts from investment banking and venture capital firms. A contact at the midtown-based advisory firm Financo, for example, put her in touch with British clothing designer AllSaints.

Soultrait said one of his favorite tricks is staying in touch with French immigration lawyers. That’s because foreign retailers opening stores in New York need attorneys to help them get visas.

Through lawyers, Soultrait said, he “gets the lead at the first step.”

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