Monday, March 22, 2010

Interview: Mr. Ian Thomas, Chairman of Thomas Consultants

Thomas Consultants Inc. is a consulting firm that specializes in providing optimal retail development strategies for: Retail Projects and Shopping Centers; Downtown Retail Precincts; Resort Retailing and Master Planning; Airports and Cruise Ship Facilities, as well as Transit Nodes and other large-scale Mixed-Use Development.
Thomas Consultants‘ head office is based in Vancouver, Canada, with additional offices in both Korea and Australia. The firm is recognized as a leader in the strategic planning of retail facilities in a wide range of project types, including shopping centers, street retail districts, resort villages, master-planned communities, urban entertainment centers, airport and cruise ship terminals, and transit-oriented development projects.
The firm is currently engaged in major retail planning assignments in over 50 countries around the world. Through its international project exposure and Chairman Ian Thomas’ leading role in the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Annual International Design & Development Awards, the company has the ability to share global innovations and leading edge concepts with its clients. This allows its clients, who include the world’s leading shopping center developers, owners, operators and designers, to adopt the most current ideas and strategies and ensure success in their retail projects.
The company is also affiliated with Brisbane-based Foresight Partners, who specialize in economic and development advisory services in the Australia and New Zealand region. Its firms collaborate to provide clients specialized expertise and strategic input on a variety of real estate development issues.
Thomas Consultants has been instrumental in adding value to numerous key retail, entertainment, resort and mixed use projects around the world. Its input as Development Strategists is particularly relevant during the planning process, where the company ensures that such a development, with its key retail, entertainment and food/beverage elements, is not only truly matched to the market and so works optimally in practice, but also includes the points of difference that are critical for success in today’s competitive environment.
Identifying the most appropriate market niches, opportunities and sizing for these strategic elements is imperative. In addition, we take this strategic vision right down to a detailed tenant mix plan, as well as identifying the most appropriate retailers and operators for each of the project’s major components or zones. This creates a blueprint for guiding the leasing team in securing official interest from target retail, entertainment, and food & beverage tenants. Thomas Consultants are not agents, but work on a very complementary basis with most major leasing firms. Our exposure to leading edge developers (many are our clients) is instrumental in identifying new retail concepts and formats.
Mr. Ian Thomas, Chairman of Thomas Consultants, sits on the Board of Trustees of the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) and its Educational Foundation in New York. Through this vehicle the company has exposure and contact to a myriad of international retail operators, developers and investors. He also is the Chairman of ICSC’s International Design & Development Awards which evaluates and judges the world’s best new shopping centers. With this background and international network, the firm experiences leading edge ideas first hand.
In an exclusive interview, Ian Thomas noted that Korea is now a major focus for the firm. Thomas Consultants Korea is a major office where it employs a staff of approximately 20 professionals. Its client base is wide and varied and includes such major institutions as: Daewoo Motor Sales Co.; Doosan Construction; Dosi and Saram; GS Retail; Hyundai Corporation; Lotte Group; Samsung Group; Shinsegae Group; SK Group; and Taubman Asia.
At Thomas Consultants, we pride ourselves on creating unique strategies that assist our clients in realizing the greatest value from their development opportunity. By incorporating the latest principles in place making and master planning, we help the world’s leading developers, architects and urban planners craft innovative strategies that allow them to create unique points of difference necessary to thrive in today’s competitive environment,” he said.
He said the company realizes that the retail industry is in a constant state of transformation. New retail concepts are continually being introduced at a dizzying pace. Through its international exposure, the company is able to share the latest ideas and trends that are being introduced worldwide.
Undoubtedly one of the major changes in the retail industry is the diffusion of lifestyle concepts through the market. Open air lifestyle centers are rapidly being adopted on a global scale and their introduction has brought a major shift in consumer expectations. Thomas Consultants has been at the forefront of this change and today the vast majority of our work involves planning strategies for multi-purpose and mixed-use destinations.
We are actively engaged in assignments that propose new open air lifestyle centers, urban entertainment centers, downtown revitalization projects, mixed use town centers and transit oriented developments. The exposure to such a wide variety of project types, in both mature and emerging markets, enables us to leverage our expertise in creating living, breathing retail environments that are at the heart of livable and sustainable communities.”
Since the company’s inception over 30 years ago, it has continually been at the forefront of creating retail development strategies for recreational destinations. The resort retail industry has experienced a boom in recent years as developers are looking beyond residential property and recreational infrastructure development to diversify their revenue streams.
Thomas Consultants continues to push the boundaries on the resort front by helping our clients find innovative strategies that create truly special places. With a long list of leading beach, golf, and ski resort clients around the world, we have the experience and expertise to make your resort retail development stand the test of time,” he said.
In addition to its core consulting services, Thomas Consultants also has the ability to produce in-house marketing documents. These promotional documents empower our clients to maximize their new development’s exposure by communicating the key project highlights through a visually effective medium. Customized content including charts, tables and graphics can also be created and tailored to lend an extra degree of professionalism to the document.
Our tailored promotional documents are designed to efficiently communicate the development opportunity and have helped many of our clients attract prospective retailers and/or joint development partners.”
Through decades of research, the company has assembled an extensive library of research materials including project profiles on many of the leading retail centers around the world, he noted.
Speaking on the impact of the global economic crisis, he noted that the whole world has been affected by the financial meltdown. However, countries like the representing BRIC and Korea are quickly emerging from this crisis – in fact, several have come through almost unscathed. An excellent barometer is retail sales volume and with department store sales growing by almost 8% in the last quarter, it demonstrates the optimism and robust nature of the Korean consumer.
The shopping center industry has been around for 60 years. Tried and proven principles have emerged on how to develop a truly successful center. The world is rapidly globalizing, particularly accentuated by the expansion of major international retailers into new countries and sub-markets. As such, a global development platform is emerging. If Korea hopes to attract significant foreign direct investment, it must follow the global principles of development,” he said.
On the opportunities for Korea, he noted that the country is strategically located to participate in the overall boom occurring in the Asian region. With the exception of Japan, most Asian countries are enjoying strong growth, particularly China. Some of these economies have been somewhat self-contained, eg. India, but with greater prosperity occurring there is greater resulting fluidity as well. Korea has a real opportunity to participate in this upswing dynamic,” he said.