Written by The Business Journal Staff
Name: Michael F. Strle, SCSM (Senior Certified Shopping Center Manager)
Title: Senior Property Manager
What you do: Manage Fashion Fair Mall
Education: Bachelor of Science, San Jose State University
Family: Single, 3 grown daughters
How did you come to your position with Fashion Fair Mall, Michael?
That’s an interesting question. I actually had worked for Macerich in 1980 for 3 years and left them for more responsibility and experience in the industry. I had made great friends and left on good terms and throughout my career followed what they were doing and kept in contact with some of their managers who still work there! I have always helped my fellow industry professionals when they were looking for a change and when I heard they were looking for a manager for the New Santa Monica Place, I called a friend who lived in Palos Verdes and let him know about the job. He is now the senior manager there and they are opening the renovated and expanded property in September with Nordstrom. So, when I had my fill of commercial brokerage companies in the Bay Area and wanted to get back to single-asset retail, I let a search firm know that I was looking. Within 2 weeks, I had interviewed and accepted the position here in Fresno. It truly is great to be back in retail, full time!
What renovations or developments are currently taking place, Michael?
Fashion Fair Mall is 40 years old this year! That is an incredible track record for a traditional enclosed mall. The center attracts over a million people a month on average and that kind of traffic puts a tremendous stress on the infrastructure of a property. So, this year we are in a lighting retrofit that will reduce our electrical consumption by nearly 20% and provide better lighting. We will be doing some major asphalt/parking lot work this summer and some roofing work to repair some chronic leaks that the roof has experienced.
Briefly describe your background in real estate?
I have been in this business over 30 years. I have developed more than $100 million dollars worth of projects during my career and been a partner in three property management companies during that time. I built two property management companies from the ground up and one in the Bay Area to be the 4th largest third-party management firm. All very gratifying and successful ventures, but my passion for retail and seeing the tenants do well never went away.
What potential do you foresee for Forever 21 when it opens up in the former Gottschalks location, Michael?
I think it will be terrific addition to Fashion Fair when it opens in the fourth quarter of this year! For an inline tenant to grow into a major department store is a great study in contrasts. I can’t think of any who have done it in my career. There have been department stores that have taken labels and specialty departments and spun them off to be in-line stores but this reversal is very complex and interesting. The NEW Forever 21 will have men’s and a much larger offering of plus sizes in addition to much deeper merchandise offering in the brands that have made them so successful. We can’t wait for them to open and see what adjustments they have made as they continue to open up these large store formats.
How many vacancies does the mall have and what incentives are being offered to fill those, Michael?
The mall actually has very few vacancies and the real question is what tenants and merchandise categories do WE need at the property to compliment our current mix, then turn the leasing professionals loose to go get them. From my perspective we need another family restaurant that has a moderate pricing structure, a women’s apparel retailer such as Martin + Osa and an additional plus-size woman’s apparel retailer to compliment Macy’s Woman. We encourage the Fresno community to share any retailers they want to see at the mall via our Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/ShopFashionFair.
Is consumer activity picking up at the mall since last year and what is the outlook for the year ahead, Michael?
Customer counts are down slightly however, sales in general are up.
The categories that are down typically are discretionary goods and spending, however the apparel and restaurants are trending up through April. The property hosts over a million people a month and in this economic environment, that is still phenomenal and we are very thankful for it.
How is the retail environment at Fashion Fair and Fresno different than in the Bay Area, Michael?
I don’t think it is that different in the case of goods and services. What I see in my short tenure here in Fresno is that there is not a lot of serious competition under one roof such as we have. Our center hosts some of the best labels, merchandise and restaurants in the retail arena all under one roof and climate controlled. The center’s performance surprises most people in that the Central Valley is not considered a retail hot spot however, the customer thinks differently and spends a lot on those goods and services.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it, Michael?
Hmmmm, my first job. My first job was cutting grass for the people in the neighborhood. It taught me responsibility, attention to detail and people skills. It also taught me that preventative maintenance on machines was essential after I ran my father’s lawn mower out of oil and had to replace the engine!
Who has been your mentor and what did you learn from him/her, Michael?
I have been blessed with many mentors and bosses over the years. Each had their strength’s and weaknesses but all were successful in their respective positions. I took away a little from each and forged my own style and it seems to have worked. I think the one area that continues to work for me and contributes to my success is the ability to always learn and adopt new ideas and philosophies. Every property is different and has its own personality. The way you adapt to it determines how successful it will be!
What do you do in your spare time, Michael?
I have a number of diverse hobbies and activities that I like to do. I like to fish in both streams and lakes, ride my motorcycle and explore new areas along the coast and the mountains. I have a show motorcycle so I enjoy going to bike and car shows. I am an old school fan of drag racing so I like to go to local races and watch the gear heads compete in racing….