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Tech company leads storefront renaissance in Canada, U.S.

by Neil Sharma on 30 May 2019

Brick and mortar shopfronts have been e-commerce’s greatest casualty—there have already been more store closures in 2019 than all of 2018 combined—but an innovative technology company is reversing the trend and, in the process, taking North America by storm.

FrontRunner Technologies installs content reels on vacant commercial unit windows as a way to generate interest in the property, but also to help landlords and brokerages determine who their target tenant should be. Nathan Elliot, founder of FrontRunner, says that by installing its WindowFront Matrix and sharing 5% of the advertising revenue with landlords or brokerages, his company in effect partners with them.

“We arm brokers and landlords with new real time data where they can log into the storefront dashboard and they can see, in locomotion, outside of said space,” said Elliot. “We use Impression Data: About 85% of people walk around us with their WiFi enabled on their cell phones and we can use that to determine the number of people walking by that installation or empty space. Secondly, we use Computer Vision, which is a pinhole camera that remains anonymous and that allows us to do a demographic profile, traffic counts and an array of different variables that arm the real estate group with data they didn’t previously have. We augment our value proposition through the analytics and the creation of no-cost content for the landlord or broker.”

FrontRunner builds the content for the landlord or brokerage that enlists its services in what amounts to the future of marketing.

“We’re in this new dawn of retail and we’re seeing a renaissance take place,” continued Elliot. “In many respects, retailers that had their birthright online are now coming into brick and mortar, but basing their decisions on what they know online, which is big data.”

The installations feature advertisements—10% of a window’s content advertises the real estate group responsible for the property—art, film or the news—FrontRunner recently brought aboard Bloomberg as a client and features 45 pieces of news content a day—and provide social capital as well, like Amber alerts and other public safety messages.

The proliferation of empty retail space has been a disquieting development for landlords everywhere, including in Manhattan where the vacancy rates sits at 15%. That companies like BMW, Scotiabank, Proximo Spirits, Ritual, Nike and Porsche are some of FrontRunner’s advertiser clients, and that its services are used by Cushman & Wakefield, Colliers, RioCan, Avison Young and others, indicates that an array of stakeholders are confident in this countermeasure to rising vacancies.

“By adding light, motion and vibrancy to these spaces, it’s adding new awareness that these spaces are for lease and we’re finding with attribution that FrontRunner is leading to quicker turnaround times for vacant spaces, not only here in Toronto but in New York City, which is where we’re launching as our main platform in the U.S.,” said Elliot.

According to New York-based Sean Moran, senior director of retail services at Cushman & Wakefield, the data FrontRunner is able to extract from its installations can be used to convince clients to tour locations in which they would otherwise have little interest.

“We have a prominent Fifth Ave. location where FrontRunner installed their technology. It was only up for a month, but using that month of data, we were able to convince a group that currently has a temporary experiential flagship location in SoHo, and wants to relocate either within SoHo or to the Meatpacking District, to visit our location,” said Moran. “We were the only other location they included on their tour of five sites based on the data we could provide. They didn’t look at anything else on Fifth Ave. other than our site.”

Moran added that FrontRunner’s value proposition is two-pronged:

“One, you’re helping arm your brokerage team with information that helps them sell better to prospective tenants and, two, you’re activating your space and being paid to do so, as opposed to having static leasing signs or brown paper on the windows. It’s drawing more eyeballs to the space and you’re being paid for your real estate while it sits vacant, albeit at a smaller percentage, but it’s better than the space sitting vacant.”

FrontRunner is launching the WindowFront App, on which brokers can upload vacant retail spaces information, manage approvals and receive payouts, in addition to monitoring real time analytics.

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