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Tech-Enabled Brokerage Truss Expands into Retail Real Estate

Chicago-based leasing marketplace Truss has always had a knack for helping those that large leasing agencies overlook. They started out by offering their service, which includes a digital assistant capable of completing the entire leasing process, to business owners looking to rent office spaces under 10,000 square feet. This smaller spaces have always received less attention and marketing spend than their bigger counterparts so, understandably, Truss grew quickly in the space. When 3D tours started to get integrated into the marketing mix of luxury apartments and large office listings, Truss partnered with Matterport to bring that same technology to the small office spaces on its platform.

Now, Truss is aiming to help another under-loved segment of the real estate leasing ecosystem, retail. Renting space to a retailer has always been risky. The turnover rate is high and the cost to unbuild the tenant improvements that many stores require can be expensive. Many leasing firms specialize in retail because they know that retail leases have their own set of idiosyncrasies like percentage rents. This is especially true recently as the glut of retail space is growing thanks to the closure of big-box stores like Toys ‘R Us. Truss is bringing their digital assistant, transparent price tool and 3D walkthrough capabilities to retailers including boutique retailers, coffee shops and restaurants in the Chicagoland area.

Searching and leasing a retail location is much more of a data-driven process than office space. The retailer needs to care more about a variety of data and demographics such as average household income in the area, foot traffic and more. Bobby Goodman, co-founder of Truss, explained to Propmodo that retailers need to understand who their customers could be and then decide where they should physically be. “It takes the adage ‘location, location, location’ to another level – it’s understanding the location and beyond that,” said Bobby. “One aspect that our platform helps with is that a retailer can put a pin exactly where they want to be – tour different properties exactly in that area – all from their own computer or device.”

“For tenants looking for space, it’s as simple as, if you can see it, you can make a better decision.”

Truss is a tech-enabled brokerage. Brokers are able to use a variety of technology tools to work more efficiently which hopefully helps them close a higher volume of transactions in every asset class and market. One of those tools is 3D virtual tours. Contrary to conventional wisdom, increased vacancies in the retail vertical may actually help with 3D tour adoption. Bobby explained that brokers can do more with the listings and cast a wider net to find the right tenant. “For tenants looking for space, it’s as simple as, if you can see it, you can make a better decision.” There’s also the benefit of time-savings when tenants are able to tour a space in 60 seconds as opposed to going out to see a space, booking appointments, walking through the tours, etc. “There’s a huge benefit in having a sense of the actual space before you even spend time to go check it out,” added Bobby.

Very little is required of the landlord or listing broker to incorporate 3D into their listing, according to Bobby. All they have to do is list their space on Truss and the company promises a turnkey filming experience using its proprietary technology. And it probably won’t be long before AR (Augmented Reality) makes its way into the listing too. For example, apps like Outward and Modsy have this capability and Williams Sonoma is helping customers visualize what furniture would look like in their home using AR. Bobby said he’s starting to see this in real estate and expects the trend to grow.

Truss is already in Chicagoland, Houston, Dallas, Austin and in Washington DC for office space. The company’s expansion plan is moving ahead of schedule and they expect to launch this spring or early summer in Washington DC and Houston. And they’re looking at new verticals too. “For industrial, it makes sense for our business and there’s a possibility. With our AI-enabled technology and the increased demand from e-commerce needs, it could make sense,” said Bobby.  “We certainly would speed up the process a lot for a company looking to find an industrial space.”

Technology tools like the ones Truss uses are allowing retailers to get a sense of how to design their space and how to make the right decisions. Tenants can start to produce real specs, understand improvement costs better and save time by reducing multiple meetings and site visits. Bobby sums it up best, “It allows you to create more value for everyone.”

Propmodo is a global multimedia effort to explore how emerging technologies affect our built environment.

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