MONA: Ushering in a Retail Renaissance

MONA advertisement on the front of a building
Retail by MONA Signage at 163 Duane Street

Consumers and pundits have predicted the death of in-person retail since the rise of internet shopping. But even before a year of pandemic lockdown and the ubiquity of smiley Amazon packages on porches, consumers were hungry for human connection when it comes to shopping. It’s a new age of retail, and the founders of MONA are banking on it.

MONA, or Making of a New Age, is a retail real estate advisory focused on what Michael Cody, director and co-founder with CEO Brandon Singer, calls the “renaissance of retail.” MONA represents retailers and brands and helps them negotiate leases with landlords to get the best deal possible, and they work with landlords seeking tenants.

Cody and Singer cut their teeth on retail as brokers at Cushman & Wakefield.

“We saw ourselves as understanding this new age of retail and had a lot of success with it. We always wanted to do this,” Cody said. “A lot of other brokers dropped out of business because of where retail is. We’re doubling down.”

The duo left C&W, raised a seed round with “prominent institutional investors” and opened MONA in October, 2020. They now have five other brokers on staff.

Brick and mortar is still the future of retail, but “there won’t be a lot of inventory; it [will be] more of a brand touch point,” Cody predicted. Retail is “going to be coming back in major cities as soon as COVID goes away,” he added.

Out and About

MONA sign on a building in NYC
Retail by MONA Signage at 425 Fifth Avenue | Photo Credit: Retail by MONA

People are itching to get out and shop. According to the Wall Street Journal, foot traffic at 52 malls was up 86% in March 2021 compared to March 2020. And it’s not just to visit their old haunts. While consumers enjoy seeing, touching and sniffing products, they are also interested in having an experience.

“Retail concepts are changing,” Singer said. “It’s not a Gap taking 10 to 15 stores. It’s about one great location.”

Stores have become destinations. Consumers are attending events, classes or interactive tours, like those given by REI, Whole Foods, Macy’s and Lululemon.

MONA advertisement on the side of a building in NYC
Retail by Mona Signage at 425 Fifth Avenue | Photo Credit: Retail by MONA

New and established brands are also creating pop-up stores that typically last anywhere from one day to six months. Pop-up retail is now a $10 billion industry, Retail TouchPoints reported.

Cody and Singer are paying attention to and navigating the new retail landscape.

“We’re meeting companies and landlords and making deals,” Singer said.

They’ve worked with brands such as Showfields, which calls itself the ultimate curator of innovative, mission- and design-driven brands; Supreme, the embodiment of NYC skate culture; Vivvi, a childcare concept; and Fabric, a micro-fulfillment company.

MONA is on board for whatever comes next. The new commercial real estate landscape is “all about the brand and changing the ROI. It used to be inventory, rent, insurance. Now it’s eyeballs, customer acquisition. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in the store or on the Internet,” Cody said. “What we’re doing is very different from the [brokers] at the major institutions.”

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