Dayton Women in Business: Retail leader explains future of industry

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Dayton Women in Business: Retail leader explains future of industry

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As general manager of the Mall at Fairfield Commons, Kristie Miller is focused on leading by example and reaching out to families in the Miami Valley through community events.

Miller works with more than 130 tenants at the Commons, which is owned by retail developer Washington Prime Group Inc. Her work, motivated by providing a positive experience for customers and employees, is vastly changing as the traditional retail industry evolves.

She started working in marketing for Washington Prime more than a decade ago, and assumed her role as general manager of the Beavercreek mall just more than a year ago. She also plays an active role in the community and sits on the board of the Beavercreek Chamber of Commerce.

Miller sat down with the Dayton Daily News to talk leadership and the future of local retail.

What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

I think being able to adapt quickly in a rapid retail environment. With our leasing efforts, we try to introduce new and exciting tenants as well as keep the ones that reinvest in our center. It’s also just about reminding our community that brands come and go. I think when we have a store closing, to the public it seems like, “Oh, gosh. They’re closing. They’re going out of business.”

To us, it creates an opportunity for us to bring in new retailers, new dining, new entertainment. Instead of maybe always looking at it as a negative, just reminding them — When one door closes, another one or multiple ones could open.

Does it seem like more stores are closing lately?

A lot of leases tend to expire right after the holidays. If it’s a five-year lease, they’re not going to sign a lease that ends right before the holidays. The holidays are the strongest time of year for retailers. I think it’s a natural occurrence to see some stores close on a cycle around this time of year. We also look at if stores are doing well and people are shopping there, they’re most likely not going to end up closing.

What life experiences have influenced your leadership style today?

I went to Oakland University in Michigan, and played tennis for them, and then I moved down here to Dayton. I’m a firm believer that you have to network and you have to meet people. I actually sold and financed at Land Rover Dayton, that was my first job out of college. When I was working there, somebody I met had let me know about the job at Dayton Mall. When you walk in a mall, you never think they’re people that manage it. I was told about the position, and 13 years later, here I am.

There is not a job too big or too small for anybody. I would never ask somebody to do something if I wouldn’t do it myself. I think that’s come from the fact that I started and had to work my up within the company. I didn’t just come here and start as the general manager. I think I’m respected for that.

As the retail industry changes and e-commerce becomes a competitor against the traditional mall, how have you adapted your managerial and leadership skills to address industry changes?

I think in this Internet age, we have to set ourselves apart. We have to offer things that online shopping can’t. There are so many things you can do at the mall that you can’t do online, and that encourages people to come out to the center. We know we need a combination of retail, entertainment, dining and events. We’re going to be very event focused this year. All of our events are frees — plenty for children and families, and events after school. We want events that target a wider variety of our customers, because we’re not restricted to one type of customer here.

How do you anticipate the retail industry will change within the next five years?

I think the change of pace will be faster. I think the mix of retailers will be different. We might introduce different kind of retailers — specialty grocery stores, home improvement stores, a few of our malls have Amazon lockers in their malls where you can have packages shipped there. I think we need to be creative. We’re told to think outside of the box and go for it. That’s what we’re going to have to do to stay on top and keep people coming out here.

What do you love about the day-to-day of your job?

Everyday is a different day, and I love being able to interact with so many guests that come through our door on an annual basis — I get to meet new people almost every single day and we get to bring the community together in one place. We’re a big part of the community, and people take ownership of the mall. They have been here since day one, and I love that they still continue to come here.

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