Zelman Ainsworth, CBRE

The Shopping Centre industry is driven by people. It’s the skills and expertise of the people that manage, develop and evolve shopping centres for their communities that creates this great industry. Shopping Centre News profiles a range of interesting people from the industry each week. This week, we speak to Zelman Ainsworth, CBRE Director of Retail Leasing in Victoria.

When COVID-19 hit Australia, Ainsworth created a video series called Retail Revelations – each episode, Ainsworth interviews a major personality in the retail market on how they are navigating through COVID-19 and into recovery. Interviews include Bobby Zagame, Chris Lucas, George Sykiotis, Nike, Adidas, Daniel Agostinelli of Accent Group, Michael Schreiber of Fun Lab,  St Ali, Seven Seed, Bruce Keebaugh of The Big Group, Shane Delia, Nerida Conisbee and other market leaders. 

Ainsworth used this time wisely to stay relevant, informative, active and front of mind, while almost mostly from home. It’s a been a great success with more than 200,000 views so far. The videos have been shared and viewed by people all over the word in retail and property.

What is your current role and main responsibilities?
I look after CBRE’s Retail Leasing in Victoria. My role is to manage a team of five and help our customers lease their retail shops, which includes a wide range of sizes, locations and types of retail tenants.

How did you get into this industry?
When I met my wife’s late grandfather – he said I was a fast talker and would suit commercial real estate – he introduced me to Mark Wizel and the rest is history.Tell us a little bit about your career?
I started out working for RAMS Home Loans for two years, I then got the opportunity to work for CBRE with the best commercial agents in the market. In the beginning, it was really tough to be relevant and have an impact, but I persevered. I had some great people supporting and guiding me through, it is only because of them I lasted this long.

What do you love most about your job?
The privilege to work with some of the best businesses and business people in Australia. I really value what I learn from my interactions and relationship with these organisations and people. People like me don’t normally get to work directly with the types of customers I have be fortunate enough to assist over the years. Examples include AMP Capital, ISPT, QIC, Kering Group, LVHM, Coles, Woolworths, NIKE, Adidas, Ashe Morgan, Accent Group, St Ali, Investa, Lendlease, Mirvac, Salta, Victor Smorgon Group, Pacific Group, GPT, Juilliard Group, JP Morgan and many more.

What do you least like about your job?
I genuinely love my job.

What motivates you?
Delivering for the people who give us the opportunity, knowing that we are responsible to play a role in the leasing process, motivates our team to do what it takes, to get the best possible job done every time.

What makes a great Leasing Agent?
Listening and learning. Every negotiation is about understanding the needs and wants of all stakeholders, more often than not they will tell you, if you just listen. Once you have a clear understanding of their needs and wants, you can work out if a deal is possible and how to achieve an agreement between both sides.

What is your most memorable moment of your career?
Hand delivering signed leases to the late Mr. Nathan Werdiger. His glowing smile and excitement is something I will never forget.

What do you think makes a successful shopping centre?
When an owner understands the latest trends, thoroughly comprehends customer’s behaviour and specific demographics surrounding their centre – it is the best shopping centres that clusters appropriate retailers together to create hype, drive traffic, relevance, MAT and sustainability.

Which in your opinion is the best example of a good shopping centre, retail precinct or place?
Melbourne CBD. For me, the entire CBD is one big shopping centre with different customers, demographics, drivers, attractions and conveniences. The entire CBD has really popped over the past 5-7 years, as owners started taking into consideration what is happening in other pockets of the CBD, as opposed to the just chasing rents.

How can landlords and retailers work together better?
When a landlord can understand how a retailers’ business actually works and creates a commercial lease with the workings of their business in mind, it is far more likely it will be successful outcome. Also, when a tenant takes into account how a landlord’s business and funding works, it makes it easier to come to an agreement that allows both sides to win.

How do you manage stakeholders?
By listening to what they need and want.

What are some of the trends you are seeing in the industry?
Retailers are now being far more careful when considering their retail networks and looking for different ways to reduce risk and liabilities. Landlords and retailers now more then ever need to understand the working of their respective businesses, to ensure that their interaction is both profitable, productive and meaningful for both sides. A true partnership needs to be undertaken.

What do you do to keep learning and growing in your career?
I asked tons of questions from the great people I get to work with and learn from, also I listen to heaps of audio books on sales, negotiations, management, marketing, and self-improvement. I also listen to my wife, she is always right about everything.

What has been your hardest career decision?
I passionately love Retail Leasing and Melbourne, each day is a blessing.

What advice would you give to someone starting in the industry?
Work hard, don’t complain, make yourself relevant and irreplaceable in what ever role you are doing and listen to everything and everyone.

What’s your favourite retailer and why?
Sneaker Boy – they were the first retailer in Australia to actually encompass Omni channel retailing. Also they are so cool and always setting new trends here and overseas.

What innovation would you like to see implemented in the shopping centre industry?
Better and quicker customer service, and seamless transition with technology. The retailers who have adapted early are flying even now during COVID-19.

What do you do in your leisure time to de-stress?
I run and smoke Cuban Cigars to de-stress.

Do you like shopping?
There is nothing I enjoy more.

What is the single most important quality you need to possess to be in this industry?
Thick skin.

Want to be profiled? It’s the perfect time to share your career and experience which connects all of us. Contact Belinda Daly:

About the author

Shopping Centre News

Shopping Centre News (SCN) is in the ‘information business’, and is perceived as such by its readers. Daily industry news makes a must-visit as part of the morning routine for those who want to keep right across the latest retail developments and events, while SCN's premium magazine is the leading publication for the shopping centre industry in Australia and New Zealand.

Known as the ‘industry bible’ SCN is printed five times a year with fascinating, in-depth features and important critical analysis written by known industry insiders as well as the popular ‘Guns’ reports, which ranks Australian shopping centre performances. Shopping Centre News is the only publication in the world that features centre statistics on Turnover, Turnover per square metre and Specialty Shop turnover per square metre for every major centre in Australia.

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