Richard Lodes isn’t your garden-variety mall manager. He’s been with Bal Harbour Shops for more than 33 years
and has a financial background, having served as controller for the center for a few years before being promoted to general manager, his current job. Earlier, he was in accounting at Burberry in New York when the brand had a small U.S. presence.
“At the time of my promotion, we were going from 50 stores to 100,” said Lodes. “I was doing all the accounting work and when the general manager left, I was already so immersed in the general operations of the shopping center. It was a step up, but I never really relinquished my accounting duties.”
Here, Lodes describes the challenges of the job and what makes Bal Harbour Shops unique.
What’s the toughest part of the job?
We have always been highly productive and a top shopping destination in the world. It’s very difficult to maintain that status. Every day is a challenge. We have a beautiful property, so maintaining the facility, making sure things go right, is always a challenge. Just keeping Bal Harbour Shops as Bal Harbour Shops is a challenge. We have our own security. We have our own maintenance staff. We have our own landscapers. We do it all. The only things we farm out are contractors for the major construction jobs.
Bal Harbour Shops is planning a major expansion. What’s the challenge there?
Yes, going forward the biggest challenge is the expansion. We are using the best architects available. We hope to preserve the character of the center. We don’t want to get like everybody else. We want to be unique.
Is being general manager here a different kind of job from being general manager of a mainstream mall?
That’s a difficult question because I have never done that before. I assume there could be reporting into a headquarters. My reporting is to Stanley, Matthew and Randy [Whitman]. There’s a family feeling that runs throughout this center. I believe that of the staff of 80 that works here, something like 25 of them have been working here for more than 20 years.
What changes are you seeing in the complexion of the traffic in the center, seasonally, or with tourism?
We have really always maintained our sales. At some point, the European traffic could be good and South American might not be, or Europe isn’t doing well, and South American tourists play a big part of our business. But the Miami person knows who we are. We are not as seasonal as you might think. We have two seasons, the five-month season, December through April [with more snowbirds] and the seven-month season, May through November. We do 50.4 percent of our volume in December through April; 49.6 percent is May through November. We are not as seasonal as you might think.
Does Bal Harbour Shops get the same kind of Christmas rush that other shopping centers see?
We do get Black Friday. That starts off everything. It’s probably the busiest day of the year. Oddly enough, our busiest time is after Christmas. We actually bus our employees in so they don’t use the parking here. We run shuttle buses north of us back and forth from another parking lot where they park. Historically, it’s always been that way here that time of year.
What was it like meeting Stanley Whitman?
It was a pleasure meeting Mr. Whitman. The shopping center at that time had 50 stores operating and we were building a second level, and he said he had a vision of further expansion, which is what we are currently contemplating and talking about. So 30 years ago, he had the vision. It was part of the discussion when I first met him. One of the first things he imparted to me,
I remember, was that he told me never to abuse a tenant or anyone. “And don’t you take abuse, either,” he said.
What was your most challenging day on the job?
It was after Hurricane Andrew. That was pretty darn memorable. I remember driving to work and hoping the center was still here. We were able to open three days later. The eye of the storm went south of us. There was some foliage that was destroyed but this place is built like a fort. We don’t have a normal roof like other shopping centers. We have a concrete parking deck — roof- top parking. The center is also elevated. Stanley had the vision during the initial construction to bring in all of this sand from the Americana Hotel [now the site of the St. Regis Hotel], which was being built. They were trucking sand out of that area, so Stanley said, “Pack it here.” As a result, our elevation is higher. We have never had a drop of water in our shopping center.