Law firm launches national institute with goal of helping retailers compete

Husch Blackwell, one of the largest law firms in St. Louis, formed the Retail Institute this year that brings together executives and experts in public policy, education and professional associations to share ideas and expertise to tackle challenges facing the industry.

While St. Louis’ top economic development officials are scrambling along with dozens of other cities to throw out the welcome mat for Amazon, the law firm’s Retail Institute is designed to help retailers remain competitive in an industry that has been disrupted by e-commerce.

Led by Clayton attorney Stacy Wipfler, who heads Husch Blackwell’s retail real estate practice, the Retail Institute has 75 attorneys in 17 offices across the country who specialize in tenant representation, supply chain and class-action lawsuits, among other areas.

“While we’ve been doing all this work in the real estate realm, we’re making a concerted effort to partner with clients and we hope to get universities involved and other resources,” said Wipfler, who also is the Missouri and Illinois government relations chair for the International Council of Shopping Centers, an industry trade organization.

Husch Blackwell’s first Retail Institute roundtable, slated for next week in Washington, D.C., will bring together vendors and retail clients who are not competitors, Wipfler said. Another similar program is slated for Dallas soon, with more on the way.

Husch Blackwell’s retail effort comes as St. Louis is one of many cities vying to land one of the biggest corporate-campus deals in years. Seattle-based Amazon announced this fall it plans to build a second headquarters somewhere in North America with up to 50,000 jobs.

Like many other cities, the St. Louis region has taken a hit as traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have struggled to compete with Amazon. Several local malls have closed in recent years, due in part to customers buying online and shopping less frequently at stores.

“I wouldn’t say retail is declining, it’s morphing,” Wipfler said, adding more malls are shifting to include nonretail uses such as entertainment and services.

As consumers increasingly expect goods to be delivered to their door in two days or less — thanks to Amazon’s business model — retailers must adapt, according to Wipfler.

“Amazon has done a beautiful job figuring that out and now other retailers are catching up to that. Brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going away. Those retailers surviving are those that are changing with the times and understanding the customer base wants omni-channel: online, in store and everything in between.”

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