Retail Success: The Strip Center

Written by: Chad Glenn

This post is about the “strip/convenience center” (as classified by International Council of Shopping Centers; see full list at ICSC classifications).

This is a row of stores or service outlets managed as a coherent retail entity, with on-site parking and no enclosed walkways linking stores. These centers are among the smallest of centers, whose tenants provide a narrow mix of goods and personal services to a very limited trade area. Size will be less than 30,000sf and typically more than 5,000sf. Optimal depth is around 70′ but should never exceed 100′. A 20′ bay spacing tends to fit a wide variety of tenants.

Let’s walk through some guidelines that make for a successful retail center. Remember, these are merely guidelines. There will always be reasons to break away from these norms. However, when you do, you need to think hard about why. The most important driving factor for a center should always be market demand.


Tenants must be seen and they must be seen as prominently as possible. Building configuration should be straight, simple and flexible. Don’t get cute with the layout. (You can save the cute for the applied ornamentation.) Monument signs are nice, and often times extremely important to national tenants, but the building is the main billboard and should include large sign bands with plenty of real estate for tenant signage. It is often desirable to dictate the types of signs allowed at the center. A retail center must draw attention first to the tenants and let customers know what they are selling. A prospective tenant cares more that it will be seen than what type of wall sconce you put on your massive stone columns. And the more glass the better.


Materials need to be durable in the right locations and easily repairable in others. The base of the building will have lot of opportunities for damage so use a hard material along the exterior’s lowest few feet to reduce wear and tear. Although we would all love tenants to stay in their spaces for 20-30 years at a time that’s not realistic. Hence, the sign band material needs to be easily repaired or removed and replaced. The need for durability in the back of house area suggests a thickened concrete slab for your heavier truck traffic, especially the route the trash truck will be taking. It is often wise to pave all back areas and main drives in concrete; if needed, cut back to asphalt in the parking field.


Land-to-building ratio should provide 20%-25% of your site dedicated to building. Give me lots of parking spaces close to the doors, yet not so many spaces that they push the center back from the road. Balance is key. Five-to-six spaces per 1,000 sf is standard with a ratio of four of those five spaces being between the main road and the front of the center. Be aware that typical zoning codes will allow fewer spaces but hitting that minimum could doom your center.

Your tenant mix should be studied carefully to determine the desired parking count. You can kill your tenants if the parking count is not balanced. You will need to provide a restaurant with 20 stalls per 1,000sf of space. Centers under 10,000sf should have two rows of parking between the street and building. Larger centers can have three rows but should not have more than four. Easy access in and out of the parking area to the main road is critical. An opportunity for a drive-thru should be reviewed and can be a requirement for a variety of tenants.


Your first tenant may want 1500sf, your second 2500sf and a third, another 1000sf on top of that. Once those tenants start flipping and moving, the numbers are going to change. Your center must be flexible enough to adapt.

A consistent sign band across the entire facility leaves you the most flexibility for signage. One consistent storefront allows you to adjust tenant demising walls with minimal adjustment to the exterior of the building. Reduce columns to as few as possible. You will pay more for the longer structural spans but will find a quicker payback with a flexible, wide-open interior space. Consider the amount of underground work prospective tenants may have. Leaving out a section of concrete along the back side for future plumbing is often helpful. If there is a possibility for needing a large amount of plumbing, leaving out the entire interior slab might be preferable.

I can’t stress these enough so, one more time, here are the keys to retail design success: Visibility, accessibility. maintainability, flexibility. I would like to hear how each of these apply to your vision for a retail center. The retail center in this blog provides the optimal design at a minimal cost and I would be more than happy to share with you why I believe that to be true. Contact me and let’s create a plan for success together.

International Council of Shopping Centers
International Council of Shopping Centers
Photo of commercial property for the International Council of Shopping Centers

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