Yoga on the Square at Easton Town Center in Columbus, OH

Yaromir Steiner on How Retail Marketplaces Can Contribute to Well-Being

January 19th, 2023

January 17, 2023

For several years, Steiner + Associates has incorporated insights from The Five Essential Elements of Well-Being to drive its workplace culture. The book, by Gallup chief scientist of workplace management and well-being and by workplace consultant Tom Rath, defines well-being across five pillars that transcend borders and cultures. Steiner also has leveraged the book to guide its roles as advisor, leasing representative and developer of real estate projects, including its flagship Easton in its hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

Gallup’s five essential elements of well-being:

  • Career
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Community

Steiner founder and CEO Yaromir Steiner spoke with Commerce + Communities Today contributing editor Joe Gose about incorporating the elements into the development and management of retail marketplaces.

How did you get interested in The Five Essential Elements of Well-Being?

I have created and am still running many businesses, and I’ve been involved with charitable organizations, foundations like the Boy Scouts of America, and hospitals over the years. After some years, I realized that the mission statement of any organization — whether it’s a company somebody works for, ICSC or, in this case, our shopping centers — is to contribute to the well-being of its stakeholders. And well-being is a code word for happiness. So our shopping centers need to collectively contribute to the well-being or happiness of the communities they serve. If you’re a health club owner, you can do the same thing. If you’re a restaurant, you can think the same way. But being an engineer, it always bothered me a little to talk about happiness; it doesn’t sound very business-like. Then I discovered that Gallup tried to measure the happiness of people and asked: “What are the overarching criteria by which you define happiness? Can we define that? And is happiness the same in Bhutan as it is in India or in Colombia? Is it the same in the United States or in Senegal?”

What did the researchers find?

They identified five pillars of well-being. One is wellness: that you need physical, mental and spiritual balance in your life. Another is a sense of belonging, or being part of a community that you take pride in. Personal relationships are another pillar. They can be the person you love, but they are also your business relationships, your colleagues at work — all the people you interact with like your neighbors. Then there is your financial well-being, and paradoxically, once you reach a certain income level, happiness doesn’t increase that drastically. It was $75,000 five or 10 years ago, so maybe it’s $100,000 today. So it’s really financial security: Do you have retirement savings so that you will be taken care of when you’re old? Is there a health system so that if you get sick you will be taken care of? Can you give your children an education without stressing yourself financially? The last criteria is deriving meaningfulness from your work: that you feel what you do is part of a bigger scheme. I go back to when John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA after he decided to go to the moon. He asked a janitor sweeping the floor what he was doing, and the guy responds: “I’m helping send a man to the moon.” Even as humble as his task was, he felt he was part of something bigger.

How does that translate into development and operations?

Our properties like Easton Town Center are not about the Marshalls and Home Depots; they are discretionary-spending environments. Other than making money for our shareholders, what is the purpose of our project? How do we contribute to the well-being of the community? The answer is that we can create an attractive discretionary-spending environment where there are fountains and parks where you can have movies after dark in the summer or concerts or maybe fireworks on the Fourth of July or yoga. We also support charity events, hosting 5K runs or walks and other fundraisers. Every year, we have fireworks before Thanksgiving, and it’s a major event that draws thousands of people. I meet mothers who tell me that they came to it as young girls and now they’re bringing their kids. That creates a sense of community. And when people have visitors from out of town, Easton is where they take them because they take pride in the development.

“The tenants we put in place allow people to connect with one another and have an emotional spark that goes with them.”

We also play strongly in personal relationships. We make a big effort to have food components that are destinations. When you’re 15 years old, you have your first date at a Johnny Rockets and then go see a movie. Or before your prom, you take a photo in front of the fountain. You propose to your girlfriend there, or you go to Smith & Wollensky for your 20th wedding anniversary. The point is that the tenants we put in place allow people to connect with one another and have an emotional spark that goes with them.

We also can host seminars and other events to help people with their financial well-being, and I think our environment is a much better place to learn than going to a bank. We do similar things for health, where we provide people with blood pressure checks or have conversations about the importance of weight control. Now, we can’t create meaningfulness of work for our customers, obviously, but we communicate to our employees that they contribute to the well-being of the community. Their mind-set can make them happy and improve interactions with the people they work with.

When looking across the categories of shopping centers, do you think lifestyle centers like Easton are better tailored to incorporate the pillars of well-being?

“Lifestyle center” has lots of connotations and may be too broad. The way I like to separate shopping centers is: 80% or so satisfy needs-based shopping, which is very often replenishing consumer staples: grocery stores, Home Depot and the like. Those are very rational, organized environments to facilitate transactions. The remaining 15 to 20% is the want-based shopping environment. These are the places you go for more discretionary spending. Usually, shoppers who visit those centers have higher incomes, so maybe it’s just an environment that appeals to people who have the discretionary money to go to the movies or to go to a restaurant or buy something at Louis Vuitton. So I would say that the type of environments that contribute to well-being are discretionary.

Now, it’s interesting. If you go back to the 1950s, the ’60s and early ’70s, when your parents and my parents were shopping, the malls were playing that role. You might say: “There were no restaurants, there was no cinema and no outside space.” But in the ’50s and ’60s after the war, it was a big deal to buy and own things, so the discretionary desire was the acquisition of material goods. Our mothers would dress up to go to the mall or to the Macy’s on Main Street. Today, I think this is changing. Younger people don’t seem to care as much about ownership; they are interested in the experience. Ownership might deliver that experience, but if the experience can be obtained without owning, then that’s fine, too. The notion of well-being, of happiness, evolves.

It sounds like well-being is a reflection of the culture at any given moment in time.

I think it is. If you’re a hospital or a medical services company, how do you define your mission? In 1945, they were not worried about diabetes. Today, we have a lot of diabetes because of overall bad diets. In other words, the way hospitals contribute to physical wellness today is very different from 1945. The same can be said for spiritual wellness. After the war, Catholic monasteries were full of candidates who wanted to become monks. It was the horrors of the war, maybe; I don’t know. Today, there aren’t as many. On the other hand, you have millions of people who meditate every day using an app on their phone. That was not part of the conversation in the 1950s. So the elements of well-being need to be responsive to the times you’re living in, and shopping centers need to identify where and how they can deliver those elements.

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