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December 18, 2019
Hospitality and retail, Virtual construction & technology

The video started playing, and one by one, I heard emerging leaders talk about how they are making a difference in the retail industry. Each shared their personal philosophy, project experience and approach to retail. This past year we had presented some innovative solutions on some of our own projects, and I was waiting for our own to be recognized.

Then there was a familiar face and I heard the words, "Hi, I'm Tyler Schaffer and I'm a project manager from Pepper Construction of Indiana." 

Earlier this month, Tyler and 19 other design and construction professionals were recognized as Leaders Under 40 at the 2019 International Council of Shopping Centers' (ICSC) CenterBuild Conference. The program recognizes outstanding young leaders involved in the design and construction of shopping centers, stores and retail-focused developments. I was not surprised to see Tyler on stage, despite a record number of entries this year.

2019 ICSC CenterBuild 20 Leaders Under 40 finalists
ICSC Leaders Under 40 at the 2019 CenterBuild Conference

It's no wonder the conference received so many entries. The landscape of retail is changing, and leaders across the country – even the world – are working to meet the needs of retailers and consumers alike. They're looking ahead because what's important in today's market may not be what's important tomorrow. 

Listening is something Tyler and others in our organization do well. And then they research possibilities to help our clients transition through this changing retail landscape. As the contractor, it's important that we maintain a close pulse on the market so we can anticipate what developers and retailers need next and adjust our approach to meet the objectives of their projects. 

Adapting to retail's CHANGING LANDSCAPE

Even at the start of Tyler's career, the needs for big box stores were relatively straightforward, but today's shopping habits have shifted. Online shopping and automation have impacted consumer habits. In fact, 60% of Americans now do their Christmas shopping online, and even those who purchase at bricks and mortar stores still use the Internet to research what they will buy and to find coupons.

Project Manager Tyler Schaffer was named one of CenterBuild's 20 Leaders Under 40
Tyler Schaffer is one of CenterBuild's 2019 Leaders Under 40

As a result, retail developments are no longer dominated by traditional storefronts with some entertainment spots sprinkled in. The market has shifted its focus to mixed-use space and has expanded to incorporate any number of different lifestyle tenants - creating an experience that draws shoppers out of their homes while also allowing them to stay connected. Now these spaces are filled with a combination of stores, restaurants, entertainment venues, workout facilities, beauty salons, housing and everything in between.

"The trends of shopping malls and big box stores have moved toward more specialty shopping areas, leaving retailers to look to provide more of a "wow" factor to their properties," Tyler Schaffer, project manager and ICSC CenterBuild Leader Under 40 

As retailers crave more engaging and creative spaces, they need a collaborative team to bring their visions to life. The owner, architect and the construction company bring different perspectives to the table. Listening to one another can lead to the best – and oftentimes innovative – solution to any situation. 


Retailers are increasingly vying to offer a unique experience to consumers. That message was reiterated at the CenterBuild Conference, and it's something Tyler and I have seen on our own projects. 

"There have been massive changes in both the retail and construction industry. That means I'm constantly looking for new and smarter ways to provide the ultimate experience to our clients," Tyler Schaffer 

Tyler likes to partner with our virtual design and construction group to use technology for problem solving. For example, on a recent indoor shopping mall renovation in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, the owner commissioned a large piece of artwork to flow throughout the dining pavilion. The scale and intricate nature of the piece created logistical challenges and questions about how to make it happen. 

Using augmented reality during a retail renovation
Pepper used augmented reality to visualize a hanging sculpture on a recent mall renovation.

We asked ourselves how we could show our client what their patrons would see. Not only that, but how could they visualize a large hanging structure to ensure the sculpture would properly fit in the space?

Tyler and our Building Information Modeling (BIM) team used 3D modeling and augmented reality to give the owners and artist a 100 percent to-scale visualization of the end product – prior to committing any dollars to the production of the art. It was a new need that required our team be innovative, adaptive and proactive.

I'm proud of the recognition Tyler received and look forward to seeing how he will help our retail clients transition into the future. No matter what industry changes or challenges are on the horizon, as we saw at CenterBuild, the next generation is already raising the bar and finding solutions in this ever-changing retail landscape. 

About the Author


Bob Eckl Senior Vice President, Indiana

With 28 years of industry experience, Bob oversees national retail accounts and provides supervision to more than $500 million in Pepper projects. Bob started with Pepper’s Chicago office in 1996 and joined Indiana in 2005. As senior vice president, he co-leads Pepper Indiana’s operations, which includes staffing and pricing strategies, as well as the preconstruction, quality and virtual construction departments. Bob holds a Bachelor of Science in Construction Administration from the University of Wisconsin. He is an ACE Mentor board member and mentor committee chairman, and he serves on the General Contractor Council of the Indiana Subcontractors Association. Bob is also a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers, where he earned the Certified Development, Design & Construction Professionals (CDP) credential.