Carey Kann | Crain's Pittsburgh

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Carey Kann


Carey Kann is general manager of The Waterfront shopping center in Homestead, outside of Pittsburgh. A CPA for 37 years, Kann has a master’s in business administration and worked for Price Waterhouse Coopers before going into retail real estate in the 1980s. He came to Pittsburgh to manage the Waterfront in 2014. 

The Mistake:

I was relying on old methods to attract customers and not looking to the future.

I was among the people who underestimated how important it was to have a unique experience for people when they came to shop. For shopping centers back in the day, in the '80s and '90s, you drove people to your center with coupons. It was pretty simple. Sometimes you had a sale and took 20, 30 or 40 percent off, and that was pretty much what people did in our industry to attract customers. We thought people were most interested in how much money they could save.

We realized that while sales were part of the equation, we needed to give the customer more than they were able to get anywhere else, especially when compared to online shopping.

It was less of an “a-ha moment” and more of an evolution, I think. We were riding high in the retail industry until the internet came to be and started to define itself with the explosion of online shopping. So you were either forced to react and develop a shopping experience that customers can’t get online, or you’d go away. You can’t compete with coupons anymore—people have too many choices.

We’re always looking for the signs that customers are having a great experience.

The Lesson:

We’ve come to realize that you have to do a lot more than just give someone a better price, you have to give them a reason to want to visit. You need to make sure all their sensory buttons are pushed. At The Waterfront specifically, we’re providing a comprehensive experience with dining choices, shopping and entertainment. We work really hard to try to give customers an experience that takes things to another level.

And we can’t just measure success by how many times the cash register rings. That’s important, but we have to make sure that people have the choices they want. We have to pay attention to the details, like how the landscaping looks and if the lounge chairs look nice, and and if things are clean. Those aren’t the things people notice unless they’re really bad. And then you have a problem.

But this is a concerted effort with all your vendors and retailers to make sure you’re connecting with customers and listening to feedback. We measure the usual metrics of sales and visitors, but we also pay attention to social media feeds. We’re a stop on the bike trail and I’ve been known to go out and count how many bicycles are parked, to see if we’re serving those customers too.

If they have a bad experience we’ll hear about it. But we’re always looking for the signs that customers are having a great experience.


Follow The Waterfront on Twitter at @waterfrontpgh.

Photo courtesy Carey Kann.

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