Jerald Estime Defines a Flexible Fit

Jerald Estime reveals how his team employs strategic planning to allow Levi Strauss & Co. to flourish, even in an era when brick-and-mortar is rumored to be at risk

Jerald Estime’s entrance into real estate could be called fortuitous. While in graduate school at Emory University, Estime and a fellow student from his real estate finance class used to discuss going into business with each another post-graduation.

One day, while planning an outline for their future business in the university’s career services office, a paper fell from the fax machine to the floor. “We picked it up, and it was an announcement of a real estate company coming to the business school. It was like it was meant to be,” Estime remembers, laughing. He interviewed and was subsequently hired, thus kicking off his corporate real estate career.

All of his experiences since then Estime likens to arrows in his quiver. “You get to a place where all of your experiences and the things that you’ve done before have really equipped you. You pick up these little tidbits and arrows along the way, and one day you look up and your quiver is full,” he says.

From graduate school to his first job to more mature roles, each of his experiences has prepared him for the next, and he recalls one in particular that was especially defining. “At the Gap, I lived through every life cycle. From a recession to downsizing to fast-paced growth and new concept rollouts, every aspect of that has helped me become a well-rounded real estate executive,” Estime explains. “As I live and work through the current state of today, I can reach back in my quiver and pull from all of my past experiences, and all of it has been extremely beneficial.”

“You have to be flexible. You have to be willing to adjust with the marketplace. I still believe that there is a really strong need for the brick-and-mortar experience.”

As the vice president of real estate for Levi Strauss & Co., Estime is responsible for all of the company’s real estate business in the Americas. “If I simply boil down what my team is in charge of, it’s non-comp store growth. So that would include new store growth and optimization of our existing fleet: how do we make our stores more profitable? Whether that’s expansion, retraction, lease renewals, dispositions, relocations, or any other real estate transaction, that is our team’s responsibility,” he says.

The real estate team at Levi’s must be agile about strategic planning by consistently establishing its real estate strategy in conjunction with the brand strategy to assure it maximizes profitability and reaches planned growth targets. “As retail business models and the market dynamics shift, in terms of the way consumers shop and experience the brand,” Estime explains, “our real estate strategy has been critical in making sure that we meet the consumer where they are and that they have the ultimate experience with the brand.” By aligning with brand strategy, his team focuses on providing a seamless experience for the consumer.

“That’s something that we’re all really proud of,” the VP says of the approach. “One great example of this is we had a fantastic marketing installation in [the] Wynwood [district of] Miami. The Levi experience encompassed a full city block that customers really enjoyed. We were there for Art Basel, and then transitioned into the Super Bowl, which then transitioned into our new store opening at the Aventura Mall. And that’s how real estate helps work together with all facets of the business to make sure that the customer experience is fantastic.”

“As retail business models and the market dynamics shift, in terms of the way consumers shop and experience the brand, our real estate strategy has been critical in making sure that we meet the consumer where they are and that they have the ultimate experience with the brand.”

Currently, Estime works with a small yet nimble entrepreneurial team. He attributes the successes of his team to operating with transparency. “What’s important to me is that everyone on my team has a voice,” he says. “I try to share as much as possible and give people the opportunity to voice their creative ideas. I always look to support my people. Overall, I just have a really great team. They’re totally committed.”

With fluctuation in the real estate market and a rise in online shopping, one would think that physical, brick-and-mortar stores would suffer. “I’ve read all the publications [declaring] ‘death of the shopping mall’ due to things like recessions and retailers going under,” Estime says. “The importance of retail to the US economy and the global economy does change. But we continue to evolve. You have to be flexible. You have to be willing to adjust with the marketplace. I still believe that there is a really strong need for the brick-and-mortar experience.”

In fact, Levi’s willingness to keep the brick-and-mortar experience dynamic is one of the reasons that drew the VP to the company. “They’re still shaping what the physical experience is like and where their locations are,” Estime says. I can’t think of a better time, now that the market is changing so rapidly, to be able to grow with it.”