Real Estate (and Personal) Development

Athena Zheng, WH ’25, Union, NJ

Over the summer, I had the opportunity to intern in the Real Estate and Store Development department at Meijer Inc, a family-owned retail company known for pioneering the modern supercenter concept. As I made the lengthy drive from my hometown in New Jersey to Meijer’s headquarters in Grand Rapids,  Michigan, I was nervous to be so far from home (and to drive without parental supervision), but excited to further my real estate education by learning about commercial real estate from a retailer’s perspective.

Once I started the internship, my team welcomed me with open arms and onboarded me to their projects. I was able to learn about and participate in the process in which a site is selected, acquired, and developed for any of Meijer’s supercenter, grocery, market or gas station formats. I was also able to witness how large retailers like Meijer can carry out its CSR goals of sustainability through its real estate operations – including partnerships with Tesla for EV charging stations on various store premises, development of fully automated warehouses, and sustainable store growth strategies that prioritize energy efficiency and refrigerant emissions management. Working with other team members, I processed and uploaded ground leases into a rental API.

My greatest learning experience during the internship was my capstone project – a proposal for a $3.4 million retail development close to Meijer’s headquarters. I began my project by applying lessons from my marketing class to use aggregate data and traffic pattern analysis to segment, target and position the property with a tenant mix optimization strategy that best serves our target demographics. Working with Meijer’s community partners, I was able to obtain construction costs estimates and utilize them when building a pro-forma modeling the cash flows and rental revenue we could expect for the property. I then prepared an investment thesis and presented it to C-suite executives, with rationale for Meijer’s corporate diversification in investment grade rental properties. My time interning for a family-owned corporation as opposed to a publicly traded company was also an interesting experience that allowed me to tailor my proposal to be in line with Meijer’s fiscally conservative and leverage-avoidant long-term goals.

Outside of my project, encouraged by my nature loving coworkers, I ventured into the great outdoors for the first time in my life. I volunteered with my team for a corporate park cleanup and they consoled me after a traumatic incident with a spider. One of my supervisors also invited me to go fishing along with some other real estate professionals, and with resilience, determination, and the assistance of 2-3 people holding my fishing rod, I was able to reel in my first salmon.

Overall, I had a great time with my internship and experienced so much personal and professional growth. I learned a lot about commercial real estate from both a retail expansion and investment/holding standpoint, and I became more cognizant of developing my own network. I hope to take this experience with me and apply lessons learned this summer in my education and future career.

This is part of a series of posts by recipients of the 2023 Career Services Summer Funding Grant. We’ve asked funding recipients to reflect on their summer experiences and talk about the industries in which they spent their summer. You can read the entire series here.

By Career Services
Career Services