Time to think outside the mall
by Dave Nemeth. Smaller retailers may find life outside of a traditional mall concept.Wednesday, 03 Mar 2021
by Dave Nemeth. It is not hard to notice the devastating effect which the global pandemic has had on retailers. Almost every mall you visit has empty stores which, in many cases, have been cleverly wrapped in vinyl announcing, “new exciting retailer arriving soon”. Those who have been the hardest hit over this period have been the smaller, independent shops such as hair salons, beauty/nail salons, boutique clothing stores, bespoke jewellery stores, gift stores, optometrists and many others within the specialist retail category.
Many of these have increased their online presence, but still require a physical space in order to trade – you cannot get a haircut or have your nails done online. The rentals in these malls have become astronomically expensive and landlords in most instances, have offered very little support for the smaller retailers. Their focus would appear to have been on keeping their larger anchor tenants. The answer for many of these smaller retailers may lie in a change of mindset and a breakaway from traditional retail thinking. Solutions may be found within the office rental sector. This industry has also been hit hard as many companies have vacated these premises as they have seen just how effectively staff are able to work from home.
Many smaller retailers must rely on word-of-mouth advertising and have a discerning clientele who will continue to support them, regardless of whether they are situated in a traditional mall environment, or in an office park. There is nothing better than great foot traffic for getting noticed but, with good online marketing, there should be no reason why these smaller stores not only survive, but even flourish, by changing the entire customer experience.
Moving into an office park/building may just be a solution. Traditionally, office rentals have always been cheaper than the rates which the malls are charging and, with current occupancy rates being at an all-time low, it could be the perfect time to negotiate with these landlords. The urban landscape has, in recent years, seen a significant rise in office parks moving into, or at least being in close proximity to, residential areas. So, with careful planning, there is no reason why moving into an office space will not attract the target audience they would have got from being in a mall in the same area. Moving into an office space may serve a double function by being able to house all the admin staff and duties within the same space as the business being offered. It is unlikely that there would be resistance from customers to going to an office space in order to have their hair cut or even to shop at a clothing and accessories boutique.
Destination concept stores
Independent furniture retailers, and even some of the smaller chains, could benefit by being able to use multiple offices to create unique room settings – something far harder to do within a retail space. Offices could be used by designers to assist in the space planning and accessory selection. When complimented with online sales, the entire process of purchasing furniture could be transformed into a more intimate experience, where greater attention could be given to each and every customer. In a similar way, would there be resistance to going to a 5-star restaurant if it were housed in a secure office park? The potential offered by warehouses should also not be overlooked. Many years ago, a highly successful furniture retailer, Weatherly’s, had its original and flagship store in a warehouse situated in an industrial area. The brand went from strength to strength until it was sold to a large national retailer, which changed the strategy and started increasing its footprint by putting smaller variations into shopping malls. Sadly, this move eventually led to the demise of the entire brand.
A change in location and space may not be reserved solely for the smaller retailers. People seem to have no problem going to a Makro or a Lighting Warehouse, so why would they not go to a Mr Price which was housed in a warehouse, within close proximity to residential dwellings? A destination store would generally have customers staying longer, instead of them just popping in and out of similar stores without perusing the full range of products on offer. This new take on premises and location would probably even work for unique concept stores such as Food Lovers Market, and even Checkers stores. These kinds of stores will never fully remove themselves from malls but, with careful planning, there could be an increase in customer engagement and spend due to an interesting mix of locations.
A change in thinking along these lines would not necessarily kill the shopping mall, but rather see them adapt to having different and interesting businesses move in. Malls in Thailand, for instance, have high-end vehicle showrooms within the space. The time has come for creative retailing and, for those who are prepared to throw out the traditional way of thinking, it may be that they find themselves with highly successful business models. Consumers are bored and want exciting new experiences and, whilst everyone is focusing on the digital space, many battles may be won by re-thinking the physical environments.
Retailing Africa’s retail analyst and columnist, Dave Nemeth is the founder of Trend Forward; and a design thinker, innovator, business re-designer, trend analyst, keynote speaker and writer.
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