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THE FUTURE OF MALLS: The Artisanal Movement Will Flourish (Series 2 of 4)

The common refrains we all hear include:

“The mall is boring.”

“All malls look alike.”

“I can only find chain stores.”

The sentiment is spot on. Many malls today are staid and lack energy. As malls have evolved over time the cost structure has forced landlords into the position of having high operating costs, which can scare-off start-up retailers. Many artists and aspiring merchants have been priced out of a malls and specialty centers. Years ago kiosks and carts were supposed to add local flavor and bring uniqueness to a shopping center, but for the most part, they have fallen short, featuring largely a sea of cell phone operators. Mall owners should embrace the artisanal movement to add energy and vitality to their centers.

The farmers-market movement continues with cities and towns embracing the artisanal flavor offered. Like Paco Underhill wrote in his article The Future of Shopping, homemade is cool again. I think the popularity of handmade goods taps into our desire to have goods that are pure and authentic and the artisanal movement taps a need for nostalgia without being too much or pushing us to into yesteryear. We like real and we like knowing who made our ‘stuff’; this feeling lets us validate our purchase. Most of all, it makes us feel good.

Why would owners of malls and specialty centers embrace the artisanal movement? Simply put . . . energy. Adding retailers or events that offer handmade-goods will add some uniqueness to a center and drive traffic. Instant localization happens. Adding a local merchant that sells handmade soaps, a small craft brewer or a custom-clothier immediately tells your customer: “We are local and we are different.”

In his article Underhill wrote the artisanal market could be 15-20% of our economy in the future.

Whoa, that’s huge! Imagine a mall or specialty center of 200,000 sf and 30,000 sf of the center featuring artisanal and handmade goods. What a tenant mix! This lineup would be vibrant and the shopping experience would be energetic and fun. Offering this artisanal-based tenant mix would be an incredibly unique point-of-difference in the marketplace.

We may

be at a point in themall cycle where a landlord’s cost basis affords them the opportunity to add an artisanal element to their tenant lineup. Heck, regardless of cost basis or historical rents, owners should be experimenting by adding a local, artisanal element to their centers.

In today’s tenant-starved marketplace, Landlord’s are hamstrung with static vacancy. Why not design a program featuring local merchants showcasing handmade goods? The benefits of increased traffic, increased energy and an improved shopping experience are worth the effort.

Source: www.wsj.com; Future of Shopping by Paco Underhill

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