Last years’ Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, a music and dance fest with rides, drew 130,000 young people on its final day. This summer, Billy Joel will play his 43rd sellout concert at Madison Square Garden, where floor tickets sell in the $200 range. No matter their age or inclination, people still want to leave their laptops and homes behind and be with other people. They just need someone to give them a really good reason to do it.
Nine out of 10 retail purchases still take place in malls, and the retail venues that make good on that challenge will win the lion’s share of that bounty. In the interests of both innovation and inspiration, Chain Store Age thought it was time to single out the venues that put a capital “E” in “experiential” with 10 great examples. We’ve been counting down the top 10, and today we're unveiling No. 1!
America’s No. 1 retail experience: Mall of America
When Chain Store Age embarked on a search for the Top 10 Retail Experiences in the nation, it was hard for us to look past a 5-million-sq.-ft. mall in Minnesota with a roller coaster and a comedy club, as well as a Hard Rock Café and a just-opened GameWorks, where customers can bowl, play laser tag and video games (and dine). And next month, golfers will be able to play putt-putt under blacklight at a new 1950s's rock-and-roll themed mini golf course.
It should come as little surprise, then, to see Mall of America occupying the No. 1 spot in our Top 10 countdown that culminates today.
“We’re really appreciative of this recognition,” said Jill Renslow, senior VP of marketing and business development for MOA. “The Ghermezian family had a vision that if they made experience number one, people would come from around the world to visit Mall of America. That original vision continues today.”
It’s been 25 years since the Ghermezians’ Triple Five development company threw down the gauntlet for experiential retail on the site of the demolished Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington. But customer experience has continued to evolve at MOA with new attractions that include SeaLife Aquarium, Flyover America, and The Crayola Experience.
The latest innovation is a testament to MOA’s maturity as a retail experience provider. The property’s got the traffic — some 40 million visitors a year. Now Triple Five’s working on getting them to spend more time in shops with the Enhanced Service Portal, or ESP. Initial results on the store directory app finds it has a user dwell time of just 40 seconds versus three minutes for physical directories.
“We constantly review consumer lifestyles and how they change,” Renslow said. “Our communication command center — or ESP — is aimed at bringing a convenient, customized experience to our visitors. We want them to feel valued.”
It adds value to retail tenants, as well. If it takes shoppers less time to track down any MOA’s 500-plus stores, they have more time to spend money inside of them.
#2. Brickell City Centre’s Climate Ribbon
In one of America’s hottest towns, Miami, Swire christened a new, decidedly upscale neighborhood with last year’s opening of its billion-dollar Brickell City Centre. It also set a standard for 21st Century retail center design.
The high point, literally, of this open-air luxury marketplace is the Climate Ribbon, a sculpted, undulating canopy that catches breezes from nearby Biscayne Bay and circulates them to cool shoppers. The $30 million Ribbon--a joint project of a Paris design firm and Carnegie Mellon and Cardiff universities — collects five million gallons of rainwater a year to aid the cooling process, making it a paradigm for green construction that combines both beauty and functionality.
#3. Easton Town Center and Fashion’s Night Out
When Jennifer Peterson got the head-hunter’s call for the chief executive’s spot at Ohio’s premier mall, she thought it was a mistake. As VP marketing of PINK and GM of C.O. Bigelow, she knew plenty about building retail brands, but malls? It was no mistake.
The formula of Steiner + Associates, owner of the Columbus mega-mall, calls for the mall experience be profitable for tenants, so who better to apply it than an experienced retailer? Retailers know that if something works, keep doing it until it doesn’t. That’s why -- though the Council of Fashion Designers of America phased out its Fashion’s Night Out Event in 2014 -- the party still rages on at Easton.
“It’s been such a hit that we kept on going,” Peterson said. “On Fashion Night, we’ll have upwards of 50 retailers hosting people and pouring drinks in their spaces or out on the Strand in tents doing demos.”
The former tenant at major malls nationwide singled Easton out as one of the few venues that truly puts the “town” in Town Center. “Easton never closes,” Peterson said. “People are still leaving the bars at 3 a.m., and by 5 a.m. a hundred-plus mall walkers arrive.”
#4. Woodbury Common
Its bus station shuttles New Yorkers back and forth from the Port Authority Terminal several times a day. It has a visitor center with a staff that can direct shoppers in 14 different languages. And now it has a 65,000-sq.-ft. Market Hall as its entry way and a themed sections celebrating New York State regions like its own Hudson Valley, the Hamptons, and the Adirondacks. Woodbury Common, the flagship of Simon Premium Outlets’ value-priced luxury fleet, is a destination for Upper East Siders as well as residents of the Far East. And it recently completed a three-year project designed to keep a sharp edge on its world-class experience — not the least aspect of which was a new ring road making ingress and egress safer and quicker.
“We have a mission — value, fashion, and experience. Every decision we make as a company is influenced by that, and I don’t think it plays out any more clearly than it does at Woodbury,” said Simon Premium Outlets CEO Stephen Yalof.
#5. The Grove and Uber
“If you got it, go with it!” That’s what Jackie Gleason’s Ralph Kramden character would say whenever he thought he’d hit it big on one of his get-rich-quick schemes. Well, the Grove in Los Angeles has really got it. With average sales per-square-foot of $2,200, the luxe retail site is No. 2 on Fortune’s list of top-grossing shopping centers. But having to traverse acres of parking lot asphalt can ruin the experience or customers used to Art Deco movie palaces and concierge services, so owner Caruso partnered with Uber to remove driving from the equation.
Caruso created a permanent pick-up/drop-off location on the property at The Grove, now Uber’s No. 1 Los Angeles destination with more than 2,000 drop-offs daily. Know thy customer is the lesson, says Caruso Executive VP of Leasing Kloe Colacarro: “We have a deep belief in developing centers only in places where we know the consumer. And we know the SoCal consumer very, very well.”
#6. Waterside, a Conscious Place
Trademark Property has so much faith in its new-age experiential concept that it’s branded it. Conscious Place, which takes its cue from the conscious workplace initiative, is defined as an “experiential center of commerce, community, and meaning that seeks to host, inspire, educate and connect community stakeholders.” Waterside, situated alongside the Trinity River in Fort Worth, is Trademark’s first go at the concept, and it’s all-in.
Design and leasing were driven with input from locals. Furniture, games, and art on the grounds were created by local artisans. Micro-restaurants support local entrepreneurs. Mindful of ecology, a 6,600-gallon cistern collects rainwater used for irrigating the project’s green space, shaded by heritage oaks and housing a Community Pavilion.
“We believe the bar has been raised and developers must deliver much more in the future,” said Trademark CEO Terry Montesi.
#7. Taste of Turkey Creek and The Battle of Bristol
You’d have to have just arrived on the American retail scene from Mars not to know that lunch and dinner are the key events drawing people to shopping centers. Ditto if you’re unaware that, down South, football and motor sports put up a gallant fight with the Lord Almighty for folks’ attention. Put that all together and you’ve got a retail event that drew a mob to Pinnacle at Turkey Creek, Bayer Properties’ 657,000-sq.-ft. outdoor shopping and power center in Knoxville.
Bayer scored by hitching its experiential wagon to another huge event: The Battle at Bristol, a gridiron matchup between the University of Tennessee and Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway that drew 159,990, the largest crowd for any football game ever. Some 1,200 showed up at “Taste” to sample cuisine from two dozen Turkey Creek restaurants and watch the game on huge video screens. The University of Tennessee Medical Center hosted the event, which raised $20,000 for The Pat Summitt Foundation, named for the Lady Vols legendary basketball coach who died last year.
#8. Starwood’s Live 360
The Mall at Wellington Green is in Florida, not Hawaii. But should shoppers be walking beneath the palm trees in the atrium on a certain day, a chorus of ukuleles could have them thinking they’re in Waikiki. The free uke class is part of Starwood Retail Partner’s Live 360 program, a community outreach initiative that spread from two malls last year to 10 this year and is now moving portfolio-wide.
Lots of malls have community programs, but the genius of Starwood’s is that theirs, ideally, are run by an actual community member. “We have meetings where we get input on what people want to see in the mall and there’s always one individual who seems to be involved in everything. We hire that person to direct the Live 360 program,” said Starwood Retail Senior VP Laurie Paquette. Two of them are now in place, bringing locals to the mall for yoga classes, Mom’s Club stroller workouts, and mall-walking clubs.
#9. Outlets of Little Rock’s Food Truck Festival
Outlet centers came into being to feed people’s appetites for luscious bargains on luxury goods, not to feed them food. Most are now adapting to the culinary call and stocking their open spaces with restaurants, but we applaud the ingenuity used by New England Development in speeding food to their outlet centers with food truck festivals.
The Arkansas Food Truck & Craft Beer Festival at Outlets of Little Rock was a sell-out (Did we mention that adding beer’s a good idea?), attracting 6,000 people, many from neighboring states. Center traffic went up 112% on the day, and tenants were overjoyed. “Blew numbers away, awesome day,” was one message sent to NED marketing VP Debbie Black, who told us to be sure to mention that social media was a key ingredient to event success. Three-quarters of festival-goers said they’d found out about it on Facebook.
#10. Avalon’s Noon to Night
Forget that the 500,000-sq.-ft. Avalon shopping center is part of a new-era, 86-acre mixed use development. Forget that “Experience Avalon” is the name of its website. Avalon made this list for two reasons: 1.) staff at the North American Properties center started working on its Noon to Night event as soon as its doors opened in 2014 and 2.) they executed a deft new take on the well-worn fashion show theme.
Noon to Night is held during New York Fashion Week, but among the models on its runways are terminally ill children. The inaugural 2015 event raised $10,000 for Bert’s Big Adventure, which sends the kids to Disneyland. Last year, that blossomed to $60,000, and Avalon looks to make its fundraising adventure even bigger this year. “Our main goal with events is to promote our retailers and restaurants, but when this came to fruition, it ended up being the perfect blend of business and charity,” said Carla Toro, Avalon’s marketing director.