Malls, the Hot Spots
Stock The Shop
Cape May, NJ
San Antonio, Texas
Gift shops come in all sizes – and locations! The decision to locate your business depends on a lot of factors including rent and traffic. Find out why these gift shops decided to give their local shopping centers a try.
Gift shops in malls offer customers something different from the standard options in department stores—the variety of one-in-a-kind gifts attract shoppers looking for something fun at fairly affordable price points. These shops are not just a winning hand for customers – for small gift store retailers too the steady traffic and opportunity to piggyback on a mall’s marketing strategy can be invaluable.
Shopping center gift shops vary in operational strategies depending on their location – one in a strip mall for example, might attract a very different customer demographic than another in a lifestyle center. We take a look at a sampling of different gift shops to see how their logistics differ from ones on Main Street, and equally, from each other.
The Great Outdoors
Three years ago, empty nesters Suzanne Greene and her husband, Jon, decided to move to Cape Cod in Massachusetts to be closer to Suzanne’s sister and elderly father. Around the same time, the Greenes decided to merge her husband’s specialty kaleidoscopes business with hers selling women’s outerwear and accessories. The resulting store, Cape Kaleidoscopes, in Mashpee Commons, an outdoor lifestyle center at the Cape, has been enjoying brisk business.
The Greenes carefully weighed their options before deciding to invest in a space at the Commons. “We first considered buying a home with a barn or large garage space in the back whereby Jon could have his studio and we could open a small shop to sell his line. But then we realized a shopping complex would allow us to we could expand our retail concept,” Suzanne says. Mashpee Commons is a tourist draw and like most upscale lifestyle centers, features an eclectic mix of big-name, high-end stores like William-Sonoma and Chico’s, as well as quite a few smaller, independently owned boutiques.
The store sells kaleidoscopes in every possible style, material and price range. Greene also sells handcrafted glass jewelry, including kaleidoscope-inspired pieces. The shop also carries kaleidoscope-inspired photography, notecards, trivets, wooden boxes, handbags, and one-of-a-kind kaleidoscope quilts, and a large line of sand art. “Specializing in kaleidoscopes and ‘kaleidoscope-inspired’ gifts, I have a completely different product mix than any store here at Mashpee Commons. My customers know that they can find a gift that is unique and even magical,” Suzanne says.
While the rent at Mashpee Commons is high, Suzanne points out that you get what you pay for. “I’ve never regretted opening a store here,” she says.
In addition to print and television advertising and social media marketing, the store takes “advantage of as many co-operative advertising opportunities with Mashpee Commons and with other merchants, plus the Cape Cod and Mashpee Chambers of Commerce, and other groups.” The marketing outreach attracts the attention of corporations and organizations for large orders, and as a specialty store with an online presence, the Greenes have access to shoppers worldwide.
Settled in a Strip Mall
Located in the open-air Washington Street mall pedestrian concourse in Cape May, NJ, Good Scents is a gift shop featuring a large range of scented items including incense and candles, as well as jewelry, accessories and more.Owner Cindy Huf says her store is in a heavily trafficked location but at the same time allows shoppers to take their time. “By contrast, stores on the main concourse can get overly packed by tourists and shoppers, discouraging serious shoppers,” she says.
The product mix also includes a wide range of jewelry, and exotic, Eastern-inspired items such as Buddha statues, tall vases and textile items with a Zen flair. Huf says she acquired a line called ‘Baieido,’ an authentic Japanese incense originating in 1657, a true specialty that shoppers like to buy for themselves and as gifts. Good Scents’ ever-changing, exotic scents and tactile items differ from other stores offering more coastal-themed items.
The store has a strong presence on Facebook, “which allows us to keep in touch with customers on a more personal level, which is fun for us to put a face to the name,” says Huf.
She is also involved in the Washington Street Mall Business Improvement District, which undertakes a variety of marketing activities, including advertising campaigns for special seasonal events like concerts, and boat and holiday festivals.
Editor’s Note: Since Good Scents was interviewed for this feature, the New Jersey shoreline was hit by Hurricane Sandy. Fortunately the store and mall area did not suffer much damage and Good Scents was a true good neighbor, helping those less fortunate. Huf used her strong Facebook presence to notify the community about updates including free help and services.
Nine-Tails, a shop specializing in alternative and Japanese pop culture, is located in the Wonderland of the Americas Mall in San Antonio, Texas. Owner Justin Surface says that his store attracts fans of Japanese anime, Sanrio Hello Kitty brand items and the ‘gaming’ culture.
Surface says the mall was once a failing one, purchased by an investor for redevelopment, so he was able to get in “on the ground floor,” and pick prime real estate in the mall. Nine-Tails is located just above the food court, near the Bijou Theater that plays foreign, independent movies. Surface says that customers attracted to the theater’s offerings are also ones who like his store’s gifts. Products include backpacks, plush animals, lanyards, anime folders and notebooks, T-shirts featuring anime images and more. “We pre-order our new Sanrio [items] three to four months out, and bring in new products three to four times a month.” In addition, Nine-Tails also stocks a large variety of Japanese pop culture-style items made by local artists, which Surface says is very popular with shoppers wishing to support local artists and the local economy.
“We won’t carry Angry Birds or other trend items,” that can be found in so many other outlets. “Instead, we look for really unique items. We’re always looking for new vendors.”
Surface says that a downtown location might have attracted more tourists but that “locals don’t shop there, because parking is really difficult downtown.” The lower rent also helps. Surface estimates that he pays 1/3 to 1/4 less in rent than he would in a downtown location.
Surface says the store does marketing of its own and appreciates the marketing campaigns done by the mall as well. These include concerts by mariachi bands, holiday events, contests and other special events promoted by the mall. “But you can’t rely on your location to do the marketing for you. Our marketing is 90% us, and 10% the mall,” he says.
All in all it appears that gift retailers in malls might pay a little more in rent sometimes but that is more than amply compensated by foot traffic and improved marketing abilities.
According to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a lifestyle center must include the following attributes: a location near affluent residential neighborhoods; an upscale orientation; 150,000 sq. ft. to 500,000 sq. ft. of GLA; an open-air format; and at least 50,000 sq. ft. of national specialty chain stores.
Lifestyle patrons shop more often and spend more, according to statistics from an ICSC study. According to the report, the average number of stores shoppers entered was 2.9 at the lifestyle centers versus 2.3 at conventional malls. The average retail expenditure per visit was $75.70 at the lifestyle centers versus $73.30 at the malls. Lifestyle shoppers made 3.8 visits to their centers in a 30-day period, while mall shoppers paid 3.4 visits to their centers in that same time.