We’ve all read the headlines. “America’s Malls are Rotting Away,” or the “Death of the American Mall is Upon Us.” As the president of a brand synonymous with shopping malls, you’d think I’d be terrified. But I’m not.
I feel strongly that reports of the shopping mall’s demise are greatly exaggerated. Humans are social animals. Going shopping with family and friends, trying on clothes, watching your pretzels get twisted and baked in front of your eyes – this is all entertainment, an experience you can’t get from online shopping. Don’t get me wrong, the retail space is rapidly evolving, and e-commerce is the catalyst for the evolution. Malls need to adapt to deliver the experience that today’s consumer craves. Not all malls are going to do that successfully, but those that do will not only survive, they’ll thrive.
Choose the Right Mall
At Auntie Anne’s, we’re not treading water in shopping malls trying to stay afloat. Our same-store-sales in malls are positive, and we’re continuing to invest in our current locations while opening new ones. But not just any mall. We are very strategic about selecting the malls that best position us – and our franchisees – for success. The malls that aren’t dependent on a single anchor tenant to generate foot traffic. The malls that are investing in the consumer experience – entertainment via food halls or movie theaters or even aquariums, and mixed-use with hotels and condos. These investments to drive traffic are a must, and those that are doing it well are delivering results for their retailers. Malls that aren’t, well, you read about them in those doom and gloom articles.
I like to think of the mall industry as a tree, with each individual mall represented by a branch. To encourage healthy growth, you need to prune the tree, removing dead, overgrown or excess branches. By closing under-performing malls, the industry is becoming healthier and setting itself up for a bright future.
Capitalize on Foot Traffic
Capitalizing on the foot traffic in malls remains the primary challenge for every retailer. In the ‘90s, there were only a handful of snack options in shopping malls. A franchisee could open a store, sit back, and let the guests flock in. Today, shoppers have dozens of food brands fighting over their stomachs. The competition is fierce, as it’s a zero-sum game – if someone chooses a pretzel, they’re not buying a crêpe. If they get a smoothie, they’re not getting a frozen yogurt.
The competition also means brands have to do more. ”Auntie” Anne Beiler built our company on what she called the Threefold Philosophy: a fresh, hot, golden brown soft pretzel served in a sparkling clean store with friendly, courteous customer service. Exceptional products, a clean store, and great service remains a good start, but is no longer enough to maintain success.
Retailers need to cater to the needs and desires of their target audience. We recognize we’re an impulse purchase, not a destination. People walk by and are hopefully enticed to try a product. It’s part of what makes owning a mall location so profitable. However, we have a very small window of opportunity; if we don’t grab the shopper’s attention in the second or two that they’re in front of our store, we’ve lost them. The same can be said for most mall-based retailers. With so many options, how do you convince shoppers to visit you? You need to enhance their experience.
Now more than ever, products need to perfectly align with the needs of the consumer. Mall shoppers are looking for a spontaneous treat or pick-me-up to enjoy while shopping, so convenience and portability are key.
Consumers – particularly the younger generations – also want things that are fun, innovative, and Instagrammable. Brands must tap into this trend and continue to introduce products that capture the attention of passersby, differentiate them from the competition, and generate brand buzz.
Expand Your Reach
We live in a convenience-based society where consumers expect brands to come to them. This presents a unique opportunity, as retailers are no longer limited by their physical locations. In the past, non-mall shoppers were nearly impossible for mall-based retailers to reach. Today, retailers can connect with consumers anywhere, anytime. For example, last year Auntie Anne’s launched a national catering program, allowing guests to enjoy our pretzels at any occasion they want, from office meetings to weddings. We also have a lot of stores that offer delivery via third-party partners like Grubhub. Off-premise is growing at a rapid pace and it’s essential that brands look into capitalizing on it to help build on their success. By expanding their reach beyond the four walls of the mall, brands can add revenue streams and grow sales for mall locations, even if the traffic within their venues stagnates.
For retailers in shopping malls, today’s environment is challenging, but also rife with opportunity. If you make sure you’re in the right malls, capitalize on the foot traffic, and expand your reach beyond the venue, you’ll be well positioned for success.
Heather Neary was named President of Auntie Anne’s in November 2015. Heather joined Auntie Anne’s in 2005 and has held various roles in the company in which she was responsible for the oversight of marketing, communications, the franchise business consultant team, research and development, product innovation, and the franchisee leadership team. Prior to being named president, Heather served as Auntie Anne’s Vice President, Global Marketing.