Six ways shopping centers are getting creative with their space

 —  Article by William Polk
activities in mall of america
Image credit: Shutterstock

While internet shopping will always offer convenience, there are some things about visiting a physical retail space that can’t be replicated online.

As the retail industry continues to evolve, shopping centers across the U.S. are seizing new opportunities to move beyond housing bricks-and-mortar stores into activity hubs.

“One opportunity lies in the maximization of vacant retail space. Shopping centers have always looked to make the most of their space and generate revenue, but with store closings becoming more frequent, the space they leave behind is being filled by a new type of tenant,” says Tracey Hatley, Director of Specialty Leasing, JLL Retail.

Here are six ways shopping centers are maximizing space in today’s retail environment:

  • Seasonal activities

Seasonal activities like pumpkin patches, boat or car shows, Christmas tree lots, summer carnivals and garden centers can generate additional foot traffic and revenue for shopping centers. “At different points of the year your neighborhood nursery might lease space to get additional sales and traffic,” says Hatley.

  • Creating experiences

Events are springing up across US malls as consumers start to spend more of their disposable income on experiences rather than goods or clothes. “Anything that’s entertainment or experiential is becoming increasingly popular with consumers looking for more than just a shopping trip when they go to the mall,” says Hatley. Escape rooms are taking over vacant department store space in across the country. Shopping centers have also hosted special 5k runs where runners race around during the night. Mall of America, for example, hosts over 400 events from cupcake decorating for kids to meet and greets with pop stars.

  • Adding destinations

Vacant spaces are great for destination uses like exercise classes or healthcare facilities. “In order to drive traffic, you want something in those side spaces where people don’t usually walk. Anything that’s service or destination-oriented, where people need to make appointments such as hairdressers or nail salons is great to fill vacant space,” says Hatley. .Healthcare facilities like dentists or screening centers are also popping up in malls; they benefit from the visibility and higher footfall while consumers often find them to be in a more convenient location.

  • Office space

Office space is becoming more prevalent as an option for vacant shopping center space. From insurance offices and call centers to coworking spaces, new office space is coming in many shapes and sizes. Take Bespoke for example, a coworking, demo and event space provider. It set up space in Westfield San Francisco two years ago and is credited with bringing in 100,000 new visitors in its first year. And over in Orlando, the West Oaks mall is welcoming a 67,000 square foot Bed Bath and Beyond call center.

  • Working with cell phone companies

Rooftop antennas can be found on many shopping centers nationwide. “A two-story mall in a suburban market might be the highest point in the area,” Hatley says. “In order to boost cellular signals, cell phone companies are putting antennas on shopping center roofs because they’re good sites to do that.”

  • Logistics space

Last-mile fulfillment is a great use to target,” says Hatley. Unused space, particularly within large population centers, can be transformed to house packages from online purchases. Storing those goods in vacant shopping center space would speed up logistics and reduce costs for the last mile of delivery – one of the most expensive stages of package delivery.

In order to maximize vacant space, shopping centers must keep their merchandizing mix in mind. “You don’t need or want several jewelry stores, for example,” says Hatley. “The goal is always to add occupancy to the property and generate revenue for the bottom line, but you try to complement existing stores within a shopping center and add an element of excitement as well.”

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