Lessons from a Shopping Mall

On a cloudless summer day in suburban Chicago, a woman put her two children in the car and drove to the shopping mall. There she met one of her best girlfriends, who also came to the mall with her kids.

The group of two moms and four kids spent the whole day at the mall, having lunch in the cafeteria and then leisurely strolling, shopping and people watching. An afternoon movie in the attached theatre and malted milkshakes at the ice cream parlor finished off the mall excursion before the women drove back to their respective homes to prepare dinner.

These two women absolutely loved the mall. In their minds, it was one of the greatest places on Earth. After all, the mall was exciting, full of the latest and greatest retailers, a state-of-the-art movie theatre and plenty of free parking. Even better, the climate controlled indoor environment made it possible for a whole day of shopping and entertainment without being subjected to Chicago’s often extreme weather. No doubt about it; the mall was THE place to see and be seen.

That was 1968. It was the heyday of the enclosed regional shopping mall in America.

Here’s how this story might read in 2011:

A well-educated, working mom is able to duck out of her office for a couple hours at lunch to catch up on some long-deferred errands. With the kids in school, it’s her chance to actually get things done. That’s critical, because evenings and weekends are filled with dance lessons, soccer practice and select-league baseball games that often require the family to spend weekends at out-of-town tournaments.

Her challenge is to fit a whole day’s slate of errands into two hours. She drives her minivan to the power center located along the freeway. There she takes advantage of a 30%-off discount card she received in the mail from Kohl’s department store before stopping by the Wal-Mart Super Center to stock up on non-perishable consumables mostly manufactured in China. She takes care of mailing packages and dropping off dry cleaning at her friendly mega grocery store’s customer service counter.

Next, she speeds over to the lifestyle center, an outdoor mall with heavy landscaping, upscale national-chain retailers and a nice-but-fake-looking façade. There she purchases high-end cosmetics (the all-natural kind that are never tested on animals) and a dress for the coming weekend’s formal dinner. Before jumping in the minivan, she grabs a double latte, a little reward for getting so much done so quickly. She must head back to the office and cram in her work before picking up the kids from their after-school program.

Indeed, times have changed.

As the lives of retail customers have evolved, the retailers and the shopping mall owners have had to change in order to keep up. Today’s harried shopper simply doesn’t have the time to spend the whole day at the mall. Speed and convenience are critically important. Shoppers still want luxury and entertainment, but they have to be easily accessible and located close to homes or offices.

Consequently, we now see many of those old malls, the ones that were gleaming and glorious in 1968, being torn down and replaced with big-box retailers, open-air lifestyle centers and mixed-use “walkable” villages.

A perfect example is Randhurst Mall built in 1962 in the Chicago suburb of Mt. Prospect, Ill. According to Midwest Real Estate News, the once-popular Randhurst is now desolate, so crews are demolishing most of it to make way for a mixed-use center that will be home to offices, a hotel and a bunch of entertainment businesses in addition to an updated mix of retailers.

Retailers and retail landlords either keep up with the trends or they die.

Well, retailers certainly aren’t alone, are they? Your business needs to adapt too.

Keep in mind that, as a person, you are essentially a business. You are a business of one, a business unto yourself. In a lot of ways, you (as a business of one) have much in common with retailers. Like a retailer, you are selling a product (yourself). Like a retailer, you want to portray your product in the most desirable way while making it extremely convenient to your customers. Like a retailer, you must adapt to the changing needs and preferences of the public.

Regardless of what you do for a living, you must place your clients on a pedestal. Their needs and wants are not only paramount, they’re moving targets.

Are you doing whatever it takes to keep up? Are you willing to tear down a 1960’s-era mall and replace it with one of today’s hot new shopping developments? Stay ahead of the trend or risk being squashed by it!

© 2011 – 2014, Jeff Beals. All rights reserved.

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