With shoppers increasingly drawn to discount outlets, on-line shops and big-box retailers, hanging out at the mall has almost become a lost art. But thanks to big-name partners such as Coca-Cola, Crayola and even the St. Louis Blues NHL team, mall developer Mills Corporation has turned a typical mall visit into an entertainment extravaganza.
Instead of anchoring its million-square-foot malls with the traditional department store, the Arlington, Virginia-based company has partnered with top-name brands to install a half-pipe at the ESPN X Games Skatepark, an arts & crafts center at the Crayola Works Creativity Studio and Store, and a play-and-learn area at the PBS Kids Backyard in St. Louis.
Petra Maruca, VP of partnership marketing at Mills, says her division seeks out both regional and national family-friendly brands that can offer shoppers a bigger experience than just shopping or eating. Maruca assesses potential brands based on their ability to drive shopper traffic to the mall (since Mills’ goal is to convert that traffic into retail sales) and giving shoppers added value for their time. ‘One of the realities of our industry is that people have become very brand-centric and loyal,’ she says. ‘If we can continue to partner with key brands, there will be extended value to our customers.’
As far as what its partners get out of the arrangement, it’s all about big-scale brand interaction. Maruca says the greatest asset her company can extend to these partners is the sheer number of consumers the 15 malls attract. ‘Our partners have the opportunity to engage that shopper base with brand awareness, product messaging, services and product demonstrations.’
The PBS Kids Backyard area attracted more that 250,000 shoppers during its opening weekend in November 2003. Within the 3,000-square-foot space dedicated to building literacy skills, kids can head to the computer stations and play PBS games, display their written stories on a garden wall and participate in group readings.
PBS Kids’ VP of marketing and consumer products, Tracy Beaker, says additional Backyard destinations are planned for Mills malls opening in Cincinnati, New Jersey and Pittsburgh this year.