I started writing this blog August 9, 2008, shortly after my first gig as a public speaker for the retail industry. My first post was about a Christmas present I received and the announcement that I would be playing guitar in public* for the first time at the Nomad Bookhouse.
(*Apparently back then I didn’t consider playing guitar in church as part of worship “playing in public”.)
By October of 2008, a group of us local business owners had launched Jackson Local First, our Shop Local organization for the community, and my blog changed. From that point forward it was less about toys and Toy House and Phil, and more about you, the indie retailer and small business owner finding new ways to compete with national chains and the Internet.
Since those early days (and you can find every single post archived on my website) my goal has always been to help you feel good about being in this career by showing you concrete ways you can compete and win, while also giving you the background information why those ways work. If you are new to this blog, you might want to sift back through some older posts. There are some true nuggets tucked away for those willing to look. (Okay, so maybe you’re a little busy right now. Put it on your calendar for January.)
This post, however, might not make you feel all that great. I’m going to post two pictures taken in the two malls here in Jackson.
Here is picture #1 …
This picture was taken on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend—a typical shopping holiday—in Westwood Mall at 11:30am (anchor stores of JCP, Younkers, and Walmart). Notice the lack of shoppers. Now, in all fairness, Jackson is a county filled with lakes, so it is possible the lakes trumped shopping. You could roll a bowling ball the length of that mall without fear of hitting anyone.
Here is picture #2 …
This picture was taken last night at 7:46pm in our other mall, the bigger, busier one with Toys R Us, Target, Best Buy, Kohl’s and Sears as anchors.
Once again, this could be the result of the economic woes in our county and the shrinking population—the two factors that led to our choice to close shop. Or it could be a symptomatic problem with a much bigger cause. (What I find most amazing in this pic is that this is the “walkers” mall and there isn’t even a group of walkers pacing the corridor.)
Like I said, this may not make you feel better, especially if you are in a mall location.
Here is why you should feel better.
The decline in mall traffic is really caused by two things—cellphones and incredibly poor customer service. Cellphones have replaced meetups. You don’t go meet your friends at the mall anymore because you’ve been texting them all day long. Many people thought teens hanging out at the mall would be a bad thing. It wasn’t. Someone had to drive those teens (malls weren’t typically located in high-density neighborhoods). Parents who drove their teens to the mall would often stop in so as not to waste a trip. That familiarity led to future trips.
Unfortunately, those days are long gone. The mall is no longer a meet-up, drawing its own traffic. You have to want to shop there to even bother making the trip.
That’s where the stores, themselves, have failed. Too many mall stores relied only on the mall and its anchors to draw their traffic. They never knew how to draw traffic themselves. As the malls drew less and less traffic (and/or the anchors kept expanding their departments to eat into the mall stores categories), these stores cut back on personnel to match dwindling sales. Of course, that led to a downward spiral in what was already poor levels of customer service.
Is it any wonder that Outlet Malls, where Transactional Customers don’t expect any service in the first place, continue to draw traffic while traditional malls suffer? When someone else is drawing your traffic and options are fewer, you can get away with poor customer service. That type of retail climate no longer exists.
Nowadays ALL retail is destination retail. People only go to shops by choice. Since independent retailers have always been destinations by nature, you are best suited to win the brick & mortar dollars of today (of which by last count there are still over a trillion of them). You win in this game by being the destination, the store everyone wants to go to because it is fun, exciting, worthwhile, important, friendly, helpful, surprisingly delightful.
Those pictures aren’t meant to scare you. They are meant to inspire you. The malls didn’t lose to the Internet just because the Internet exists. They lost because they didn’t take care of their customers.
PS This does beg the question … If you are in a mall, should you move? The answer is complicated. If you truly have created a destination store, you can make it work almost anywhere. If you are paying mall prices and not getting mall benefits, however, you might want to contact a realtor and see what is out there. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of location later, okay?