Market and Implementation Tactics
The following are a collection of ideas prepared by CNU-California Member, Scott Watkins, to serve as a short-term plan to increase the mall’s economic activity, decrease vacancy rates, and increase the return on short-term investments.
The CNU has developed a strategy to accomplish quick, often temporary, inexpensive interventions to increase activity of underutilized space. Our Tactical Urbanism initiative consists of a short range plan to increase activity by applying low-cost, temporary changes that could increase business activity and result in significant national recognition as forward thinking in the face of a dynamic, volatile retail environment.
Three customer segments could generate an immediate up-tick in current economic activity with a few strategic improvements: Silver Shoppers (seniors), millennial public transit riders, and the cross-sales between current and future tenants.
A Tactical Urbanism starts with a scrape and scrub action to improve the Mall’s digital presence and boost services offered by the Mall. Each initiative would likely involve two levels, a “surface” layer to improve existing conditions and a deeper one, to improve the overall mall experience.
A scrape and scrub initiative seeks to improve existing storefronts from re-imagining window signs and displays; to replacing outdated vending machines; from dusting and rotation of merchandise and updating all existing outdoor signs; to repairing all kiosks; replacing burnt out lighting, and repairing HVAC, plumbing and bathroom fixtures.
On a deeper level, add more interactive art, wall murals, improved/active sidewalks, creative seating, and reconfigure certain areas of the parking lot into a more active public space. Activities that could fit within parking lots include a dog park, a pop-up cafe, converting pavement into plazas, drone racing, guerrilla gardening, mobile vendors, and bike parking, street fairs or entertainment events. It’s 2018, not 2008.
Improving the digital presence within the County Fair Mall provides a major opportunity to increase economic activity, decrease vacancy, and increase return on investment. Of the vast majority of American citizens, 95% own a cell phone of which 77% are smart phones. This level of ownership and use of connected devices is already happening within the County Fair Mall. Unfortunately, cell phone service within the mall can be spotty and WiFi is not currently offered throughout the mall. This limits customers in their ability to stay digitally connected and share their experience with friends, family and the greater community.
County Fair Mall established a social media presence, along with an abandoned website at countyfairfashionmall.com. Each of these outlets is vital in gaining and keeping customers engaged in shopping at the County Fair Mall. Improved marketing of the shopping mall requires rebuilding the website and taking ownership of and engaging with reviewers of Google and Yelp reviews. Additionally, increase activity on social media where many Woodland residents actively share information, resources and advice. Good neighbors of Woodland, a closed group of 8,809 Woodland area residents, represent a very active community with the County Fair Mall being a frequent topic of conversation. Unfortunately, the conversations that are currently taking place are more often unflattering.
Boosting the County Fair Mall’s services can follow a re-commitment to the services already offered. Adding free, encrypted Wifi, upgrading the current speaker system and establishing a music playing program, upgrading security cameras, re-imagining the allocation of space to businesses, and integrating interactive art and emerging technologies, are examples of services with high return on effort.
Recently, WiFi was ranked as the #1 essential amenity for retailers, as important as water or electricity. The County Fair Mall can connect with customers as they are shopping with Wifi systems positioned as revenue neutral, or even revenue positive, by incorporating localized advertising from Mall stores. Providing mall customers with free encrypted WiFi allows each to promote Mall activities. Customers can “check-in” at stores on Facebook, “Pinterest” the engaging activities, and “Tweet” sales and promotions with one click.
When choosing music to influence shopping behavior, pace and tempo are the easiest ways to effect shopping behavior. Scientific findings generally agree that slower, more leisurely music causes shoppers to spend more time contemplating their purchases and enjoying the atmosphere. It also leads to a significant increase in sales. Up tempo or fast-paced music encourages quicker shopping and fewer purchases.
During our charrette, the team learned from the Woodland Economic Development Department’s Business Survey of existing businesses, that entrepreneur friendliness is important when re-imagining possible uses for existing retail space. During an impromptu meeting, the Dean of CTE and Workforce Development at Woodland Community College expressed a firm desire for retail space that was flexible in retail leases, including short term, seasonal and multi-tenant shared space.
Business incubation, shared office and complementary businesses foster a healthy business mix and strong potential for cross-sales between businesses. A multi-tenanted retail store can reduce the cost of starting a business and create a ladder for business to grow. Entrepreneurs can start small and grow into larger spaces as their business grows, effectively becoming long-term tenants in short-term leases, which also may be more profitable per square foot of space.
Integrating interactive public art to create complexity and an ever changing dynamic of the mall is an effective strategy for capturing more silver shoppers and millennials. Interactive installations are designed to respond to touch, movement and sound. Many interactive installations are accessible and intuitive for people of any age, ability level or cultural background.
Interactive installations help increase pedestrian comforts in unfamiliar public places through sound, music and movement. Travelers feel more connected to the community and residents find new opportunities for collaboration in a shared and positive experience. Strangers can become best friends in a matter of moments when teens and techies pocket their phone and become instantly more engaged in the physical surroundings.
When interactive public art is connected with the physical web, or Internet of Things (IoT), several new layers of usability and functionality are created. A combination of Bluetooth beacons and sensors, from motion, light, weight or pressure to touch and sound provide an ideal mechanism for generating a steady and reliable stream of data we can analyze for trends of how people interact in the mall.
Connected devices and interactive public art make great backdrops for selfies with interesting destinations and experiences for silver shoppers, who may find the interactivity a great physical activity to accompany walking the mall.
We recommend the integration of tactics, ideas, and intervention above for the short-term survival of the mall until the mall property transforms into the forms and uses described in the CNU-California Charrette Plan.