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VOL. 39 | NO. 45 | Friday, November 6, 2015

Malls use technology to keep modern shoppers

By Hollie Deese

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The Avenue in Murfreesboro, which sold in 2013 for $163 million, is the hub of the city’s northwestern expansion.

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Santa is arriving at The Mall at Green Hills this weekend, marking the start of the luxury mall’s holiday shopping season.

All over the Middle Tennessee, from Opry Mills to Providence Marketplace, from CoolSprings Galleria to Indian Lake, shopping malls are gearing up for the most important time of the year for the bottom line.

But these days, it’s far more complicated than putting out the decorations and finding a kiosk for Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

Technology rules the day, and The Mall at Green Hills will soon have its own app to help holiday shoppers negotiate the chaos ­­­– and find the best deal, naturally.

“We’ve had to integrate ourselves into the Internet,” says Kimberly Shadwick, general manager of the Mall at Green Hills. “We have a website, we’re on Facebook, we will soon be launching a shopping center app.

“That little smartphone device everybody carries around and has their head buried in, you have to integrate your business into that. We have to keep ourselves updated and modern.

“We have to be a part of the technological world that we’re in today.”

Details of what exactly the app will do will be announced later, Shadwick says.

More than 82 percent of holiday shoppers say they plan to spend the same amount of money, if not more, at a mall this year than they have in the past, according to an EYE Corp Media survey through Edison Research.

Increasingly, shoppers are integrating their cell phones with their in-store shopping experience, with more than 75 percent of holiday shoppers checking prices with their mobile phones. They also read reviews, compare features and send pictures of items to others for input.

While many retailers are concerned shoppers use their phone to “showroom,” which is the process of looking at products in store then buying them cheaper somewhere else online, data suggests consumers’ use of mobile devices to check features and comparison shop actually leads to more in-store sales.

“One thing that many shoppers and customers still want is that experience of physically touching, seeing and trying on merchandise, but those that are successful are going to make sure that they give them that total experience,” Shadwick says. “I think the most successful retailers in malls keep themselves evolving with the times and integrate that brick and mortar experience into that smartphone website social experience, too.”

Businesses like Warby Parker, Athleta and Bonobos, she points out, began as online retailers and are now opening some physical stores. “That shows you that brick and mortar store is important,” she adds.

Shadwick has been the general manager of the Mall at Green Hills for nearly three years, and it has been a homecoming of sorts. She started working at Green Hill’s Cain-Sloan department store in 1980, a part-time salesperson to supplement her teaching job after graduating from college. Eventually, she made the transition into retail management.

“I started entry level as a department manager at the Cain-Sloan store,” she says. “I worked my way up through the ranks and became a women’s apparel buyer for them.”

Shadwick ultimately became the buyer for Dillard’s in their Little Rock Arkansas division, which also bought for the Nashville area store. In 1990, she left Dillard’s to begin working for the Taubman Company in mall management. Her first assignment was back in Nashville to build the Bellevue Center mall.

After that experience, she was gone from Middle Tennessee for years, spending time in Chicago, Houston and Michigan before her company bought Green Hills in December 2011. She came back to help transition the team. After the GM left, the Murfreesboro native was able to come full circle.

“I love Nashville and I always wanted to come back, so I returned in February of 2013,” she says.

Cain-Sloan was originally where Dillard’s still is today as a separate store, and the mall was built nearby. The shopping mall expanded in 1991, and then again in 2005. In 2011, Nordstrom joined the Mall, and now they’re undergoing a major expansion project, a new two-level Dillard’s store with three levels of parking underground.

And more is coming.

“There’s always leases in the works,” Shadwick explains. “Whenever we expand our shopping center and are able to add more retail space, we’ll have a lot of things to announce, but it’s just too early to know who those retailers are. Because that’s 2019 before that area will open.”

Officials at other malls in Middle Tennessee are likewise optimistic for the Christmas rush.

Atlanta-based Cousins Properties and Faison Enterprises sold the open-air Murfreesboro mall, The Avenue, to Houston-based Hines Global REIT Inc. for $163 million in August 2013. Since then Philip Purdom, a principal with leasing representatives David Hocker and Associates says business has been good.

“We’ve gone from about 88 percent to 94 percent occupancy and sales have increased a good 10-12 percent in those two years,” Purdom says. “We’re on a 5-6 percent increase for over 12 months right now which is pretty good in this environment from what you see at a lot of other places.”

Built in 2007, The Avenue has 10 buildings at just over 750,000 square feet with about 100 retailers. They’ve taken a few tenants from the nearby Stones River Mall, including Forever 21 and The Gap, and also added The Buckle and BJ Brewhouse just last month.

And there is more coming there too, with leases out for signature on 3-4 apparel tenants and another restaurant, expected to be announced before the end of the year.

“Our existing tenants have done well,” Purdom adds. “Belk seems to keep doing extremely well. Our big boxes seem to have done very well. Traffic has increased almost 10 percent. We’re seeing a lot of positives in what I would call a soft retail market across the country.”

Shadwick says an area’s growth is needed for a mall to succeed, and Rutherford County has the numbers.

The county has 282,183 residents, with a 2019 estimate of 303,410, according to the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce. Population growth from 2000-2011 was 47.6 percent.

“When we took over just two years ago, the only hotel that was open was the Embassy Suites,” Purdom says.

“Since then they have opened the Marriott Residence, the Hilton Garden Inn, Holiday Inn Express. That’s 330-350 rooms. Then the Marriott Courtyard is under construction, and they have the apartment complexes now open. That is 450 units and now they just broke ground on another one right beside The Avenue. It’s amazing what’s happened in two years.”

It’s a lack of growth that Shadwick thinks contributed to the demise of Bellevue Center even though she left the area after it opened. That, and the fact CoolSprings Galleria opened just one year later.

“Typically, to be able to build a mall and support a mall in an area, it’s got to have growth of population in that area,” she explains.

“Quite honestly some of that trade area they shared, and there wasn’t enough population to support both of those shopping centers. Then you look at the growth that occurred down I-65 into Williamson County. The growth did not occur out in the Bellevue area. Certainly it’s grown some, but you haven’t seen the explosion in that area like you saw down the I-65 corridor.”

Shadwick says the success of The Mall at Green Hills is due to the area’s increase in improving walkability and the original promise of what a mall has to offer that standalone shops might not – convenient or valet parking, a climate controlled atmosphere, a variety of places to shop and even Santa Claus.

“For malls to be successful they really have to offer the right mix of tenants that the consumers in the market are asking for, and we have to keep ourselves updated and modern,” she says. “That’s why Nordstrom is here today, because that was the No. 1 requested store. We want to continue to offer that strong mix of luxury and unique-to-market brands.”

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