Not sure if you have heard, but the megamall is in dire straits. Articles penned by USA Today, The New Yorker, and Business Insider have all prophesied the end of the shopping center as we know it. Blaming the economy, changing culture, and a population shift from the suburbs to the city for the decline, many industry insiders say the beginning of the end is near so get your food court fix in now! Usually when so called insiders herald the end of an era, many of us take it with a grain of salt and maybe an eye roll or two. But, a recent rebranding effort by one of the country's largest mall property owners may make you think otherwise.
If you have ever strolled through The Galleria or spent the day at Houston Premium Outlets, you are familiar with the Simon Mall brand. Owner of hundreds of properties across the country, Simon is the largest purveyor of mall culture in America and they are making some big changes.
"In the past we relied on our retailers to drive traffic, we just needed to keep the place clean and looking nice. Now we want to think, act, look, and feel less like a property landlord and more like a retailer," says Chidi Achara Simon Global Creative Director in a recent Skype interview. As one of the leads in the company's current rebranding campaign, Achara has his eye on the customer of the future, specifically millennials.
As part of the marketing blitz accompanying their new look, Simon is hosting high concept and technology filled events at their properties aimed at attracting new customers and educate old customers about the brand behind their favorite centers. "We want to look as cool as an H&M or Gap and build engagement to give people more than one reason to come to Simon," says Achara.
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Two of these events have come to Houston - pat on the back to the Bayou City - the most recent being The Shopping Block, an interactive pop up shop installation created in partnership with Refinery29 and local boutiques and designers.
The partnership with Refinery29 was a strategic choice by Achara and his team, "They are the Vogue of the millennial generation .. they have perfected the tone of aspirational but accessible." Having their hand on the pulse of this new generation is what Refinery29 is good at and that falls perfectly in line with Simon's new image. If one can be guilty by association, then one can also be cool by association, right?
I attended The Shopping Block and I must admit it was pretty cool. The presence of some of our most popular local shops and designers - including a copper jewelry designer I fell in love with - brought some serious street cred. The selfie station was, of course, very popular and the make your own tote bag station was hands down my favorite. I hadn't been to Houston Premium Outlet in years, but I'm pretty sure I would have gone to that event on any given day. Basically, their plan worked. For the rest of the weekend I saw post after post on Instagram and Twitter of people - some between the ages of 20 and 30 - having a ball at Houston Premium Outlets. Well played Simon.
Granted, companies remake themselves every day, that doesn't necessarily equate to impending doom. But if the largest company within a specific industry is making such a dramatic change, then something must be up. Maybe Simon is preparing for a new market place because the numbers do indeed predict the death of the mall in its old form. They are right to heed the warning and adapt to this new world. After all, if you don't evolve, you go extinct.