CATHERINE PIDAL has seen a lot of changes at Roosevelt Field since its
opening in 1956. She remembers when it was an outdoor mall with Macy's
as the sole department store, when groceries could be purchased, when a
second level was added, and more recently, when Bloomingdale's and
But last month, the Garden City retiree was taken aback when large
yellow signs with the word, "Simon," in red appeared everywhere at
Roosevelt Field. "I didn't know what it was at first. I thought it might
be a new store," Pidal said during one of her twice weekly trips to Long
Island's largest enclosed shopping mall.
She was mildly irked after learning that Simon wasn't a retailer,
Field. "They are a huge corporation, and it seems like they have taken
over. But you don't understand it because they haven't explained what
they are doing," she said.
At the former South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, Betty Dees shares the
same frustration. She likes the $45 million worth of renovations and new
Lord & Taylor department store, but wondered why the owner, Los
Angeles-based Westfield America Inc., changed the mall's name to
Westfield Shoppingtown South Shore. "Shoppers should have been told
before they did this because we're the ones keeping the mall open," said
the school bus driver from Brookhaven, who goes there three times a
week. "If you tell someone to meet you at Westfield, they won't know
what you are talking about. You'll have to give directions; everybody
knows South Shore Mall."
For weeks, confusion among shoppers, and some retailers, has reigned
developers roll out multimillion-dollar advertising campaigns that
emphasize their name over the malls' traditional monikers. The perplexed
looks and head-scratching multiplied March 1, after Simon plastered its
name and the slogan, "Simply the best shopping there is," on everything
that didn't move at its four area centers: Mall at The Source, Smith
Haven Mall, Roosevelt Field and Walt Whitman Mall.
Faced with increased competition for shoppers from the Internet,
mail-order catalogs and strip plazas offering discounters and big-box
stores such as Kmart and Barnes & Noble Booksellers, mall owners are
attempting to hold on to their dominant position in retailing by
connecting with people in the same way that manufacturers of consumer
products do, said John Konarski of the International Council of Shopping
Centers, a trade group based in Manhattan. "The retail industry is
getting extremely competitive . . . Malls are trying to cultivate a
relationship where customers will shop at their centers," he said.
Heretofore anonymous developers hope to distinguish their malls by
improving customer service and offering perks such as discounted
merchandise for frequent shoppers. Executives predict that some day
people will choose a Simon mall over a Westfield Shoppingtown or vice
versa, just as now most prefer either Coke or Pepsi, McDonald's or
Burger King, Nike or Reebok.
Time-pressed shoppers, however, increasingly are choosing to open
their wallets elsewhere. In a survey by the Atlanta-based retail
consulting firm of Kurt Salmon Associates, the number of respondents
saying they planned to make fewer trips to malls this year more than
doubled to 23 percent from last year's figure. Trips to neighborhood
stores, on the other hand, are expected to increase this year by nearly
threefold to 21 percent.
Mall executives downplay the potential for alternative shopping
venues to lure away customers in what would be the most serious threat
to the industry since malls came to dominate retailing in the 1960s and
1970s. They tout efforts to tie groups of malls to an owner's name,
called branding, as helping people who have less time to shop due to
increased work and family responsibilities.
Kurt Ivey, marketing director for Simon's malls in metropolitan New
York and Boston, said of the new advertising campaign: "We are
responding to customers' needs. We want them to feel welcome, to bring
them back again and again."
The cornerstone of Simon's initiative is a nine-point pledge to
shoppers that its malls will be convenient to visit, offer value on a
wide assortment of goods and services, and provide fun for all ages. At
145 of the company's 243 properties, this list of promises has been
signed by employees and reproduced in wallet-sized cards to distribute
to shoppers, as well as 8-by-4-foot placards that greet them upon entry.
The pledge also is repeated in S: Smart Advice + Stylish Living, a
free magazine published monthly for Simon by Time Inc.
But don't expect investigative journalism here; this is Time-lite in
full-color glossy. Recent issues had articles on everything from "the
dirt on drycleaning" and tension-reducing exercises to the types of
shoes one should have in the closet and the 10 best-selling movie
Four of S magazine's 12 pages are customized for each mall with a
map and list of stores, message from the general manager and an events
calendar. About 2.2 million copies are given away at malls each month,
80,000 of them on Long Island.
S magazine replaces Simon's four-page broadsheet newspaper, called
The Savings Times. It became a must-read at older malls such as Lake
Grove's Smith Haven because the back page was filled with coupons from
retailers. Officials said these discounts are still available at the
customer service desk but only to members of MALLPeRKS, a frequent
shoppers' program that requires a one-time membership fee of $5.
MALLPeRKS is similar to the airlines' frequent-flier programs. The
more you buy at a Simon mall, the more points earned toward merchandise
from mall stores, travel, meals and gifts. Additional points come from
using a Simon-branded Visa credit card, AT & T telephone service and
Rebecca Weiss expects to be a MALLPeRKS member when the program
arrives later this year at Walt Whitman Mall and Roosevelt Field. "My
sister lives out East, and she's gotten some nice things for next to
nothing" at Smith Haven, said Weiss, a secretary from Melville.
About 2 million people nationwide have signed up for MALLPeRKS, and
company research shows members spend on average $245 per visit, more
than three times that of nonmembers.
Simon's frequent shopper incentives and mall magazine are featured
in 30-second TV commercials it plans to broadcast nationwide until
The whimsical spots, filmed in a California mall, show a man dancing
as he tries on suits, a bride swinging a golf club and a biker
sheepishly buying a book of poetry.
"This is all coming from existing marketing budgets. These aren't
new dollars," Simon's Ivey said, explaining that store rents and common
charges haven't been hiked to fund the media blitz.
He acknowledged that "it will take a long time to educate people"
about the importance of mall branding, but said "this makes good
business sense because we can endear shoppers to us even more."
Some retail experts are skeptical.
Lawrence Waldman, managing partner on Long Island for KPMG Peat
Marwick, said the stores at a mall and its proximity to shoppers' homes
are the key factors that determine whether they will go there. "People
understand what it means to own a BMW or give a gift from Tiffany. But
what does it mean that you shop at a Simon mall? I can't imagine this
will do much for them in the end run," he said.
Westfield executives credit a 30-year-old branding campaign in
Australia with making the company's name synonymous with mall shopping
to many, and giving it 40 percent of mall sales down under. Most
observers agree that Westfield pioneered mall branding.
"While some of our competitors don't understand it, it's really
giving us an opportunity to make a big jump forward, and I just don't
think they can copy us," Frank Lowy, Westfield's co-founder and
chairman, said last month at the annual meeting in Sydney.
He also said Simon and other competitors are imitating Westfield's
branding, but their malls aren't in the geographic clusters necessary to
make advertising as economical as it is for Westfield. An exception is
the former South Shore Mall in Bay Shore, which isn't close to another
Westfield center. Stock analysts estimate Westfield will spend $4
million nationwide on advertising this year compared with Simon's $22
Simon executives bristle at the suggestion their branding efforts
mimic those of others.
But recent visits to Simon and Westfield malls on Long Island found
only subtle differences. Both make public their promises to shoppers
(although Westfield's is more concise), have new customer service desks
and employee uniforms (coming soon to Simon) and emphasize customer
service. Also under consideration by both companies are Web sites, where
people could comparison shop and even make online purchases from mall
On Nov. 22 - only days before the start of the crucial holiday
shopping season - South Shore, along with Westfield's other 37 U.S.
malls, was converted to the Westfield Shoppingtown format. The name
change, which capped four years of low-key branding steps, was marked at
most centers by an after-hours charity event, called Westfield Works
But what garnered much attention locally was the supplanting of
South Shore's blue wave logo by Westfield Shoppingtown in scarlet and
black letters. "Everyone is all hung up on the name change," said
company spokeswoman Pat Healey, "but the name enhances what already
exists." She predicted it would take five years before Westfield sees
the full impact of its U.S. branding.
Tom Agan, an expert on retailing and consumer products at Kurt
Salmon Associates, wasn't impressed with Westfield's Australian malls.
He suggests malls distinguish themselves by signing up innovative
stores and entertainment venues. "Putting a new name on it has no
impact on the consumer unless you change the product itself." Even then,
he estimated branding's ability to increase a mall's sales is limited to
3 percent and is negligible if everyone's doing it.
There's also the danger that retailers will interpret the branding
campaign as boosting the fortunes of publicly traded mall development
companies at their expense, said Agan.
Both Simon and Westfield consulted department-store and specialty
clothing chains, their principal tenants, before launching new
advertising. They claim retailers are enthusiastic.
"We believe anything that brings customers to the mall development
will benefit all tenants," said Mary Ann Shawmeker, a spokeswoman for
Federated Department Stores Inc., which operates Macy's, Bloomingdale's,
Stern's and others. "It hasn't affected us," she said of mall branding's
impact on Federated.
Regional malls are the most visible shopping destinations, where
developers are affixing their names, but they aren't alone. Strip plazas
and off-price centers, most notably Tanger Outlet Centers Inc., which
operates in Riverhead and elsewhere, have been doing it for years,
albeit in a more understated way.
For example, Philips International, a Manhattan-based real estate
investment trust company and managing agent, routinely includes its name
in small print on signs telling shoppers where stores are located. But
last fall, it look the unusual step of hanging banners at its Massapequa
plaza that read "Philips at Sunrise" and include a sunburst.
"We've put a lot of money into turning that shopping center
around," said Diana Marrone, the company's director of property
management. The strip plaza, located along Sunrise Highway, is home to
Circuit City, Service Merchandise and a new Waldbaum's supermarket.
"We're proud of what we do, but people come for the stores," she
said. "We don't believe the success of our centers is determined by how
big our name is on the pylon sign."
- - -
CDs, Clothes . . . Now Stocks?
THE OWNER of Queens Center is offering shoppers a piece of the action in
Elmhurst and at other malls nationwide.
Last month, The Macerich Co. began distributing brochures about how
to purchase stock in the Santa Monica, Calif.-based operator of 46
regional malls and seven strip plazas. The pamphlets suggest a Macerich
share is an investment in the community.
Experts say Macerich is the first mall developer to launch such an
initiative. With its brochures, Macerich also has gone further than
Wal-Mart, Pep Boys and other retailers who use in-store signs to lobby
"This isn't an incredibly effective way of raising capital. A lot of
people probably won't go for it," said Jeff Netter, a finance professor
at the University of Georgia. Still, the Macerich effort harkens back to
the 19th Century, when businesses looked to their hometowns to raise
money to expand. "This is a way of returning to the past," he said.
Susan Valentine, senior vice president of marketing at Macerich,
acknowledged buying stock isn't for everyone and said there are no plans
to sell it directly to shoppers.
Materials at the mall include charts showing dividends for 1994-97
and a postage-paid card to request additional information such as the
A few hundred responses have been received so far. "This is a maiden
voyage for us . . . There's no goal," she said of how many shares
Macerich hopes are sold.
Of the stock brochures, Valentine said, "it's all part of an effort
to brand ourselves in a different way from the crowd." All Macerich
centers use the slogan, "We make good things happen," and have programs
to draw attention to outstanding employees and community groups.
Strong financial results, with a string of acquisitions, propelled
Macerich stock to a 52-week high of $29.62 1/2 in June. Since then, it
has fallen to about $23 a share.
Tom Agan, a retail expert with Kurt Salmon Associates, is skeptical
of hawking mall stock to consumers. "I think it's a stretch. Saving
dollars on merchandise is far more important to people than a few
pennies in stock dividends."
James T. Madore