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Name Game / Mall Owners see branding as way win customer loyalty.

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

Nordstrom opened.

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,

but Simon Property Group Inc., the Indianapolis-based owner of Roosevelt

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

at five of the nine regional malls in Queens and Long Island as

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

soundtracks.

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

others.

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

year's end.

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

million.

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

tenants.

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

Wonders.

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

potential investors.

"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

annual report.

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

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