Strip Mall Product Managers Look For A Second Chance At Success

Strip malls have come and gone, but could they be coming back?
Strip malls have come and gone, but could they be coming back?
Image Credit: Caribb

Once upon a time, being a product manager for a strip mall was a pretty good job. Your mall was a mecca for the local population and so it was easy to attract customers and all your product development definition said that you had to do was make sure that each of your stores was leased out. However, times have changed. As more and more people start to do their shopping from home, the need to go out to the mall has gone away. Strip malls have fallen on hard times. However, some may be starting to make a comeback. How can strip mall product managers breathe new life into their products?

The Problem With Strip Malls

In all honesty, a lot of people have given up on strip malls. Once upon a time you could find them everywhere and people flocked to them; however, that is no longer the case. Many stock-market investors have soured on the mall experience. However, some are still flocking to a more mundane type of retail: strip centers and grocery-store-anchored shopping centers. These centers, which predate the American mall, offer routine necessities such as groceries for dinner, a gym workout or a visit to the dentist, in contrast to special purchases typically made at indoor malls, like a toy or a new dress. In the past, being a strip mall product manager would have looked pretty good on anyone’s product manager resume.

Mall owners hope to entice customers to spend an hour or more browsing the property, strip-center product managers say they simply want to offer stores and services that bring back local shoppers more than once a week. Product managers want their stores in the line of sight when people are dropping the kids off, or going to the gym. Strip centers have a number of advantages over other retail. Online purchases of groceries have become popular in only a limited number of cities, making the centers more internet-resistant and potentially more resilient during a recession.

The centers are generally smaller than malls are and, depending on their location, could appeal to a wider selection of store owners who are looking for tighter spaces and more visibility on major roads. A good example of what a strip mall can become can be found at a strip mall called the Coral Creek Shops. This strip mall has a Publix grocery store, Bank of America branch, a UPS store and restaurants. Around 119,000 people live within a 3-mile radius of its stores. Even retailers with big e-commerce operations are often eager to have a presence in such locations, as well as in enclosed, busy malls, because online deliveries are becoming more costly due to the high percentage of returns and greater demand for speedy deliveries.

A New Life For An Old Mall

Both Walmart and Target have rolled out curbside pickup. Other retailers have been busy ramping up their buy-online, pickup in-store capabilities. When people think about how people buy things these days, the initial gut reaction is that it’s all going online. However, but sometimes, it’s cheaper to use the store as a distribution channel. Not all the centers are immune to factors pressuring the retail landscape. Average asking rents in the open-air shopping centers and strip centers in 77 metro areas in the U.S. rose 1.2% in last year, down from 1.6% and 2.0% recorded in previous years, respectively.

The vacancy rate at open-air shopping centers and strip centers reached 10.2%, up from 10.1% and generally in line with levels recorded in previous years. The vacancy rate in enclosed malls reached 9.7% last year, the highest level in 20 years. If vacancies continue to rise, they should not do so at a rapid rate. The reason for this is because consumers are spending more on fitness, entertainment and eating out.

What All Of This Means For You

Product managers who are responsible for strip malls have a real challenge on their hands. The world in which they live is undergoing some significant changes and the result of these changes is that more and more of their customers are shopping from home. This can mean that there are fewer customers who will be visiting their malls to make purchases. If this happens, then they’ll lose the stores that lease space from them and very quickly things could go bad for them. What do these product managers have to do to their product manager job description in order to save their malls?

It turns out that the future may not as grim as it may appear for strip malls. Strip mall product managers have realized that there are still products and services that their customers will need. These can be as mundane as buying pet food or going to the dentist. If their strip malls can offer services like this, then they can still attract the customers that they need. Unlike mall product managers, strip mall product managers don’t have to get their customers to spend an hour at their site. Instead, all they have to do is get them to visit more often even if it is for a short period of time. Strip malls are smaller than malls but generally offer better locations to store owners. Strip mall stores can be used as a distribution channel for a store. They can also be used to lower the costs of processing returns. Strip mall vacancies have remained constant over the past few years.

It’s never easy when the world in which your product exists changes dramatically. Strip mall product managers have had to readjust to a new world. However, the good news is that their product’s location makes it accessible to their customers. If they are able to carefully pick the right tenants, then they can attract customers and make their product successful. Nothing is ever easy, but it looks like strip mall product managers can breathe new life into their product.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think product managers should lower their rental prices to attract more customers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

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