The evolutionary ladder of the retail industry is playing out this holiday season at Mayfair Mall.

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:22 pm

When the hustle and bustle is done, some smaller retailers will be in a position to climb that ladder, while others will simply fall off.
Mayfair operates an incubator program for small retailers. Many start out with humble display carts in the common area of the mall. The next step is to occupy a kiosk in the mall. If their retail concepts continue to grow, they can move into temporary "in-line" space in the mall.
Finally, if the smaller retailers are blessed with additional growth, they graduate to signing long-term leases in dedicated storefronts in the mall, right next to their chain-store brethren, such as The Gap, Boston Store and Old Navy.
Mayfair executives provide support for the smaller retailers, because local merchants can help the mall distinguish itself from other malls, according to Stephen Smith, senior general manager of Mayfair.
"We like the local flavor that local merchants can provide, rather than just all of the same national retailers that everybody has," Smith said.
In the incubator program, retailers approach the mall and ask for permission to lease a cart in the common area, with leases ranging from $1,700 to $9,000 per month.
Often, the retailers are simply attempting to determine if a viable market exists for their wares. Without incurring the overhead of occupying a permanent storefront, they can place their products in front of the 16 million people who walk through Mayfair each year.
"They don’t know if it’s going to work or not, or how well it will work," Smith said. "They’re trying to figure out if the concept will work. By not having to build out a store, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or committing to a long-term lease, they can find out."
About 30 retailers are operating such carts at Mayfair this holiday season.
Smith and Jill Werner, associate general manager of the mall, quickly acknowledge that they can’t predict which small retailers will thrive, and which will fold up and leave the mall, never to return.
"You just never know which ones are going to work," said Werner, who oversees Mayfair’s retail incubator program. "Sometimes, I’ll say to myself, ‘That’s never got to work,’ but we give it a shot, and I’m pleasantly surprised."
Other retailers, such as Nueske Meats of Wittenberg, have established businesses and merely want to market their products through the holidays in the mall’s kiosks.
The ultimate success stories in the Mayfair program come when a temporary retailer advances a concept and signs a long-term lease in a permanent storefront.
At that point, Mayfair, which is owned by the General Growth Properties real estate investment trust in Chicago, may be willing to help defray the costs of modifying the space to accommodate the small retailer. The mall also requires the retailer to be assisted by a visual merchandiser to help display the product in the store.
"She will help them with a layout," Werner said. "If they don’t look good, we don’t look good."
Retailers interested in testing out their concepts for the holiday season at Mayfair need to contact the mall several months in advance, Smith said.
"If they’re not in our face by April or May, they run the risk of not getting space," Smith said. "Just because somebody walks in the door, doesn’t mean they automatically have a crack at it."

Nov. 22, 2002 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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