A Bona Fide Retail Opportunity for Non-store Merchants, Or Just Another Entrepreneurial Misfire?
Although most retail shoppers come to malls intending to schlep big shopping bags home with them, Lee points out that many mall shops are often out of stock anyway. With Epicenter, “everybody walks home with what the merchant wants them to walk home with,” he says, meaning that if the participating merchants want to fill their spaces with enough merch for shoppers, they certainly can. Or they can attempt the direct fulfillment route, using their spaces as showrooms and banking on consumers taking a liking to using the SpreeGo and waiting for free shipping.
In a Perfect World…
Ideally, Epicenter would be dominated by catalogers and online merchants that their customers have longed to shop from at retail. That would certainly give it a certain uniqueness. What’s more, it could effectively lure bored shoppers who are tired of seeing the same old retail chain stores everywhere they go. But as with any entrepreneurial concept, I throw caution to the wind here. The big question is whether Epicenter can attract enough catalog/online tenants.
For instance, it’s conceivable that in an effort to fill the space, the company may need to sign more leases with deeper-pocketed brand manufacturers, such as, say, a Ralph Lauren or a Liz Claiborne or others, many of which already lease boutique space in major department stores. In fact, although Epicenter has been negotiating with the likes of such catalogers as The Territory Ahead and Frontgate, as well as such Web entities as Amazon, Bluefly and Google, the company is also wooing such brands as Tommy Hilfiger, Esprit and Under Armour.
Naturally, filling space is a necessary evil in the mall operating business. For instance, when The Westchester Mall in White Plains, N.Y., first broke ground back in the mid-90s, I distinctly recall its operators promising a truly upscale shopping experience, filled only with stores you wouldn’t find in any old run of the mill American mall. But by the time all the leases were signed, although there were (and still are) many distinctive upscale shops in place, plenty of the ole reliable shops were (and still are) there too. And today, although you’ll find such upscale shops as Coach, Gucci and Brooks Brothers, there are plenty of the same-ole same-ole mainstream retailers, like Claire’s, The Gap and Foot Locker.