Today's retail centers are evolving. The boxy mall environments of yesterday are turning into total interactive experiences. Centers now house interactive technology kiosks; screens flashing music videos and ads; and high-speed Internet access offering visitors online shopping or games. These fun and fascinating things fuel retail competition and encourage visitors to stay and to buy.

For developers, owners and tenants, the “e-invasion” enables greater sophistication in their ability to stay informed and connected. It also allows them to be more efficient and competitive in today's leasing environment.

As shopping centers and the shopping experience grow more sophisticated, the need for complex electrical, technological and communications systems also increases. To be successful, it is important to include:

  • A flexible power and communications infrastructure that maximizes leasing options at reasonable initial investments;

  • Lighting systems that meet code requirements without compromising the desired retail atmosphere;

  • Reliable telephone, data and technology distribution and network support systems to serve both developer and tenant;

  • Well-conceived and implemented solutions for business-to-business and business-to-customer commerce;

  • High-quality audio and video support systems;

  • Balancing system design capital investments with future growth, maintenance and depreciation costs.

These systems — typically tucked away in invisible “non-leaseable space” under, through and around the shops, restaurants and kiosks. They must create flexibility, ensure the potential for bandwidth growth, and create the potential to increase customer access and, ultimately, revenues.

Hand in hand

To accommodate current technology as well as technological advancements, flexibility is critical. This flexibility will allow adaptation of systems and power to the needs of different tenants, leasing demographics, and strategies — all of which will fluctuate.

Suppose a long-term tenant, the owner of a sporting goods store, decides not to renew the lease. The next day, a popular themed restaurant wants the space, but it requires twice the electrical power, cable and Internet connectivity. It is great to find a new tenant so quickly, but panic may set in if there isn't enough electrical capacity or technology and systems infrastructure to adapt to the restaurant's needs.

Or what if a major bookstore wants to open an Internet cafe and microbrewery for its patrons. If the power infrastructure has no additional capacity to serve such a venture, that tenant won't lease.

Technologies ‘R’ Us

It is important for owners, developers and designers to notice what attracts crowds of shoppers to a particular store or center. Rainforest Cafes are mobbed when they first open because everyone wants to see the animated beasts and be startled by the man-made thunder.

FAO Schwartz is famous for offering its shoppers fantasy fun including giant keyboards you can play with your feet and toy trains chugging through the store on elevated tracks. To many, the Mall of America is the pinnacle of interactive entertainment in the shopping arena — roller coasters, a Ferris wheel, giant Lego sculptures and indoor forests — surrounded by bastions of stores and restaurants.

However, today's shopping public is better educated and more demanding than ever before. It includes the WWII generation, Baby Boomers, and Generations X and Y.

Older shoppers may have grown up in an age of black-and-white television, transistor radios and rotary telephones, but they are rapidly embracing more sophisticated technology and entertainment, particularly in the retail arena.

Younger shoppers, on the other hand, cut their teeth on color television, CD-players, video games and envelope-pushing theme park rides. They expect nothing less when they go to the mall.

The challenge for modern retail shopping center owners is to attract, to awe, and to intrigue all ages and interests. The answer to that challenge is in technology, lighting and electrical power.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jeff Hankin is a principal at Sparling, a Seattle-based firm that designs electrical, lighting and technology systems for retail facilities.

Hankin can be reached via e-mail at jhankin@sparling.com or by phone at 206.667.0555.

What brings life to bricks and mortar?

  • Electrical power

    Reliable and redundant power; grounding; surge protection and power conditioning systems; fire detection, alarm and life safety systems; security; access and energy control systems.

  • Lighting

    Lighting systems that deliver contrasts, high color rendition and flexibility with dramatic coverage; effective use of natural lighting; low-voltage-based lighting control systems.

  • Audio/Video

    Broadband video; high speed cable systems; broadcast expertise for information kiosks; advertising graphics; mobile unit media systems; sound reinforcement, music systems and project video; flexible designs to allow expanded applications in the future.

  • Telecommunications

    Wired and wireless communications; Internet connectivity; CCTV; public address; telephone support; voice, video and data cabling via copper, coaxial and fiber optic cabling.