Whether it's goading ardent football fans to act foolish, feeding macaroni to giant goldfish or solociting chefs to a cook-off, marketing experts at shopping centers recognize thata coordinating successful mall events takes a savvy combination of consistency, fun and a taste for the unusual.
Jazzin' with the Jags With the hoopla and hype associated with the inception of a new professional football franchise, Regency Square in Jacksonville, Fla., maximized its corporate team sponsorship to win new fans to its retail center. Jacksonville was awarded the franchise in 1994, and the team began playing a year later.
Regency Square is situated less than six miles from the Jacksonville Jaguars' home field at Alltel Stadium. With 170 tenants and five anchors, it's the largest shopping center in northeast Florida and the third largest in the Sunshine State. Officials of the 1.4 million sq. ft. facility immediately jumped at the chance to pledge corporate support to the Jaguars because of the intrinsic and monetary value to the mall's occupants.
"Even though the team is fairly new, the Jaguars have been in the National Football League playoffs every year since its inception," says Daniel Decker, Regency Square's assistant marketing director. "The team is hugely popular, and being a corporate sponsor entitles us to various team events and promotions at the stadium during the games."
Alltel Stadium is famous for its Jumbotron screen, a huge replica of a television set that broadcasts commercials, instant replays and other game-day highlights to fans during games. Stephanie Archibald, a Regency Square customer service representative, is also an official member of the Jaguar Roar cheerleader squad.
Combining the privileges of being a corporate sponsor with its access to the cheerleaders, Regency Square teamed with Visa Card and a local radio station last year to host Stephanie's Fan Pick of the Game contest. Best-dressed Jaguar fans compete for two game tickets, official Jaguar sporting wear, $100 in Regency Square gift certificates, and the opportunity to appear in a video segment on the Jumbotron during home games.
"We came up with an event where we could use the Jumbotron to advertise the mall as well as create a traffic builder at the mall's center to highlight our tenants, particularly our sporting goods stores," Decker says.
On the Tuesday before every home game, contestants don their Jaguar best and gather at the mall to present a Visa Card receipt from a Regency Square merchant. Then, they "roar" for the video camera. Spirited individuals and couples have the best chance of winning. Also, contestants are encouraged to listen to the local radio station for clues about what Archibald and her panel of judges will be looking for each week. Footage of the winning contestants airs during game day on the Jumbotron.
In addition to receiving free promotional air time by the radio sponsor, the contest is advertised on 45 outdoor billboards throughout Jacksonville and on indoor signage throughout the mall.
Although it's been hard to judge the contest's effect on tenants' overall sales, Decker says, the mall's foot traffic has increased significantly.
"People thought the event was fun, and they loved the fact that we were doing something interactive where people could express their creativity," he says. "One guy went as far as to decorate his house and his car in the Jaguar theme. I guess you could say he was a little obsessive."
Fishers of men The free petting zoo may not have won the hearts of shoppers or tenants of Sunrise Mall in Massapequa, N.Y., but Feed the Fish Night is a definite hit among young and old alike.
Originally designed as a duck pond, the mall's 4,000-gallon indoor basin was transformed into an oversized fish tank when the 1.3 million sq. ft. retail center underwent a renovation in the early 1990s - much to the ducks' dislike but to the shoppers' delight.
"Feed the Fish Night is the most attended special event we've ever had," says Ken Beckmann, Sunrise Mall's general manager. "I've never seen anything like it, and I've been in a lot of malls in my time."
Located on Long Island, Sunrise Mall has some stiff competition. Most shoppers travel less than 10 miles to reach one of four major retail centers. "Although we're a regional shopping center, it's a relatively small geographic area to share," Beckmann explains. "So we needed to do something a little different to get people over here."
Every Wednesday night, throngs of people show up to feed schools of koi swimming in the revamped duck pond. Koi, giant Japanese goldfish, grow to 18 inches in length, with macaroni their food of choice. In addition to the feeding frenzy, shoppers qualify for gifts from any of the mall's 155 specialty tenants and four anchors.
"Backyard water gardens are becoming popular here," Beckmann says. "This event gives shoppers landscape ideas, since we've made quite an investment in filters, pumps and water gardens." Koi themselves can be worth up to $400 apiece, and Beckmann estimates Sunrise Mall owns at least $8,000 in fish inventory.
"We've been feeding fish every Wednesday night for the past year and a half," he notes. "We give demonstrations on the fish's habitat. They love eating macaroni, and the kids love feeding them.
Soup's on! Located in one of the fastest growing tourism meccas in the south, Hilton Head Factory Stores in Bluffton, S.C., dares the rich culinary talents of local chefs to a cook-off in its annual Low Country Soup Challenge.
Now in its eighth year and held on the first Saturday of November, the epicurean event delights local shoppers and annual visitors who travel from across the Southeast to taste the exotic and the extraordinary in this one-day festival of gumbos and soups.
With two separate centers housing 100 stores less than a mile apart, the factory outlet mall markets the centers as one shopping destination to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who frequent the South Carolina coast annually.
Faye Dagley, vice president and regional marketing director for the Hilton Head Factory Stores, says the goal in creating the soup challenge was to promote awareness for the outlet centers while raising money for a worthwhile community cause.
"We wanted to make the event a little different from regular food events, and we needed to underwrite the cost so that all money at the door went to charity," Dagley explains. Volunteers in Medicine was selected as the charity of choice because of its efforts to "stand in the gap" to provide health services to the medically underserved who live or work in the Hilton Head community.
Coordinating the event with the local chefs' association, Hilton Head Factory Stores structured the contest in accordance with competition guidelines from the American Culinary Federation, while allowing chefs to use their creative genius to concoct 15 gallons of their tastiest soups. Live entertainment and an ice carving contest also combine to give the event a festive flair.
Dagley and her staff promote the event through a variety of local media, including free advertisements in local newspapers, posters in local businesses and in participating chefs' restaurants, and flyers distributed by Factory Stores tenants. The timing of the event - during the heart of the mild autumn season - also strengthens promotional efforts.
"Fall is a beautiful time of the year in the Low Country," Dagley says, referring to the geographic term for the South Carolina coastal area that spans from Charleston to Hilton Head. "Being an outdoor center, it's a perfect time of the year to hold an event like this outside under a huge tent."
Beginning with five chefs eight years ago, the event draws more than 20 today. Shoppers purchase $5 tickets, which gives them carte blanche access to sample as many of the soups as possible. Attendees are also eligible for prizes from individual outlet tenants.
Each year, recipes from participating chefs are added to a Low Country Soup Challenge Cookbook, which is available for a $3 donation or exchanged for a pre-owned cookbook. Trade-ins are donated to the local library.
"Everyone looks forward to the soup challenge because of its quality," Dagley says. "The chefs are all professionals working in area resorts. ... The food choices tend to be fairly expensive."
The most recent Low Country Cookbook includes recipes for soups such as Smoke Pork & Butter Bean with Chopped Collards; Charred Vidalia & Yellow Tomato Soup; Pumpkin & Shrimp Bisque; and Corn, Crab & Andouille Sausage Chowder.
Last year, the event raised $5,000. Normal foot traffic between the two centers increased by more than 1,000 at no cost to Hilton Head Factory Stores organizers or merchants.
Baby's Day Out Mingling with 70 new mothers and their toddlers every Tuesday morning initially didn't sound like a public relations coup to Sam Carpenter.
But it didn't take long to make the 25-year-old assistant marketing director for Los Cerritos Center a devout believer in motherhood. He also can attest to the success of how Baby's Day Out promotes interest and customer traffic in the 1.3 million sq. ft. mall, which is located in Cerritos, Calif., some 30 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles.
"My friends kept asking me if I wanted to stay single forever," Carpenter jokes, as he recalls initial reactions to his first special event assignment upon joining Los Cerritos Center. "I mean, here I was, single, fresh out of college, and I'm hanging out with a bunch of moms and their kids every Tuesday morning."
The weekly program offers special activities and functions combining education, fitness and entertainment for new parents and their children. Every Tuesday before the mall opens to the public, mothers congregate with their children for a quick breakfast of juice and stretching exercises led by a local registered nurse. With kids strapped securely in their strollers, moms then embark on a series of laps around the mall. Several health experts and medical practitioners conclude the morning's schedule with 20-minute educational programs covering a host of topics. A raffle for gifts donated by any of the mall's 159 specialty tenants and five anchors highlights the sessions.
"Besides the physical benefits of belonging to Baby's Day Out, members enhance their parenting skills and make new friends in a fun and supportive environment," Carpenter says.
They also receive special mall privileges like preferred parking spaces located next to handicap sections and mall discounts offered by merchants. With sessions ending 15 minutes before the mall opens to the public, moms don't have to wait long to use their discounts.
Boasting a membership roster of 1,700 moms, which represents more than one-third of households with infants in Los Cerritos Center's trade area, the mall is averaging half a dozen new enrollments each week. "And it continues to grow because we plan additional special events each quarter," Carpenter says.
Last Halloween, for example, the general public was encouraged to join moms in a stroller parade and judging contest. Participants transformed strollers, themselves and infants into a variety of characters and themes. Parading around the mall to the sounds of a marching band, participants won special prizes for their efforts. Mall tenants were brought into the mix as judges and donated gifts to the winners.
"People totally get into this event," Carpenter says. "I guess it's the kids. It may seem strange, but it reminds people of simpler times."