Friday, May 23, 2014

Tips on Choosing A Mall

Since posting my article, Promoting a Mall on Facebook,  I have had all sorts of comments and messages asking for more tips on choosing a  mall for your booth.  That's obviously a very important decision.  A fabulous booth in a so-so mall probably won't do that well.

Malls are popping up all over.  When someone is looking for a spot to set up a booth, it's very likely they'll have several choices.

1. Your Personal Favorites.  You should certainly visit each of the shops a number of times to browse. Think like a customer for a bit.  Which malls do you enjoy visiting?  If you were looking for a chest of drawers, where would you want to go first?   Whichever one comes to mind is probably a good contender for where your booth would fit for a number of reasons.

A person's booth usually reflects their style.  Your favorite shop likely appeals to your style.  The items you sell would probably fit well there.  It's likely this mall has other things going for it as well since you like going there.

2. Size.  The size of the mall is a consideration.  Customers don't always want to go all over looking for something.  Many like to see a good variety of choices in one place.   Not so big that it's overwhelming, but enough to make it worth stopping.  As a customer, my favorite local malls have somewhere around 50 booths, give or take.  I wish they were slightly larger. :-D   There are a number of smaller malls in the area, but I don't usually go to those unless I happen to be right there on some errand.  I'm lazy.  It seems a lot of trouble to drive to those places when I'll be able to be in and out in such a short time.  Smaller malls have less to offer obviously.  I have less chance of finding something I want, so why bother.

3. Location.  An out of the way mall where no one will stop by because they happen to be in the area, will usually have less traffic.  There are exceptions.  Some places are so fantastic that people make a point of going there often.  Another consideration for location is how convenient it is for you.    Time you spend traveling is not productive.  On the other hand, some malls are so good that it's worth traveling a little bit further.

4. Traffic.  Does the mall stay busy?  Visit any mall you are considering on a weekend.  Visit them during the week.  There are slow times at any mall, but if you see too many slow times, that could be a bit of a red flag.  However, some malls are very very slow during the week, but they make up for it on the weekend.

5. Online Promotion.  Do they have a great online presence?  I talked about that more in this post, where I said I probably wouldn't consider being in a mall that didn't have a good online presence.   This is the post I referenced at the beginning of this article.

Note: You should browse all the malls online sites before you talk to the owner.  First, you'll get a better feel for the store.  Also, it's possible that they have a page on their website for potential vendors - that could answer lots of questions.  Here's the vendor page for one of the stores I promote.

6. Turnover.   A store needs to impress first time customers AND repeat customers!  Before I became a dealer, I shopped in a certain mall in the area that always seemed to look the same.  I used to stop by there every few months.  After a few stops, I realized that I was seeing the exact same furniture and arrangements as I saw on my last visit.  They were stale.  I wasn't going to see anything different so why bother coming back?  I made a decision right then to not go there anymore.  Once I became a dealer, I thought about that quite a bit.  A mall needs to give the impression that things are in a constant state of change.  Things sell and are replaced with something new.  Customers learn that it's best to go often to see what new treasures have been brought in.

7. Price Point.  This one is a little tricky.  There are malls where most things are priced low.  Things sell fast, but the vendors make less per sale.  There are malls that are pricey.  They generally have amazing things, but they take a little longer to sell.  When they do, the vendor will make more off the sale.   You need to know your comfort zone, your personality, and you need to think smart about the financial aspects of how you plan to price.

I know vendors who panic if a big item doesn't sell in a month and they start slashing prices.  They work their fannies off finding things to sell, painting it as fast as possible, and watching it sell quickly at a bargain price.  I know vendors at the other end of the spectrum who are a bit more thoughtful with their purchases, don't mind spending a little longer on a makeover when necessary.  They decorate the item very well in their booth so it looks amazing. They don't mind putting in more time creating a vignette because they know it may be in their booth for several months. They are willing to wait a little longer for the item to sell at a higher price.

When I first had a booth, I was all about selling fast, but I definitely changed my thoughts on that.  I don't have a booth right now, but it's entirely possible that once my husband retires, we may open a booth together.  When we do, we will be more about selling fewer items at prices that are more in line with our time - slowly selling great items at prices that make it worth our while, yet still a decent deal for a customer.

My personality is suited to slow and thoughtful.  I have good friends who are happiest when they are going at a fast pace.  Think about your personality as you consider price points.  Then, look at the financial aspects.

You should probably read my scary article, too.  

8. Duplication.   Make sure what you plan to offer in your booth is not too much like things already in the store.  If your specialty is barn wood farm tables and there are already barn wood farm table similar to yours in the store, maybe you need to look elsewhere.

9. The Owner   Most owners have things they do well and things that are a challenge.  Some owners are nutcases.  Seriously.   Unfortunately, you may not figure that out until you are in the door.  :-P  If you know other vendors in your area, talk to them about what they like and don't like about their mall.  No mall is perfect, but you'll likely fit with some malls better than others.  When you browse in a mall, if you see a vendors working in their booths, stop and chat with them.  It's not likely that they'll tell you much, but you may get a feel for their opinions.  Keep in mind that not every dealer in a mall is good.  If you chat with a lousy dealer, you'll likely get a lousy feeling from them.

Talk to the owner.  Do this on a day when you are in a good mood and feeling sharp and looking stylish.   Don't show photos on this first visit.  Just find out some basic info and get your impressions of the owner.  Keep in mind the owner will be getting first impressions about you, too.  If your first impression is not good, you could get put on a waiting list permanently!

10. Money Arrangements.   This is usually the first thing dealers ask. It's an obvious point.  How much is the rent?  Do you have to work at the mall as part of the arrangement?  If so, consider that as part of your rent.  What is the commission rate?  What other deductions are made?  Most malls are fairly competitive.  If the mall rent is too cheap, it may not be a bargain.  If the mall is begging for dealers, that might be a red flag.

Once you decide on a mall... 

Prepare to sell yourself.  Just because you want the mall, it doesn't necessarily follow that the mall will want YOU.  This needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship. You'll need to convince the owner to accept you.  Have photos of what you'd like to sell.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  Don't show a piece of furniture in a garage with a nasty floor and debris all around it.  You may need to take the photo in the garage, but you can still make it look nice.  Shove the debris out of sight. Put down a rug. Move the furniture against a nice wall or background.  Create a great vignette - just in the area that will show in the photo.  Is the wall ugly?  Paint it or prop vintage doors artfully to create a great background.  Show what you can do!  If you're going to be a vendor, you've got to learn how to make your stuff look appealing.  If you can't do that in the photo you show the owner, then why would they want you in their store? 

Prepare for a Waiting List.   Often, the best malls are full.   Don't choose your mall based on what's available immediately.  If you have to wait a few months to get a space, that just gives you more time to build an inventory and plan.  On the other hand, if you present yourself well enough and there is a space available, some owners will put you at the top of the waiting list.  Owners usually don't choose dealers based only on who has been waiting the longest.  They are more likely looking at who will be the best for the store.

Prepare to not have a booth in a great spot.  You are the new dealer.  You'll need to prove yourself before you are given a great spot (unless you have an established reputation from other malls.   If the mall you chose is great, be happy to get your foot in the door and know that a really great dealer can thrive most anywhere in the store.

Remember... you are NOT stuck.   You generally need to sign a 6 month contract.  That's plenty of time to see how you fit in.  If you realize you don't fit well after just a few months, DO NOT STOP TRYING!  Make your booth fabulous as a selling point for the next mall you hope to move into.

One more idea ... instead of renting one big space in one mall, consider renting two smaller space in different malls. You'll see which place you like best by the time the contracts are up.  You may even decide you like being in more than one location.  There are MANY benenfits to being in more than one store.  That's a post for another day!   :-D