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The Selling of Malls : Retailing: From specialty stores to unique promotions, shopping centers are luring Westside shoppers with an ever-changing marketplace.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Attention, Westside shoppers:

In an effort to improve your shopping experience and give you more reason to open your very deep pockets, your neighborhood mall is offering a variety of new specialty stores and services. Or hadn’t you noticed all those parents being dragged by their moppets to the Disney, Sesame Street and Hanna-Barbera retail stores?

Such is the state of the modern urban shopping mall. No longer just a dizzying collection of trend-setting, fashion-statement retail outlets, malls from Century City to Culver City are forced to constantly adapt to keep up with an ever-fickle buying public.

Museum stores now dot the Westside retail landscape. The kiddie corner is ever-expanding. Politically correct nature stores are sprouting up like mushrooms. Hot restaurants and new theaters are opening their doors.

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And promotions. Malls will do almost anything today to attract customers and cash. Santa Monica Place, for example, has a celebrity Christmas tree exhibit in its center hall this year, including one covered with basketballs, courtesy of Magic Johnson.

Retail analysts say a successful mall must be more than just a place to browse and buy. The buzzword among malls today is convenience--it should be easy for shoppers to get from their cars to the counters with their credit cards.

“Everybody is trying to come up with a better mousetrap,” said Robert J. Murray, executive vice president of Westfield Inc., developer of the Westside Pavilion. “Time is precious and most retailers are doing what they can to make things easier for the shopper. Every shopper believes that they have an inalienable right to a parking space 50 feet from the door.”

That’s why the Westside Pavilion, an architectural jewel among malls, is rushing to complete an expansion that will add a bridge for pedestrians and vehicles across Westwood Boulevard and remedy a chronic parking problem. The mall also added valet parking this holiday season to help make shoppers merrier.

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The customer service obsession underscores why the Beverly Center and Santa Monica Place direct mall employees to park in remote lots during the holidays to make room for the paying public. And it offers a partial explanation why Fox Hills Mall in Culver City, although much more egalitarian in nature than some of its tonier competitors, continues to thrive: easy access, easy parking, a model of consumer convenience.

“Malls are not now what they were 10 years ago, and they will be much different 10 years hence,” said Thomas Tashjian, senior retail consumer analyst with Seidler Amdec Securities Inc.

Still, store selection remains the key element to any mall’s success. With so much merchandise to choose from, Westside residents can pick and choose among malls to find the best mix of retail outlets and convenience.

Analyst Tashjian says the successful malls--five of the six Westside shopping centers ranked among the top 15 moneymakers in Los Angeles County last year--are providing more and more space to so-called specialty stores because of the higher revenues those outlets provide. Analysts say that while the average mall-based department store does about $175 per square foot in sales per year, and other apparel shops average about $235 per square foot, booming speciality stores like The Limited do even better.

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Amid the changes, there is one constant: unflagging interest among developers to the already mall-rich Westside environment. Although there are already six malls slugging it out for a share of the affluent Westside retail market, plans are in the works for two more major shopping centers--Marina Place, near Lincoln and Washington boulevards, and another next to the Farmer’s Market in the Fairfax District.

“The Westside is such an upscale market that I’m sure the developers feel they can come up with such exciting new (retailing) concepts that they will be able to draw enough business away from the existing malls to be successful,” said Thomas M. Murnane, executive vice president of Management Horizons, a division of Price Waterhouse.

Meanwhile, the existing malls are scrambling more than ever to grab onto and hold their piece of the lucrative Westside pie.

The outdoor Century City mall has made a pitch for the Century City lunchtime crowd with a new food center, and for nighttime and weekend customers with a 14-screen movie theater.

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Santa Monica Place upgraded its food areas and its dated facade, and has been helped lately by the success of the rejuvenated Third Street Promenade, which offers some of the most popular restaurants and newest theaters along the coast.

The Beverly Center, always considered the trendiest of the Westside malls, continues to draw tourists and residents alike with its hip fashion shops and popular eateries, such as the Hard Rock Cafe and California Pizza Kitchen.

Fox Hills Mall has upgraded its shops and food outlets to maintain its allure to its middle-class customer base in the Westside’s southern and central portions.

Westside Pavilion has tried to outpace the competition on the kiddie front by offering more toy and clothing stores for the Baby Guess set. Yet its real draw remains the first Nordstrom on this side of Mulholland Drive.

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In fact, the only mall that has had difficulty adapting to the changing market has been the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, the first mall in the nation to be built in a predominantly black urban community. Officials say a key problem is the developer’s inability to attract many of the top-draw retail stores found in other malls.

A common thread among the Westside’s big malls, and something that sets them apart from nearly all others in Southern California, is that they are urban, not suburban, shopping centers. People come to buy rather than to browse or socialize.

There are fewer teen-agers hanging out at Westside malls than at, say, Sherman Oaks Galleria of “Valley Girl” fame. There are far fewer seniors lounging, chatting or exercise-walking than at Glendale Galleria.

And space is at a premium. There is no place on the Westside to put a super-mall such as Del Amo in Torrance or South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. Fox Hills Mall, the Westside’s largest, is less than one-third the size of Del Amo.

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The success of most of the area’s malls is rooted in the vast monetary success of the residents. The average annual income for households within a five-mile radius of Westside Pavilion is $79,000. For Beverly Center and Century City Shopping Center, it is even higher.

“Shopping malls do best where you have an affluent and very dense population, and the Westside has both of those elements,” said retail analyst Tashjian.

In a way, says Jerry Magnin, president of the Magnin Co., which owns the Polo and Ralph Lauren franchise licenses in Los Angeles, the struggle by malls to find the right mix of style, price and service is a never-ending one. But on the Westside, he says, there will aways be a place for “a good mall with an interesting and exciting mix of shops.”

“And for people who are searching for relative exclusivity,” he says, “there’s always Rodeo Drive.”

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* OTHER MALL PROFILES: J6

RETAIL SALES

Taxable retail sales reported in 1989 by each of the major shopping centers on the Westside, and how that figure ranked among the county’s 45 largest malls:

Mall Sales Rank* Beverly Center $235,181,000 7 Westside Pavilion $207,582,000 9 Century City Shopping Center $173,275,000 11 Fox Hills Mall $153,538,000 13 Santa Monica Place $129,621,000 15 Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza $ 27,750,000 43

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* Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance ranked No. 1 in the county, with taxable retail sales of $444,658,000.

Average sales per square foot for each mall, derived by dividing taxable retail sales by total retail area: Westside Pavilion: $313 Beverly Center: $261 Santa Monica Place: $227 Century City Center: $225 Fox Hills Mall: $169 Baldwin Hills Plaza: $38 Source: State Board of Equalization and individual malls


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