KIDS IN THE MALL
MALL MANAGEMENT WORKS HARD AT MAKING THE JUNIOR CUSTOMER FEEL AT HOME.
Byline: Michael Marlow
LOS ANGELES — It’s been more than a decade since Valley Girls first started hanging out in the mall, but for young women in Southern California, malls are still a home away from home.
Despite all the hype here about Melrose Avenue and the emergence of hip retail streets, the lion’s share of the junior business is still rung up at the local mall. Many reasons are cited for the continued strength of malls, including price, selection and atmosphere.
“The malls are the mecca because they’re more affordable,” said Jack Kyser, chief economist with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. “It’s a scene, but it’s a scene that teens feel comfortable in.”
The malls that have the strongest following among junior customers are those that integrate junior retailers in a strong lineup of stores that include other categories, such as music and upscale apparel. The most popular malls in Southern California these days are the Beverly Center in Los Angeles, Sherman Oaks Fashion Square in the San Fernando Valley and South Coast Plaza in Orange County.
Even vendors who normally prefer street locations, such as Southern California’s surfer-turned-designer Mossimo Gianulli and New York’s urban hipster Betsey Johnson, have opened boutiques in the malls here.
In the words of Gianulli, “That’s where the customer is.”
One successful vendor has been Rampage, the junior apparel company that is building its retail arm by converting several former Judy’s locations to signature stores. Judy’s was a junior chain that Rampage purchased two years ago.
Roseanne Lewis, president of Rampage retail, said malls in Southern California are so strong because they attract a cross-section of customers. “You get a crossover between tourists and suburban,” Lewis said. “You get both kinds of traffic.”
The Beverly Center was the home to the first full-line Rampage store in Southern California, and although the concept has been rolling out to other former Judy’s locations, Beverly Center officials said it is one of their top-volume stores.
It’s a “sophisticated and upscale-but-fun” store, said Evette Caceres, marketing director of the Beverly Center, who noted the junior business at the center increased 21 percent from 1993 to 1994, and was up 12 percent over that from January to November 1995.
Some point to Rampage’s tongue-in-cheek displays as a component of its success. During the holidays, the Beverly Center store featured windows that showed “What you want” versus “What you get” for the holidays. In the “What you want” window, the store showed a hip outfit that was selling well, while the “What you get” window showed a Chia Pet.
Caceres said the Beverly Center has younger demographics than some other malls because of its success with the junior customer. Leasing officials hit the party circuit and search local and out-of-town markets for new store concepts.
In Southern California, malls are tourist attractions. According to research from South Coast Plaza, that retail center is second only to Disneyland in tourist visits each year.
While The Gap and The Limited are still important, mall officials said, the junior customer has branched out to other types of stores.
At the Beverly Center, one of the most popular stores among juniors is Betsey Johnson. Although Betsey Johnson prefers street locations — and has one on Melrose Avenue — it opened in the Beverly Center several years ago and operates one of its highest-volume stores there.
“This was Betsey Johnson’s first mall store,” said Caceres of the Beverly Center. “If you see the storefront, you realize the fashions are really for the young, body-conscious customer.”
Third Street in Santa Monica has been successful in attracting a young crowd because of a younger, more affordable store mix. But the mall adjacent to that — Santa Monica Place — capitalized on its location several years ago by marketing the mall along with Third Street. Now, because of these efforts, they’re viewed as one shopping area.
Another reason for continued mall success is that there are plenty of goods customers can afford. While high school and college students might be able to lunch at a trendy cafe on Beverly Boulevard, they’re not likely to then go into Tyler-Trafficante nearby and buy a $1,200 Richard Tyler suit.
“It’s a lot easier to hang out in the mall rather than streets like Montana Avenue, where everything is so expensive,” said economist Kyser. “When you get to the mall, you’re going to see more people in your age group.”