Make No Small Plans at the Mall of America
How to Get Noticed at the Nation’s Largest Shopping Center
The largest mall by size and number of vendors in America, the Mall of America is an appetizing destination for foodservice operations. A captive audience of more than 40 million shoppers every year, under one roof and open seven days a week seems an ideal set up for the well-placed vendor. But what about the competition?
They are everywhere, spanning every type of segment, from snack vendors to farm-to-table dining. Mall walkers have a deep lineup of choices, with 90 different food brands inside the mall. The mega mall has attracted all kinds of mega brands, including celebrity-branded operations like Carlo’s Bakery (The Cake Boss) and Minnesota’s first Wahlburger’s. Tourist-driven restaurants like Rainforest Cafe, Bubba Gump Shrimp, Dick’s Last Resort, Shake Shack and Hard Rock Cafe anchor the mall’s restaurant guide.
For new concepts or individual operators, the playing field is crowded and stacked against the little guy. Additionally, more than 40 percent of daily traffic is made up of out-of-town visitors. Standing out in such a large crowd and establishing a consistent fan base requires good scouting, a solid game plan and some home field support.
“The mall has been a terrific landlord,” says Amol Dixit, creator and owner of Hot Indian Foods, home of the “Indurrito,” a simple, more accessible take on Indian fare. “They have been very supportive, arming us with information to help us be successful. We receive quarterly forecasting on foot traffic, which helps us staff and stock accordingly.”
The Mall of America’s retail and marketing staff provides promotional and public relations opportunities to support tenants by building awareness and driving traffic to new operations. Prior to an opening, the marketing team puts new restaurants in a rotation among other new tenants for special signage throughout the mall. Mall of America press releases and social media posts rally additional support for new vendors and ongoing promotions like coupon books add to the marketing mix.
Take a page out of Wonders Ice Cream’s playbook and crowd-source your marketing power. Wonders Ice Cream wins over fans with Thai street vendor-inspired rolled ice cream concoctions. The beauty of its stand-out marketing strategy is the beauty of the product. Large, colorful and ribboned ice cream portraits snapped by adoring customers and posted to @WondersIceCream Instagram will drive customers to the counter at its newest location in Mall of American this fall.
When considering your fan base, think outside the friendly confines. Besides shoppers, the Mall of America employs more than 11,000 people and workers from the adjoining office towers frequent the food courts during the week. These non-traditional mall patrons can be easier to engage with coupon books and discounts. According to Dixit: “The offices are our weekday lunch crowd; same with mall employees. We just need to get them in to try our food, and they will come back.”
For Dough Dough, a popular Twin Cities dessert food truck, opening its first permanent location at Mall of America last year was the right play. “We continue to see this trend of non-traditional brands making the move to brick and mortar once they have started to establish their business model,” said Heather Brechbill Swilley, a spokesperson for Mall of America.
If you want to really stand out in a big crowd, try something experiential to engage customers and make a little noise. Hot Indian Food customers save a dollar off their Indurrito if they are willing to bust out a Bollywood dance. “It really creates a little commotion at the mall when the music comes on and the spotlight comes down on the customer at the front counter,” explains Dixit.