Chains and department stores are mall staples, but developers are now seeking boutiques. "Upscale boutiques allow malls to brand themselves," says the International Council of Shopping Centers' Patrice Duker. The embracing of smaller retailers, which Duker first noticed during the fourth quarter of 2003, gives consumers new reasons to visit malls. It also gives entrepreneurs invaluable exposure.
Jennifer and Cristian Croll, 37 and 40, respectively, started riding the wave before it had even gained momentum. In 1994, the husband-and-wife team started Croll Corp., a Scottsdale, Arizona-based retailer of high-end men's and women's clothing, ranging from designer T-shirts to cutting-edge bridal gowns. Six years later, they were able to edge their way into an outdoor mall, where they opened their third store. At a time when Scottsdale malls didn't have boutiques, it took an innovative mall coupled with an aggressive effort by the Crolls to secure their place. Says Jennifer, "We helped [the developers] recognize they needed small independents to make [the mix] interesting."
Now the Crolls are the ones being courted. Since 2003, they've opened three more locations in California and Texas and are expecting to end the year with over $5 million in sales. For those looking to follow suit, Jennifer recommends having enough capital to withstand a year without profit and being prepared for stricter regulations regarding everything from lighting to signage.
Meanwhile, Duker has noticed that urban malls are quickly catching on to the trend and predicts that stores focusing on fashion and home décor will be sought out most by consumers.