Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Stores, who needs 'em?

By Steve Quinn
The Associated Press

FRISCO, Texas -- They are one of the most lucrative sectors in the retail industry, generating billions of dollars in sales, and arguably are the most underpublicized: the kiosks and carts that dot the aisles of big shopping malls, selling everything from candles to computers.

These free-standing merchants are tremendously popular -- Tillie Martinez says she sometimes has customers lining up 10 and 12 deep to buy her personalized Christmas ornaments at Stonebriar Centre mall north of Dallas. And while she sells just a few months a year, she has a loyal following.

"The fun part is getting the repeat business from someone who last year bought something for their baby's first Christmas," she said.

Carts and kiosks are a thriving industry, bringing in an estimated $10 billion in annual sales for the merchants and landlords, more than triple that of 10 years ago, industry analysts said.

Marshal Cohen, a senior industry analyst at NPD Group, a market research company based in Port Washington, N.Y., said the kiosks are changing mall dynamics.

"Kiosks are a huge opportunity for the mall, the entrepreneur and the individual consumer. It removes one of the biggest barriers, and that's the entrance and walls to the stores," he said.

"The mall owners tell you they are trying to enhance the consumers' shopping, but they are trying to maximize square footage as best they can, no question about it," he said.

The kiosk concept relies on nostalgia for some of their appeal, allowing shoppers to revisit long-gone marketplaces where push-cart merchants sold their wares, spending time face to face with each customer. But behind the sentiment is solid business strategy -- some of the merchants are small businesses looking to expand or try out new ideas, while others are Fortune 500 companies looking to strengthen their foothold in a national market.

Some kiosks and carts are operated throughout the year, but at this time of the year, there's a population explosion of these merchants at malls.

Hickory Farms, of Maumee, Ohio, known for its sausages and cheese, goes from one year-round store to 542 kiosks plus an additional 176 stores for the holidays.


  1. Stonebriar is a NICE mall. We've gone there a few times. It's enormous and always crowded and it's full of froofroo stores.

    I remember reading a similar article last year in the Dallas Morning News. They were discussing kiosks at the Collin Creek Mall (which is in Plano TX). It's a nice mall, but not in the same league with Stonebriar. The merchants were talking about how much they were selling via the kiosks, but they also mentioned how much the lease was for the spaces. They were $5,000 a month at a minimum--for those little tiny ones, and went up to $10,000 (or even more) for some of the larger ones.

  2. Carts and kiosks have evolved a lot, probably because of the cost of the spaces (which are belive it or not still cheaper than inline spaces) and the popularity of the locations. They're also now in the hotter malls like Tysons Corner Center and SouthPark, where carts would have never dwelled 10 years ago.

    At first, you would see the typical things: photoshopped portraits of dead celebrities, gold chains, fake hair, cell phones, dead sea salt lotion, and the like. Nowadays, a lot of malls are stepping it up a notch and including thing that are a lot classier and a just as productive.

    Dell is popping up in kiosks everywhere. Belk is pushing Clinique cosmetics, Sportswear chain Pro Image has almost its entire typical store inventory on a cart in Charlotte, Starbucks, Godiva and Sheetz have even experimented with mall kiosks in my area.

    My favorite cart/kiosk ever is the Häagen-Dazs one at SouthPark in Charlotte. It looks really good and tastes even better.