Could the local mall be a 2023 answer for furniture retailers looking to expand? | Cindy Hodnett

For some of us who grew up visiting local malls for recreational retail (and to meet up with friends outside of the watchful gaze of our parents), the darkened storefronts now prevalent in many of these locations across the country is a sad state of affairs. But maybe, just maybe (Gap, Cinnabon, and retail gods willing), there are brighter days ahead.

The ABC factor

Ben Haverty, vice president of the furniture industry real estate group at Colliers International, recently told Furniture Today that creative furniture retailers are “turning to B-malls as affordable solutions for new store growth.”

“Even second-tier malls have the desirable real estate attributes of being near major road nets, offering an abundance of parking, and retail synergy,” Haverty said. “In contrast to the 4.2% national retail vacancy rate, malls have an 8.8% vacancy rate. Destination furniture retailers are backfilling big box locations in B-malls, both vacant anchor and junior anchor spaces, typically at off-market rents.”

Although definitions of what constitutes an A-mall vs. a B-mall may vary, one thing is certain: Generational brand awareness is never a bad outcome.

If, as some research suggests, Millennials and Gen-Zers are looking for experiential shopping opportunities, then perhaps B-malls with empty department store spaces could be a win-win for all involved, bringing new potential customers in proximity to furniture and décor stores while also boosting overall mall traffic in a retail version of the rising tide lifting all boats scenario.

It has been done before

Back in 2013, Discovery Furniture owners Jeff and Jamie Winters opened the Furniture Mall of Kansas in Topeka, creating a 193,000-square-foot, two-story retail location in a former Macy’s space. The Furniture Mall debuted with several store banners, furniture lines in nearly every price range from entry to upper, along with mattresses and bedding.

Since then, the Winters have expanded the concept to Texas, partnering with the owners of Austin’s Couch Potatoes to bring the Furniture Mall of Texas to life in 2020 and then opening a third location in Missouri in late 2022.

Regarding the most recent 125,000-square-foot Furniture Mall of Missouri, Jeff Winter told Furniture Today editor Thomas Lester that “it’s an underserved market that’s really growing, and there are a lot of opportunities there. There’s good visibility off the highway, an outdoor center that is growing. It’s somewhat of a destination shopping area that had open real estate.”

“Destination shopping” is exactly what malls once were, providing a recreational experience along with a healthy mix of retail choices for just about every age and life stage. And while there are dozens of boxes that have to be checked before a mall location might be determined as the right option for a furniture retailer in 2023 (more in-depth information from industry experts on that in upcoming coverage), it does seem certain that there might be an underutilized high-visibility real estate resource found in the heart of many communities, one that could create affordable expansion opportunities for stores priced out of new construction.

This former mall rat certainly has her fingers crossed!

Are you a retailer with a mall location or considering one? We’d love to hear from you for possible inclusion in an upcoming story. Contact Retail Editor Thomas Lester. 

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