If you live in North Orange County, CA and have friends or family with young kids, there is a chance you have been to the Westminster Mall. Not to shop but to attend a birthday party at the Sky Zone or Johns incredible pizza. This was the case for me recently as one of my sons’ friends turned 9.
As I walked through the mall to the birthday party location, I notice kids riding motorized plush animal scooters. Locations that were once the homes of stores like Walden Books and Claire’s were now occupied by air soft shooting ranges, escape rooms, and donut museums. Some of these new businesses had lines to get in while the clothing stores were empty with multiple sale sings hanging in the windows. When I reached the party destination, I saw what felt like hundreds of kids laughing and screaming, while chasing their friends on trampolines under blacklights with the sounds of modern pop blaring through the speakers. Like a lightning bolt to the brain, it hit me… The mall is adapting.
Malls, like many small retailers struggled to compete with online marketplaces and brands focusing more on their direct-to-consumer business. Then COVID hit forcing malls in America to close, which caused some of the retailers occupying spaces to go out of business. When the malls opened back up, they had to come up with a new plan to fill the empty spaces and bring people back to the mall. Someone at the Westminster mall realized people would still pay to be entertained.
This got me thinking about the struggles surf shops face and the opportunities that are out there.
It’s said that people like to shop online because its convenient. This is something I’ve never fully understood. Yes, it’s easy to order online in-between flipping from Instagram to TikTok but then you must wait for the package to arrive, hope there are no shipping delays, and pray you don’t have to return it for one of multiple reasons. I’m also not sure what’s coinvent about the negative environmental impact of packaging and gas. Seems way more coinvent to visit my local retailer, speak to and knowledgeable employee, and make sure I leave that day with the product that’s right for me. But for arguments sake, let’s say a struggle is it’s more convenient to shop online.
Some people say it’s hard to compete with online because they offer better prices, more variety, and there is no pressure to buy. Ok, I can understand that. There will always be someone trying to undercut everyone. Brick and Mortar stores can’t inventory everything but there are guys like the Exchange Collective working to blend Brick with Click by providing an endless isle of product. Their platform allows retailers an opportunity not to lose a customer due to lack of variety. But this isn’t a story about the Exchange Collective so let’s move on. Online shopping doesn’t make the buyer feel pressured to buy. This one kind of makes me laugh because have you ever noticed how web banners follow you from site to site after you’ve checked out a product online. Companies spend millions of dollars on retargeting ads to eventually get you to buy. Can you imagine a surf shop employee showing up to your daughter’s dance recital and holding up the T-shirt you looked at for 1 minute? Then you’re eating dinner and they are standing outside the window still showing you the shirt. Online stores pressure you just not the way a used car salesmen used too. Let’s be honest, I have hung out a surf and skate shops for hours talking story and never once felt pressured to buy something.
What are the opportunities? Also, can struggles be something to learn from?
Just like the person at the Westminster mall figured out, people still want to be entertained. Amazon can’t entertain the same way small retailers can. How can a surf shop entertain the local community creating a bond with the neighbors that can’t be broken? How can a surf shop create raving fans beyond discounts? How can in-person shopping out entertain the internet?
How do Brick and Mortar retailers become more convenient? How do small business become more value driven than price driven? How do we get people to think about the environmental impact online shopping has compared to shopping local? How do brick and mortar retailers become no pressure zones?
I don’t have all the answers but hopefully this article inspired someone to get back to the future of retail.