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Fall 2009
Loco-Motives: On Track for Growth

After a year of research, Jim Stasiowski, president and chief executive officer of Loco-Motives LLC, decided on something traditional to bring to shopping malls—a train ride.

Loco-Motives, based in Arlington, VA, runs its trains in seven locations (in as many states), and is on track to expand to 14 locations by fall. The concept is simple, yet works well for malls. The train, which can seat 24 people, takes a tour around the shopping mall for the price of a ticket—usually $3. It is mainly used as an amusement ride, and rarely for transporting shoppers.

The concept is much like a carousel ride, with one crucial difference for mall specialty leasing managers: The concept allows for leasing of non-leasable space. “We pay rent for an area that is non-leasable,” says Stasiowski. “Otherwise, it’s just empty space.”

Why mall spaces work

Allison Fischer, marketing manager at Tyson’s Corner Center in McLean, VA, says the train works for the mall because the ride not only generates income, it also helps increase traffic to the mall without taking up leasable space.

The 8-minute ride is meant to simulate an actual train ride, but without tracks. Riders are greeted by the train operator, who takes their boarding passes and welcomes them to the train. The train also uses smoke machines to simulate an actual steam engine, and features iPod docks to play promotions and music during the holiday season.

The idea, Stasiowski adds, is to keep a nostalgic look to the train without going overboard. To this end, the trains are handcrafted and imported, and painted in bright colors. The train is self-contained, and runs on batteries, which are charged overnight at the mall. In the spring and summer, outdoor and indoor routes operate at some locations.

While the concept has worked well as an amusement ride, it has not worked all that well as a shopper ferry, says Stasiowski. Zoning laws prohibit stopping at unauthorized stops, and people who want the amusement ride aspect of it are put off by the long waiting times, he adds.

Shannon Cope, specialty leasing manager at Katy Mills, Katy, TX, says that the train has been a huge draw for the mall. “No matter what the age of the passengers, when you are walking the mall and the train passes by, all the passengers are smiling, waving and having a great time,” she says.

All aboard

For Tyson’s Corner Center, the train is not only a tenant, but also a community tool to bring together shoppers, says Fischer.

There have been requests to take the train outside the mall, and one such visit was to the INOVA Fairfax Hospital for Children in Fairfax, VA, where the train delivered Christmas gifts from retailers at the Landmark Mall in Alexandria.

The number of Loco-Motives locations has increased sharply in the past few months, and Stasiowski attributes this to malls becoming more receptive to unique ideas. “It seems it is difficult for centers to lease out their larger spaces,” Stasiowski says. “They are looking for a means to generate income from any and every thing.” Stasiowski adds that he would like to take advantage of the opportunity that malls are offering him while the “door is open.”

In fact, Loco-Motives’ growth is limited only by the number of trains that can be delivered. Because the trains are handcrafted, each train takes a few months to be manufactured and delivered.

Business details

Rides in malls are not new. Miami-based Zippy Rides uses electric-powered animal-shaped cars for rides, and carousel rides are a feature at many malls. Stasiowski considers carousel rides his closest competition. “There is a certain level of nostalgia that the trains represent that is closely matched by the carousel,” he says. However, he adds that Loco-Motives scores better because it generates revenue from non-leasable space.

Although all operations are currently operated by Loco-Motives, the company will open franchising opportunities this fall. “It is difficult for a small company to maximize the
possibility of each location,” says Stasiowski. “There are plenty of other means to generate revenue other than ticket sales.”

In fact, one of the ways that Stasiowski hopes to maximize revenue is through promotional events and advertising on the train. At most locations, Loco-Motives offers birthday parties, group rates for daycare institutions, and is working with various organizations to hold special events this holiday season. Mall retailers can also advertise on the train. Some children’s retailers at the Tyson’s Corner Center have done so.

The economy has not had an impact on business, and people, now more than ever, want to see their children happy, says Stasiowski. “And this is something that everybody can afford,” he adds.

Mouse over images below to view.


Meera Rajagopalan

Meera Rajagopalan is a freelance writer who writes for publications in India and the U.S. She has extensive experience reporting on niche businesses and can be reached at meera_tg@yahoo.com

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