The World's Largest Resource for the Cart, Kiosk, and Temporary Retail Industry

Summer 2008 Unique Concepts Summer 2008

Gypsy Garden’s Future Forecast

Malls are emphatically about the present, the ultimate glorification of the “now” as people buy the hottest, latest designs. But at least one corner of the Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth, NJ, is strictly about the future.

Ruby Mitchell last Christmas season opened what the mall describes as a “freeform kiosk” called Gypsy Garden on the first floor between a Tommy Hilfiger and a Nine West.

While mall-goers nearby seek the fashions of the day, others stream into the space where Mitchell reads palms, Tarot cards, crystal bags and crystal balls. “People seem to like the Tarot,” Mitchell says. “A long time ago, everybody liked the palm reading.”

You don’t have to be psychic to know that the mall likes the additional income, Mitchell likes the foot traffic and tourists like the option of making a reading part of their shopping experience.

Denise Monahan, the mall’s specialty leasing manager, says Mitchell caught her interest with the idea of a mystical setting in the mall, but the center was fully leased. So visual merchandiser Kat Contreras created a freeform kiosk that’s “fun, kind of funky, a little theatrical,” Monahan says. The kiosk with its old-fashioned signage and scarves attracts believers, the curious and lots of shoppers merely seeking diversion.

imageMitchell may be all about the future, but also has a long past as a psychic. Although she isn’t a gypsy, she is of Romanian descent and speaks Romanian. Her grandmother did readings as a hobby. “She never allowed us to read each other,” Mitchell says. “She thought we would see negative things.”

Mitchell soon began trying her hand at figuring out her and others’ future. “I’ve been doing this since I was a child,” she says. “Around seven years old, I would see things before they happened. My grandmother had the same gift.”

She started doing readings at home as favors and then began charging for them before working on a psychic hotline a decade ago. But figuring out fortunes for customers calling at all hours of the night wasn’t her cup of tea-or tea leaves. “It was very tiring,” Mitchell says. “I didn’t really care for it. Most calls were in the middle of the night. I didn’t feel comfortable with that.”

She operated from a storefront on Broadway in New York City for about six years before opening in Jersey Gardens, closer to her home. It’s $5 for a palm reading, $10 for both palms, $15 for a face reading, $50 for a half a Tarot deck, $60 for a full deck and $80 for crystal bag readings. The Cadillac of readings is the crystal ball for $135.

Mitchell’s work is part public performance and part intimate conversation, part therapy and part theatre. Her kiosk reflects that, carving out a small window into another world in the middle of the hubbub of the mall.

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Flirting with Success at Flirty Aprons

Randall G. Mielke

When four Brigham Young University graduates decided to go into business together, they brainstormed what types of products they could sell. The plan was to start a small business and generate enough revenue to fund a bigger venture down the line. But much to their delight, their initial undertaking, Flirty Aprons, is on its way to becoming the bigger venture that they were looking for.

Flirty Aprons was the brainchild of Jamie Taylor who, while surfing cooking websites, noticed that all of the aprons sold by advertisers were either old-fashioned looking or not-so-great home-made models. She began to wonder about the marketability of a fresh new apron line, perhaps something trendy targeted to younger women.

She talked to her husband, Spencer, and another couple, Joseph and Heather Hansen, and they liked the idea so much that they got to work right away. In March the group launched their first retail location, a Flirty Aprons cart in University Mall in Orem, UT. They had a total of five hundred aprons ready for sale.

The initial stock sold in three weeks. “We plan to stay there through the Christmas season at least,” says CFO Spencer Taylor. To fund their start-up, the group secured a loan from a local credit union. “The venture has been successful enough that we have paid off the start-up costs within one month,” says CEO Joseph Hansen.

Although Flirty Aprons started out with a market strategy targeting women in their 20s, once the cart was open they found their products appealed to a much wider audience. Their best buyers ranged in age from early 20s to mid-50s. Retail prices are about $20 to $30. Flirty Aprons are made in the US, with fabrics also made in the US.

The company’s Original Flirty Apron is a mix of cotton and cotton-polyester blends, with 10 color combinations available. Recently the company added two more styles, a half-apron with a scallop detail at the bottom, called the Scalloped Half Flirt, and the Mini Flirt, a smaller version of the Original Flirty Apron, designed for girls. A men’s barbecue apron is being considered.

A retail website (FlirtyAprons.com) opened within days of the cart and that venture is reaping its own rewards. “One of our biggest priorities is to aggressively market on the Internet, ” says Hansen. “We did a lot of work for the Internet. And on the operations manual for the cart. Now we can concentrate on marketing and production.”

“We’ve gotten a great response” from shoppers, Taylor adds. The concept has “a lot of potential.”

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Zippy Rides Bring Family Fun to the Mall

Visitors to the Pembroke Lakes Mall in Pembroke Pines, FL, go on shopping safaris unlike those you’re likely to see at most other malls. While others wend their way through the maze of the retail jungle, visitors there ride electric animals such as pandas, elephants, dogs, hippos and horses.

North Miami-based Animal Rides, which does business as Zippy Rides, (ZippyRides.com) has a stable of electric-powered creatures that riders steer in a circular corral called a Zippy Zoo or Zippy Corral. The idea is to have six to eight animals that children use to “zip” around a 350-square-foot space on rides lasting three to five minutes.

Animal Rides CEO Hillel Bronstein says the rides are enough to get kids begging to go to the mall and keep them entertained. “We’ve been told by parents that they’re able to spend more time in malls and convince their children to go with them to malls because of the Zippy Rides,” says Bronstein.

The firm was founded in October of 2007 and opened for the holidays in Aventura Mall in Miami and then in Pembroke Pines with plans to open more company owned and licensee locations. “We get at least one inquiry per day from people who would like to operate a location,” Bronstein says. Start-up costs are around $10,000.

imageThis electric zoo stands out amid a sea of often-similar stores as “a totally unique and new concept” in Bronstein’s words. He noticed his grandchildren used to get bored at the mall when they visited south Florida. So he thought why not give retail-tainment a new spin with a ride that goes way beyond the traditional coin-operated static creature?

“I used to go with my son and his wife to the Aventura Mall here in south Florida and I realized how difficult it was for them to keep their children entertained while they shopped,” Bronstein says. “Often their shopping trips were much shorter than they could have been had the children been more entertained.”

He tested the rides with two grandchildren. “They loved riding around on the first animals that we tested and I knew right there that we had something that could be very successful,” Bronstein says.

He adds that the Aventura leasing manager “couldn’t wait to find us a location in the mall once she saw the concept.” Animal Rides’ initial test was successful. “The location was constantly busy,” he says. “The children are given independence to operate the animal and they enjoy that opportunity.”

Zippy Rides sells photos as souvenirs of these shopping safaris and plans to add more merchandise in the near future. “Mugs are one of the items that we will be offering shortly,” Bronstein says. “We’re working on a line of products that appeal to children.”

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On the Mall Menu: Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet

In Woody Allen’s movie “Sleeper,” Miles Munroe comes back to life after being cryogenically frozen for 200 years only to learn everything we thought we knew about diet is wrong. Ice cream and sweets are healthy and the better things taste, the better they are for you. If Miles Munroe woke today and found out about Dr. Siegal’s Cookie Diet, he couldn’t be more surprised. McLean, VA-based Dr. Siegal’s Direct Nutritionals has opened seven locations in less than a year: six carts, including its most recent at the Scottsdale Fashion Square in Scottsdale, AZ and one kiosk in La Galleria, in Fort Lauderdale, FL. The company hopes to open 40 more locations over the next 12 months and to add shakes and soups to its menu. Full-blown stores are in the works.

“There’s no magic to this,” says Matthew Siegal, CEO of Dr. Siegal’s Direct Nutritionals and son of the creator of the cookie diet, Dr. Sanford Siegal. “It simply controls your hunger,” Matthew Siegal explains. “Eat one of these cookies and you won’t be hungry for a while.” Sometimes shoppers have “immediate skepticism.” Some want to know what “the gimmick” is, while others assume it’s the latest fad diet. But this diet is no flash in the pan. Dr. Sanford Siegal, a doctor specializing in weight loss in Miami, where he has his practice, created this cookie diet in 1975. Macmillan published a 308-page book by him based on the diet in 1985. In addition to being sold over the Web at CookieDiet.com and through the doctor’s medical practice, the cookies are sold by other doctors, drugstores, health spas, health food stores and now in malls. Matthew Siegal got the idea of using carts and kiosks strategically to increase the company’s visibility and generate revenues in the summer of 2007. “I was walking through a mall near Washington, DC, where I live,” Siegal says. “I was looking at all these carts and kiosks and a light bulb went off. ‘What if there were a Dr. Siegal cookie kiosk?’”

A few months later, he opened the company’s first cart in the Morristown Mall, in Morristown, NJ. The test “went very well,” Siegal says. More carts and a kiosk quickly followed as these cookies sold, well… like hot cakes.

And these cookies aren’t cheap. Boxes of 42 cookies, or a week’s supply, sell for $59. That may sound steep for cookies, but Siegal says the cookies sometimes replace rather than accompany meals. “We prefer to say eat when you’re hungry,” Siegal says. “And when you’re not hungry, don’t eat-regardless of the time.”

The cookies are meant to taste good, but people expecting the sugar rush of a regular cookie may be disappointed. “Are they delicious? No,” Matthew Siegal says. “If they were delicious, you’d eat too many of them.”

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Success Tastes Sweet at The Chocolate Bar

Waiting for a plane has never been so delicious. While a few fliers might be content to pick up a Hershey bar and head to the plane, travelers at Boston’s Logan International Airport will discover a chocolate heaven that would make even Willy Wonka’s eyes grow wide with wonder. The Chocolate Bar, an inline store that opened in Logan’s Terminal A around Thanksgiving of 2007, is 163 square feet of chocolate paradise. The concept is the brainchild of Baldwin, NY-based MAR Air Foods, which operates airport concessions at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York as well as Newark Liberty International, Washington Dulles International Airport and Logan.

“There’s nothing mainstream” about the concept, says President Rich Rosamilia. “It’s all high end and unusual or unique.”

Airline travelers accustomed to traditional candy bars and gum find more than eye candy at The Chocolate Bar. Here, Toblerone, Ghirardelli and Godiva line the shelves. See’s chocolates in particular seem to attract fans. “We have people that come in… and they grab three, four, five boxes,” Rosamilia says.

The Chocolate Bar started off with a taste of sweet success on opening day. From the first hour the store opened it drew crowds. “We had people trying to shop as we were packing the stuff onto the shelves,” Rosamilia recalls. Airports are ideal for high-end chocolate shops, he adds, due to the foot traffic, ample waiting time and travelers’ desire to buy gifts for those back home. If they have time, visitors to The Chocolate Bar can even get a lesson in chocolate culture by watching one of several 42-inch plasma screens showing documentaries on the history of chocolate, in-depth cooking demonstrations and some of the best known chocolate-themed entertainment around, including “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and the “I Love Lucy” chocolate factory episode.

MAR opened The Chocolate Bar in Logan as a test to see whether the concept would fly in airports. “We thought it would be a good idea and we didn’t see anybody else doing it,” Rosamilia says.

Now that the first store has passed its retail test with flying colors, MAR is setting up a second, larger one in Logan’s Terminal C, slated to include a host of new products, including chocolate gelato, sandwiches made with chocolate, organic chocolate peanut butters and fruit dipped in Belgian chocolate, plus live cooking demonstrations.

The store will also carry chocolate pastries, yogurts, sodas, tortilla chips and an entire menu of chocolate cuisine. “Anything and everything chocolate outside the margins of just wrapped bars of chocolate,” he says. “When you take a look at the chocolate market, it’s gone from your basic candy bar to an unbelievable source” of new derivative products that MAR has every intention of introducing to the chocolate-deprived traveling public.

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Kernal Korner Pops-up the Profits

Popcorn is as much a part of the movie experience as Surround Sound. Jodee Prouse, the owner of Kernal Korner, is doing her best to make popcorn an equally important part of the mall shopping experience. Or rather, to have her new company, Kernal Korner, be the go-to mall kiosk for the latest, greatest popcorn toppings. “It sounds like we deal in popcorn. But we don’t,” Prouse says. “We deal in popcorn toppings.” The kiosks offer shoppers 13 popcorn topping flavors, including white cheddar cheese, barbecue, nacho cheddar, kettle corn, jalapeno, caramel, apple cinnamon, chocolate marshmallow, sour cream and onion, salt and vinegar, and dill pickle. Yes, dill pickle.

Prouse launched Kernal Korner based on her previous success growing another specialty retail business. A few years ago she developed a new cart and kiosk division of Happy Hippo, her Sylvan Lake, Alberta-based company that manufacturers handmade bath-and-body products. The specialty retail division grew to more than two dozen locations last holiday season, a mix of company-owned locations and turnkey start-up locations run by independent entrepreneurs (turnkey packages start at about $3,000).

The Kernal Korner corporate locations help the company keep touch with its customer base, test new flavors and generate revenues. The Kernal Korner concept “has been doing so well on the market,” Prouse says. “Everybody eats popcorn.” Case in point: When Kernal Korner started sampling last year, sales shot up 30 percent. “We give people a little trial size of popcorn and they sprinkle on” their own toppings, Prouse explains. “They love it. Anybody who does carts and kiosks knows that demos sell. It’s a good way to get people to stop.”

Now a believer in strategic growth through a mix of corporate and independent locations, Prouse is hoping to repeat her Happy Hippy success with Kernal Korner. In fact, she says, “we’re expecting more” from Kernal Korner. For the 2007 winter holidays, Kernal Korner operated four corporate kiosks and four carts; two in-line stores were run by independents. A single topping retails for $4.50, with the average ticket between $20 and $40. Gift baskets that run $40 to $50 sell well, particularly around Christmas and other major holidays, Prouse says. The company’s busiest Kernal Korner location racked up sales of $90,000 during the seven weeks prior to Christmas ’07. “Any consumable is going to sell,” Prouse says. “That’s what kiosk owners are looking for. Consumables people use and [then] come back.”

Prouse says she has benefited from her Happy Hippo experience not only in how to maximize sales from carts and kiosks, but how to keep operating costs in check as much as possible. When she launched Kernal Korner, she opened in malls where she already had a Happy Hippo location, which allowed her to save time and money.

Independent entrepreneurs can benefit from the same strategy. In fact, Prouse is actively looking for retailers who “already own a cart and want to expand,” she explains. “It’s a lot easier to operate two locations in the same mall than go to another mall three hours away.”

Prouse adds that this is just the beginning for her Kernal Korner concept. Like many new products, consumers end up using the product somewhat differently than intended, creating new selling opportunities for the maker. For example, “I don’t really love popcorn toppings on my popcorn, but my kids do,” Prouse says. Like many of her new customers, “I use mine on my vanilla ice cream.”

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Custom Perfumes Fill The Scent Bar

After a few hours browsing and buying at The Shops at Willow Bend in Plano, TX, shoppers can take a break at the bar for some unconventional cocktails. But instead of ordering gin and tonics, the barflies here might want a splash of vanilla with a dash of eucalyptus, or a bit of sandalwood topped with a dash of musk.

Complete with bar stools and a glass-and-chrome bar counter, The Scent Bar offers its customers more than 50 perfume oils they can blend to create an endless variety of custom perfumes and bath-and-body products. Shoppers can relax at the blending bar, mixing drops of fragrances from vials to their own signature scent while chatting with friends, or pick up a few pre-mixed products ready for off-the-shelf sales. The store stands out in the mall not only because of its unique product line, but also because it looks like an art gallery, perfumery and upscale bar all rolled up into one. “Our presentation is rather unique,” says Anthony Partow, who with his wife, Elena, owns the store. “It doesn’t look like a traditional store.” The Partows opened The Scent Bar last holiday season to test the concept. They wanted customers to “feel a little bit like a celebrity,” creating their own perfume, Elana says. Anthony adds that: “You walk into most stores and you see the standard configuration, shelves of product that are standard. There’s no way for customers to exercise their individuality.” At The Scent Bar, it’s all about individuality.

Because the concept is relatively unusual, a short-term lease was crucial for launch. “We didn’t want to get committed too long initially,” Anthony says. “We could have done it without that type of [short-term] lease, but we wouldn’t have.”

“There’s not one [scent] that I can say is the most popular,” because customer tastes are “so individual,” Anthony says. Some customers are drawn to fig, pomegranate, orange or lemon scents, while others prefer floral such as tea rose, jasmine, ylang ylang, sandalwood or eucalyptus.

The Partows are enjoying the attention their new store has been getting lately from shoppers and the local media, but even more than that they’re enjoying the day-to-day specialty retail experience. “We wanted to create a business we’d look forward to going to every day,” says Anthony. “Something interesting, a little different-and to make a profit.”

Now that the store is building a healthy repeat-customer base, the Partows hope their new concept could be the recipe for more stores to follow going forward. When it comes to blending a signature perfume or succeeding in specialty retail, Anthony says, “The only limit is your imagination.”

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Claude Solnik

Solnik is a special sections reporter for the Long Island Business News and can be reached at .

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