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BLOOMINGTON, Minn.-Some people go to London for the theater. Some go to New York to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And some fly here to shop at the Mall of America.

Arlene Little; her stepdaughter, LaRue; Arlene's sister-in-law, Joann Drzich; and her daughter, Linda; fit into the last group.

All four Chicago women climbed aboard a Northwest Airlines' flight bound for Minneapolis Dec. 10 using one-day round-trip $99 tickets.

They were among thousands of addicted shoppers who took advantage of a Holiday Discount Program by the Mall of America's official airline. It offered flights from 52 cities on Nov. 25, Dec. 3 and Dec. 10 ranging from a low of $39 from Rochester to a high of $159 from Los Angeles.

It is the third year the program was offered. The successful 1993 eight-day promotion brought some 14,000 people to visit the largest retail-entertainment center in America that opened Aug. 11, 1992. It was not immediately known how many people took part in this year's three-day promotion.

"They're mostly women and they come off those planes wearing power shopping clothes, clutching bulging purses, with that `eye-of-the-tiger get-out-of-my-way' look in their eye," said Steve Mahon, a Northwest quality service agent.

It was the first time the Chicago Four had visited the 78-acre retail/entertainment center that includes more than 350 shops, 14 movie screens, a Camp Snoopy theme park with more than 50 rides, a children's museum and almost anything else anyone could want.

But these women are no amateurs. Giving their charge cards a good day's workout in a unique setting isn't anything new. They have flown as far as Singapore, Seoul and Hong Kong to shop because they love the sport and felt the low prices there defrayed the cost of their tickets.

"I'm sure I'll find something," Arlene Little said confidently. "If nothing else, we'll have lunch and a few drinks."

"We see a lot of these people carrying in huge, empty bags," said Mr. Mahon. "Some even bring empty luggage ... when they come back they fill those cases with packages."

The travelers represent a fast-growing trend of shopping-related leisure destinations.

"What the Melvin Simon people [mall developer Simon Property Group, Indianapolis] have done is synthesized [retail and entertainment] in this new development," said Mark Eble, hospitality industry analyst, Coopers & Lybrand, Chicago. "What's not there are big city problems, like crime."

Chekitan Dev, marketing professor, Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration, recently told a seminar for senior amusement park managers that the Mall of America represents significant competition.

"I told them what they have to think about is the new paradigm for marketing strategies in the leisure industry, which will include opportunities for people to shop at amusement parks," Mr. Dev said.

"We believe tourism accounts for almost 50% of gross sales here at the Mall of America, and one-third of the visitors come from beyond a 150-mile radius," said Sarah Scheuerman, deputy director of the mall's tourism department. "We find the farther they come, the more they spend."

Maureen Hooley, mall marketing director, said 20% to 30% of the marketing budget goes toward tourism. The marketing budget was undisclosed "not because it's so high, but because it's so low. It's amazing how much you can do with so little," she said.

Mall of America uses ads in broadcast and print media, trade publications and promotions through a combination of in-house work and Kauffman Stewart Advertising, Minneapolis. The mall also placed its first ad in USA Today Sept. 30.

The mall also has courted families to spend a weekend trying out mall shopping plus movies, restaurants and Knott's Camp Snoopy theme park among other attractions.

Marketing to tours is becoming increasingly important to the mall industry, said Mark Schoifet, communications director, International Council of Shopping Centers, New York. "I think the Mall of America is the ultimate mall, so anything they do, like partnering with an airline, is the ultimate."

He said all malls must consider an entertainment component. "Big, enclosed malls will have to heighten and intensify the shopping experience because this is the most competitive era in the malls' 40-year history."

Said Ms. Scheuerman: "We anticipate local shoppers come on an average 20 times a year, but tourists will come from say, South Dakota, once or twice a year because they have an enjoyable experience and want to see what's new."

The latest attraction is a $26.5 million aquarium, Undersea World at the Mall of America, slated to open in early 1996.

Celebrity sightings also have become a big draw.

"Michael Jackson's been seen shopping here twice and we see Melanie Griffith a lot because her family lives nearby," Ms. Scheuerman said. She said an Arabian sheik, who visits with his wives several times a year, even bought a house in the area to avoid staying in hotels.

Second-year revenue for the mall met expectations at $680 million, a 5% increase from 1993. The day after Thanksgiving showed a 19% increase in traffic.

Ira Fratirik, research analyst with Simon Property Group, said his company originally projected small tenants would do $350 per square foot the first year, 40% higher than typical regional malls. But sales were even better than projected, he said. Mr. Fratirik said a typical metropolitan resident spends about $80 per visit; outsiders spend about $120.

Erik Nordstrom, general manager of the anchor Nordstrom store and great grandson of the chain's founder, said his store is enjoying double-digit increases each year and is in the top 15 of the 75 stores nationwide.

In addition to the Nordstrom "signature pianist," this store has a concierge counter with a staff that gives directions, makes reservations for lunch or dinner, and checks burdensome coats and packages.

But there are things that make the mall less than glorious.

One is the huge crowds that develop after noon, and visiting Camp Snoopy is pricey.

Another problem is long lines that form constantly at the women's rest rooms. But that doesn't dampen the celebratory mood.

Standing in one of those long lines in the late afternoon, Lori Haas, Los Angeles, said she and her daughter took Northwest's discount, one-day trip and were having an even better time than they expected, especially since they had to rise at 4:30 a.m. their time and would not get home until 10 p.m.

The Littles and Drziches were back at the airport in Minneapolis about 5 p.m., laden with bags and packages. Arlene Little was particularly excited about finding "a real bargain," an antique mirror for $160. She spent about $300 shopping. Her stepdaughter spent about $100. And the Drziches together shelled out about $400.

Lori Haas brought only $100 with her from Los Angeles and, in addition to spending part of that on lunch, she bought a sweat shirt for her husband and a Christmas tree ornament, both with Mall of America logos.

It didn't seem to have occurred to her she might have stayed home and ordered both by phone.

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