Before the Fourth Of July (2019)
We were looking forward to this place bringing millions of visitors and tourists to the North Shore. I’m pretty sure they (Empire Outlets (EO)) were excited about this too. Perhaps they are still moving in to hit their stride. I suppose that if they were to ask their tenants, as of today, about the public reception of EO, in terms of numbers of FOOT TRAFFIC, EO may be at a loss for words.
The team at EO are off to a decent start since the week of their grand opening where it was said that over 165,000 people came through their opening two weeks. I believe this is true. I was there. That’s great but, the question which remains unanswered is: “Will they come back?”
In business we call the returning customers and their purchasing power: Conversion. This might sound like marketing jargon to the novice or layman but to an avid marketer, it is the real measure in understanding the tangible results of a marketing project and the effectiveness of its publicity effort.
It’s not too late for Empire Outlets to turn the corner on building an audience, developing a stern fan base, entertaining the public with something other than shopping and keeping the tenants happy with EO’s publicity and advertising efforts. It is the publicist’s job to develop and maintain both 1) growth in massive foot traffic and 2) to keep the people coming back.
The trick to getting customers to return (aka conversion) is to develop a CULTURE, a REPUTATION, and a BRAND. In major league corporations, they use a 30-50 page document called Branding Guidelines. These guidelines for EO might be fashioned specifically to Staten Island, its people and history and its geography. The shopping experience comes after, from the customer perspective but, the fonts, colors, textures come with a behavioral protocol set in Branding Guidelines from the EO mall. Overall, it’s a plan of creating a Cultural Experience which keeps the costs of publicity and advertising down to a bare minimum.
These branding efforts require a deeper understanding of WHO their core (or target) marketing segment is, what they like, and what will draw them to EO, repeatedly with even more frequency.
Bands and musical shows in the summertime are abundant in NYC each year. This isnm5 some new or different. Musicians and bands are strewn on the subways, parks, streets, block parties, museums, restaurants and bars.
So WHAT is HAPPENING?
It seems obvious to us, as market Ad Branders what is happening at Empire Outlets. The general consensus might say: “It’s okay,” if the developers have overlooked identifying their core audience and shoppers and went on with thinking that EO is for “everybody.” It isn’t. It never is. This is a clear marketing mishap and as most market professionals will gladly tell you: Everybody is nobody.
If the developers positioned EO as a “High End” fashion outlet mall, the tenants they have signed up in the mall does not indicate this in reality. A high-end mall is exactly what is going on in Hudson Yards in Manhattan. You won’t find any SALE’s signs there. High-end fashion doesn’t throw SALE’s signs all over the place. They’ll offer discounts to frequent customers. This is according to most of our fashion industry standards. The idea of a discount outlet mall goes against the very fabric of high-end fashion in general. LV (Louis Vuitton) and Christian Dior never post “SALE” signs in their windows. Never. Never ever.
High-End in the fashion industry is quite clear about this. These brands have drawn their lines in the sand over the last 100 years. This isn’t changing anytime soon. The brands associated with High Fashion would be the likes of
- Dolce & Gabbana
- Yves Saint Laurent
- Louis Vuitton
- Paul Smith
The above are all considered high-end fashion although, their actual industry term is HIGH FASHION. The high fashion brands (aka named “Fashion Houses”) may sell a ready-to-wear (RTW) line for the mass market and this is where most of the confusion happens for us ordinary, everyday folk. Below the high fashion pay grade in the fashion world is something called MASS MARKET. It is for brands like The Gap, Banana Republic, NIKE, Guess, H&M, Columbia, CROCS, American Eagle, etc… these businesses are all over the place, accessible in other malls and on the streets of Manhattan. These are the tenants at Empire Outlets. In the fashion world, they are both Ready-to-Wear and Mass Market. We didn’t make up these terms. These are categories the fashion world uses. We’re just repeating the terms and definitions you will find online.
Perhaps there is just a clear marketing mistake that may have led to brand confusion. Here’s the reality: if the tenants at the outlet mall dictate what and who the outlet mall brand is… EO is clearly in the mass market branding camp for all intents and purposes. So EO is really a mass-market retail outlet whether they like it or not. The tenants and it’s developing culture are being perceived as such, like it or not.
The fashion industry is infamously known for drawing VERY CLEAR LINES for their brands, who they are and whom they serve. The mass-market brands associated with EO is a clear marriage of their products and space which is indisputable by the definitions set forth by the industry. To say otherwise is to deceive the public in part.
We’ve taken on the arduous task of listing EO’s tenants and how many competing stores there are in NYC:
EO TENANTS and their other NYC franchises in Manhattan (mostly) but also Brooklyn and Queens.
Anchor tenant: Nordstrom Rack (3) : : other locations 1. 31st & 6th, 2. Mens 57th St, 3. Fulton Street (Bklyn).
Starbucks (240 in Manhattan)
Brooks Brothers (7)
Banana Republic (8) factory stores (5)
AEO & Aerie (8) 🦅
US Polo Assn. (2)
Cotton On (0)*
Old Navy (3) with (2) outlets in Brooklyn
True Religion (0)*
So, a customer might ask: Do I really have to go to Staten Island to shop for these places? The answer is ‘yes’ for True Religion and Cotton On as these are the only two stores with exclusive brick and mortars at Empire Outlets. All the other businesses there can be found scattered through Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, New Jersey, and Queens. Or for convenience, most customers just shop at the stores online.
We have questions.
Who is EO’s target market?
Please don’t say, everybody. This is the numero uno marketing mistake, just ask any pro marketer. Let them tell you.
So besides shopping, there will need to be something other than mass-market clothing to get people to, return or stay at Empire Outlets. There must be things of interest, things that are remarkable and then to be known as a place where people will gather to see the things that they can’t get anywhere else in NYC or the world.
In marketing jargon, this is called a unique selling proposition. In Branding, this is called a differentiating factor. Whatever you want to call it… something has to happen there that is remarkable, fantastic, different, memorable and something unique that when it changes, you will want to come back.
Staten Island has expensive bridges and the free ferry is a half-hour ride each way. If someone is going to go through all the bother of coming and going to Staten Island, you better have something better than the same, usual suspects of stores I can find all over NYC, Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey. EO could cut to the chase pretty quickly by hiring a small Agency like BinkNyc.com who specializes in CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT for business for geographic areas. Yes, that was a plug.
The potential is there. The SI Ferry has reported 1.5 million tourists that take advantage of the free ferry ride to pass the Statue of Liberty every year. Riders do it for a glimpse of the statue and maybe a selfie of the great NYC and US icon but, once here on Staten Island, they quickly turn on their heels for the return trip back to NYC. This is a problem.
We think a party is in order for the DOT staff that monitor the ferry and close the doors while you are running to get in! 😄 they are asked by visitors and tourists all the time “What can we do in Staten Island?” They tell them to go back to Manhattan.
Can you demand the DOT to tell them to go to EO? We say “No.” You could try but that likely generates a net zero result. We say: “Create an event, just for them, a private party, with music, fun, food and saying how much we appreciate them and the great job they are doing. We wouldn’t even ask them for anything in return. Maybe EO just apologizes and says: “Hell, we should have done this sooner.”
If you want to create IMPACT, this event should be remarkable, fantastic, different, memorable and something unique. It should be something that could write to him about. EO has an opportunity to make this DOT party an amazing event, JUST BECAUSE.
Let’s see what this generates. Maybe something, maybe nothing. One thing is for sure when you do a good thing, good things come back. They always do. For a measly $1-2 thousand dollars, they might even be better than the DOT’s annual Christmas Party.
FLYERS WERE ALL THE RAGE IN THE 1970s.
EO’s marketing solution, to date, is it to have people wearing EO shirts hand out flyers at the ferry. Flyers? Yes, flyers like the olden days, like when Frank Sinatra was still alive after the Beatles broke up when the Momma’s and the Poppa’s were hot. Flyers are cute and nostalgic but will hardly generate greater than a 5-10% return on the investment. This is a 1970-style advertising scheme before mass marketer realized the power of Lifestyle Marketing.
FLYERS? Yes, people throw them out. If EO is trying to generate foot traffic for their tenants, there are at least 20 far better marketing techniques to do this in this day and age and cheaper too (without leaving a massive carbon footprint. The newer, more recent, techniques require a thoughtful strategy using Guerrilla Marketing, Digital Marketing, and Social Media Marketing. Many companies do it but only a few do it effectively.
People on SI might already know that there is a mall they can visit to shop at but the shops/stores at this EO mall are the same ones you will find all over NYC. There’s nothing remarkable there in the way of shopping.
Manhattan or Staten Island? Which is more exciting? Don’t answer this honestly, we know.
The competition for the attention of tourists and visitors on the Manhattan side of the ferry is huge with extroverted and highly motivated and trained salespeople probing tourists to ride to the Statue of Liberty ferry. They’re moving and shaking and they’re closing deals.
Perhaps EO hopes that the 10-12-20 people handing out flyers will get a couple of hundred people to the mall when EO needs thousands of people to keep their tenants truly happy. We’ve seen 30-50 people leave the ferry and head over to the mall in June and July. In August there was an increase with 80-100 pedestrians per 1/2 hour ferry ride. Today, there’s about 100-120 per foot drop (September 2019).
Over a 12-13 hour day that the mall is open, the ferry comes every 1/2 hour, that’s 24 rides with an average of 2,400 potential shoppers per day. Those are the numbers and those numbers are while the weather is still permitting.
[ Damn it! We’re starting to sound like a mob of angry Staten Islanders! It’s only been 18 months since I moved here! Oh, man. ]
EO is an $637 million dollar mall which opened May 15, 2019, next to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. It’s an outlet mall so they are selling fashion-branded clothing that is “damaged, out of season or produced with a low price point in mind.” Many people still don’t realize that the clothes you buy at factory or outlet stores are produced, brand new, from foreign companies SPECIFICALLY (of low quality) TO SELL AT OUTLET MALLS. These are mass-market clothing and most of the stores you find at EO are those which you can find anywhere across the country: NIKE, Guess, Levi’s, Brooks Brothers (est. 1818 NYC), GAP, Banana Republic, etc… We call them: “The usual suspects.”
There’s nothing new or different about these tenants. The greatest thing to see at Empire Outlets is the architecture. We think it is an outstanding feat but, it’s not terribly loved by everyone. We think there is so much more potential for this mall and for Staten Island.
OUR main question still stands: Why should I go to the mall when I can find all these stores in Brooklyn or Manhattan? A scarier, perhaps a more accurate question is: “Why would I go shopping there if I can find anything they have on Amazon?”
Some of the more pressing problems that EO faces, besides the macro-economics of getting visitors and tourist to shop in Staten Island, are:
1. Shopping malls are closing all across the country.
2. Amazon reached $1 Trillion dollars in 2018 finally passing Google and Apple. This is the elephant in the parking lot that few are speaking about. Most NYC real estate brokers are still in denial. Amazon is just easier to competitively shop at, especially in the harsher winter conditions, you don’t need to leave the house. Year after year we watch Black Friday being destroyed by Cyber Monday.
Amazon: Mostly everybody is doing it.
3. 20% of all NYC retail spaces are currently empty (2018-2019). If I was on the hook for a paying out on retail lease or building a $673 MILLION dollar outlet mall, I’d be shitting a pill. The developers, investors at BFC Partners are stronger men than me. They have hope.
4. The public will feel duped. It’s the ill-intended Word-of-Mouth campaign that EO won’t see coming that’ll create a ghost town this winter at EO. The disappointment in visitors and tourists creates an insidious, slow-moving, unwavering, and pervasive word-of-mouth campaign that the EO has no real fashion, hardly any food and is no fun—the three things they advertise. The public knows they ‘be been lied to when you position the advertising to read the mall as NYC’s ONLY LUXURY OUTLET MALL.
So what is Hudson Yards? It’s not an outlet mall for bargain hunters and shoppers and boasts many and mostly luxury retailers. The tourists know this. Brooklyn knows this. Manhattan knows this. Queens knows this.
Perhaps there are a few things that can be concluded in all this: A. The developers have absolutely no idea what the term LUXURY means to the fashion industry or B. they’re being intentionally or unintelligently deceptive. C. All of the above D. None of the above
Wait until the Word-of-Mouth about EO hits the fashion world. EO will be seen as a joke if this hasn’t already happened. Word-of-Mouth moves slowly at first and then takes a few months to pick up steam. Once it starts, it is really challenging to slow or to change. People like their perceptions hardwired right into their habits. And habits are really, really hard to change.
5. QUESTIONS: How will EO shovel the snow in the winter? How well do outdoor malls do in the winter when the parking isn’t free?
The geographic positioning of the buildings are perfectly pitched North to South which will harness and send the most brutal winds down the corridors between the buildings at EO. Outside of these 5 points, everything is easy. Everything is doable.
The only solution here is to develop a deeper CULTURAL EXPERIENCE. It can be designed for Staten Island and the rich history here which many are still unfamiliar with. Here on Staten Island, utilizing the excellent architecture and development at EO, is a great combination of the perfect storm. This cultural experience could be about Staten Island and its history, it’s culture and it’s fascinating geography. This can be done very cost-effectively with some better publicity, not trying to woo the public with mass-market stores and antiquated sales gimmicks hoping to get a bandwagoning effect and using a solid repositioning campaign.
Right now, EO is delivering this message: Go where New York is Going. Is that actually true? I don’t think so. If it were true, you wouldn’t have to sell me on it. I would’ve heard about it by word-of-mouth. The word-of-mouth on the street in Staten Island is that EO won’t make it over the next year or two and that they’ll start to lose their tenants this winter.
I, for one, DO NOT want this to happen. I think EO is the best thing to happen to Staten Island… ever. St. George and Stapleton should be the next Williamsburg if they play their cards right. The intelligent thing is to hire a strategic firm with the knowledge and know-how to install a cultural, experiential vision, who can see past the usual suspects of the tenant list, at present, and propel EO right into the future of what venue can and should be.
Historically, there are many R.E. developers who come into an NYC neighborhood that has already developed a creative and artistic reputation. This reputation of the culture is critical for a Word-of-Mouth campaign. This is easier to do with an area that already has an artistic or cultural reputation. Neighborhoods like NYC’s: Greenwich Village, SoHo, TriBeCa, and Chelsea and later (the early 2000s) in Williamsburg are reputable cultural “Hot Spots.” Staten Island is trying to get there but they’re missing the CULTURAL aspect at the moment.
Empire Outlets has hired a photographer/graphic design team from the U.K. For all intents and purposes, the English/Scottish/Irish SUCK at American Advertising. I know this is a nasty thing to say but it’s true. The Uk approach worked well in the 1800s but then the US-dominated the advertising and branding fields in the 1900s. This is why we see Coca-Cola, Marlboro cigarettes and McDonald’s across the entire globe. Likewise, American companies would, and do, generally, SUCK at trying to do advertising and branding in the UK. This has nothing to do with race. It has everything to do with knowing the deeper inner working of their respective CULTURE.
The primary reason for this phenomenon is because living and spending years in another culture gives the adman/branders deep insight into metaphors and cultural codes (subconscious and emotional expectations) on a deeper level than the superficial and logical. The evidence I have for this claim is How many US products are exported all across the world (Apple, Coca-Cola, Marlboro Cigarettes, Colgate, McDonald’s, etc…) and then that compare the number to products produced and exported out of the UK?
Some of the UK design is ok but most of it sits in the gut of an American populace like greasy fish & chips at a euro futbol game (soccer). The photographer at this UK firm has missed the mark by a long shot. Our photographer, Julien McRoberts (a Top 10 Lifestyle Photographer in NYC) says “Her work is really good so this must be a case of the client choosing what they wanted to do.”
As fellow creatives, we feel for her.
Yes, it is beautiful and yes, it is a very fun campaign but the fact is that the Empire Outlet mall isn’t actually all that much fun, no real food to speak of, and mass-marketed fashion (just a few stitches of LUXURY items in there) except for the architecture. The architecture is outstanding. The developers went all out, did the right thing.
This type of thinking is like putting a tremendous amount of energy on beautifully wrapping a gift in the most excellent box with something rather basic and common inside. The contents of the box are boring but the box it is wrapped in is simply amazing. This will never make for a great or memorable gift. People forget about the wrapping but they’ll be hard-pressed to ever forget about an amazing gift inside if there was one in there.
Lastly, despite the headline of the ad campaign which is arguably UNTRUE, New York is NOT GOING to Empire Outlets. I hate to say it. Yep the advertised promise that EO is saying is that, they are.
According to David Ogilvy, an Englishman, and “The Father of Advertising,” there is such a thing as UNADVERTISING. This campaign is hoping to woo people by a market phenomenon called “Bandwagoning” but it’s NOT working nor is it ever going to work. The untruths in advertising here are likely pushing people away rather than seducing them to come. Again, UNADVERTISING. This is terribly unfortunate not just for EO but for the entire North Shore of Staten Island. Customers aren’t an ignorant mass of people carrying money to spend at the mall, despite what many people think.
Let’s take another excerpt from the American man who invented and coined the term: “Public Relations.” Bernays is responsible for the massive influence and world domination of American branding and advertising. He is why we believe bacon and eggs is considered a hardy breakfast, that “America is making the world safe for Democracy.”
He was also Sigmund Freud’s American nephew, Edward Bernays. Today, he is considered the Father of Public Relations:
“The public is not an amorphous mass which can be molded at will, or dictated to. Both business and the public have their own personalities which must somehow be brought into friendly agreement.”
― Edward L. Bernays, Propaganda
Where is the friendly agreement?
EO has mostly mass-market clothing stores (and the mall is only 30% occupied) which they could hardly call “fashion” by anyone that works or intimately knows the fashion industry.
Empire Outlets plays some top 40 music and at only one section of the mall. So there is NO culture, just shopping and some music 🎼 , the occasional show that pops up and there is a food truck or two. The food vendors are inconsistent when they are there and currently, there is no sidewalk cafe culture which to sit, eat, drink or people-watch.
I don’t think they’ve clearly identified who their target customer is. If I asked, would they say: “Staten Island residents?”
Staten Island only has 454,000 residents according to .gov websites, compared to 2.6M in Queens and 2.8M in Brooklyn. Currently, they are NOT coming to St. George, SI to shop. This is a long-standing, cultural attitude of Staten Island. We ask: “Why would they come to EO if they can shop the Gap, Banana Republic, NIKE, Brooks Brothers and many Nordstrom Racks stores all over Manhattan or online?
According to a cultural provocateur, Breuk Iversen, designer, and writer responsible for the Branding Brooklyn campaign of Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2000: “This can all be repaired.”
NOTE: I don’t hate or dislike the mall at all. IN FACT, I care about it a great deal. The Architecture and Design are excellent. This was a very expensive investment for BFC Partners and they hit the ball out of the park with an amazing 1,300,000 sq. ft., waterfront area of an absolute beautiful aesthetic. I really want them to do well. I think it would be great for EO, the fine people of Staten Island and contribution to a new point of view of NYC.
BinkNyc Culture: the initial steps we take would go something like this:
1. The Business Model Canvas
2. The Process (by BinkNyc Culture)
BinkNyc Process (pdf)
3. The Formula (also by BinkNyc Culture)
I’ve been there almost every single day since it has opened in May. I’m curious and care, that’s why I go so often. As each week goes by, it gets more and more empty, devoid of people. The weather hasn’t been ideal either (as of the date of this entry).
There so much more to say but for now, here is what we suggest graphically:
It’s fashion, so it’s all about the fabric.
These textiles make for an excellent backdrop. When you go to buy a garment, the first thing most women will do is study the material and check out the threads and its texture. Here’s what we did in photoshop and how the idea can expand into reality.
We THINK BIG. Without that BIG IDEA, you are just biding time before this ship sinks.
Here are some other ideas we would propose to Empire Oultets:
• So many solid and tangible partnerships to consider with major league cultural institutions, financial companies, sporting, professionals and their firms, media outlets, Hi-Tech, fashion houses, eateries, and even some great government agencies. This is how you build a CULTURE surrounding space with an increasing core audience and fan base.
• Empty spaces are huge opportunities to engage people with something remarkable or something interesting. These institutions already have fans, subscribers, and people who follow them. This is pure audience capitalization just waiting to happen.
• Don’t just think of yourself as Staten Island only. It’s too limiting, too small scale. EO is at a seaport with amazing and unique views and perspectives. Think New York. THINK BIG. Don’t think: “What is Staten Island missing?” Think: “What is NYC missing?!?”
That Chinese Lantern Festival is not just a Staten Island thing, it’s a new New York City thing. This is something that Staten Island does that no one else in NYC is doing. NOW, something at EO along those lines would be the right BIG IDEA.
THE RESULTS YOU WANT TO SEE
Staten Island will love you for it. NYC will love you for it and most of all, the tenants at EO will love you for it. ❤️
Stay Tuned… There’s much more in terms of CULTURE and its development to come. Let’s hope. Let’s pray.