Many mall shoppers see the kiosk retailer as a small-time purveyor of cell phone covers, costume jewelry, sunglasses and bath salts. But more and more, the kiosk boss sees himself as the millionaire he has become.
The little center-court kiosks that form chains of connect-the-dot trinket islands from one end of a mall to the other have become big business in the world of retail. Some are far more successful than the storefront stores vying for the same foot traffic.
The New York Times, in a May 22nd story by John Grossmann, reports that the 50,000 kiosks, cards and automated sundry vending machines planted in the country’s 2,300-plus malls are now generating $8 billion in sales annually.
“Ten to 15 years ago, this was an opportunity for someone to take in a million dollars,” Patricia Norins, chief executive and publisher of Specialty Retail Report, which covers the kiosk retailers, told the Times. “Now, I think you could point to 50 who are at least $10 million in annual sales and maybe five who are doing upwards of $100 million.”
Case in point is Cellairis founder Taki Skouras, who started his cell phone accessory empire 13 years ago with one kiosk in an Atlanta mall. Cellairis now has 720 locations, manufacturers 70 percent of its 60,000 electronics accessory products, employs a company staff of 130 and has seen annual sales push past the $350 million mark. Not quite a Beverly Hills retailer, but Skouras is far from the perceived notion of a cash-strapped entrepreneur selling cheap foreign-made products from a perch near a food court who will probably be out of business in short order.
“A lady bought something and asked, ‘Hey, are you guys going to be here after the holidays?’ We just celebrated our 13th anniversary at that location,” Skouras said of his first Atlanta kiosk.
And so it goes for many kiosk operators, who, in the 40 years since a 4-by-8-foot cart first appeared in a mall concourse, have leveraged technology and abundant foot traffic into business success. Mall operators, recognizing the value of these vendors, improved lighting and provided electrical outlets to further enhance kiosk business.
“We call it 360-degree retail,” Ted Kaminski, senior vice president of specialty leasing for The Westfield Group, owner of 151 malls worldwide, told the Times’ Grossmann. “It’s your product, your presentation, your service exposed on all sides.”
Grossman, John. New York Times, “Hidden in Plain Sight, Tiny Mall Kiosks Make a Surprisingly Big Impact.” 5/22/13.