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Retail stores in miniature post large sales at mall

John Seelmeyer

They sell those bracelet charms that are all the rage among young girls, cell phones and the Dippin Dots billed as the “ice cream of the future.” Modest as their product lines might appear, sales per square foot at some of the freestanding kiosks in Reno’s Meadowood Mall perform compare favorably with those at traditional stores in the shopping center.

And for start-up retailers, shopping center kiosks provide a relatively low-risk way to test the market in a high-traffic location.

Meadowood Mall provides 25 locations for the kiosks, which are known as “Retail Merchandising Units” or “RMUs” in the shopping center business.

It’s rare that any of them are vacant, says Tony Vail, manager of the mall, and occupancy rates most years run about 99 percent.

Unlike traditional storefront locations at the mall that require tenants to sign a five- or seven-year lease, some of the RMU locations can be leased for as little as 90 days.

A 90-day lease, Vail said a few days ago, makes the kiosks ideal for retailers with a seasonal product outfits selling calendars, for instance, or the hot new toy at Christmas.

Other merchants who aren’t sure about the potential of their product also sign short leases.

But some of the RMU locations at the mall have been occupied by tenants who have signed one annual lease after another for as long as a decade.

Some of those long-term tenants of kiosk spots at Meadowood Mall have created mini-chains of their own, leasing RMU locations in other malls around the region.

The trick is finding the right product, said Cynthia Moore, marketing director of Meadowood Mall.

The mall’s management reviews proposals, turning away retailers whose merchandise appears to be tacky.

“Some things just lend themselves to being in an RMU,” Moore said.

Small things, mostly.

Two kiosks at the mall these days sell cellular phones.

Moderately-priced jewelry often does well.

Most of the RMUs at Meadowood Mall are about 10 feet by 10 feet, although some are as small as 6 feet by 9 feet.

That doesn’t leave a lot of room to display inventory.

Display space is further limited by design rules that limit the height of RMU displays and protect the open feel of the shopping center.

That’s not an issue with the 15 RMUs owned by mall itself.

In the other 10 locations, the kiosk is supplied by the retailer.

A handful of companies around the nation specialize in building RMUs.

One of them, The Carriage Works in Klamath Falls, Ore., advertises used RMU units for as little as $2,500.

New units with track lighting, metal roll-down security doors and backlit advertising panels can range upward from $15,000.

Along with the right product, Vail said successful RMU operators make sure that shoppers get the right sales pitch outgoing enough to stop strolling shoppers for a moment, not so aggressive to turn shoppers away.

The mall has a big stake in the success of the RMU operators.

For one thing, Moore said, “They’re a significant part of our overall sales.” Equally important, Vail said, the ministores especially those selling hot products help create a vibrant retail scene inside the mall.

“There’s more excitement,” he said.

“There’s more energy.”