5Qs for Tom Buiocchi on the mall of the future
ServiceChannel CEO Tom Buiocchi describes his digital service as the Uber of store and shopping center maintenance. Need a parking lot paved or your HVAC unit repaired anywhere in the country? Log onto ServiceChannel, indicate what you need, when and where you need it, what you’ll pay, and it will hook you up with one of some 50,000 private contractors. Buiocchi’s company completes more than 1.5 million such transactions a month, nationwide, for 550 companies such as Bloomin' Brands, Louis Vuitton, and Under Armour. With such an expansive view of the industry, we figured he’d have singular insights on issues of the day -- which he did.
Tom, Sephora is the latest retailer to announce it is shunning malls for freestanding locations. Is this a trend that's going to continue?
I don’t see it as a universal trend. It’s a competitive marketplace and brands like Sephora are just trying to get closer to customers and make it more convenient for them. In some markets, that’s great. In others, where there’s not as much a concentration of people, you have to be careful. Leaving the malls lock, stock and barrel can open the door to competition.
Is the enclosed mall an endangered species?
I’m a Charles Darwin fan. Shopping venues are going to come back stronger, but very different. If you ask me what my dream mall is, I’d say I want some Peet’s coffee and I want to do some banking, and so I can go to Capital One because they serve Peet’s. I need to return something I bought at Amazon, so I do that at Kohl’s. I’ll get my teeth cleaned at Walmart and then I’ll check out some furniture at RH and then have a great dinner there.
Some think Simon's acquisition of Taubman is based on both companies' desires to win back more leverage over retailers. Your take?
I think everybody wants to achieve critical mass and save money. Combining their leverage with retailers is an interesting angle, but I think their primary reason for coming together is winning the hearts of more customers. Both serve very different demographics. The number one thing at malls today is you’ve got to have more people coming in.
Specialty retail brands used to come to the mall to siphon off traffic from anchors like Macy's and Sears? Are they on their own now?
I get back to Darwin. Yeah, stores are closing and some are opening and you never see anyone net it out. Our information shows that there are both more store openings and more closings. There are going to continue to be new types of anchors. You see Macy’s going out and Nordstrom and Bloomingdales coming in. An Apple store can be an anchor, or a Lifetime Fitness. Why couldn’t Amazon someday be an anchor?
In your business you have to be ready for it, so I’m sure you’ve thought about it: Describe the retail center of the 21st Century.
Smaller and more agile. Pop-ups that come and go. I see the mall as becoming more of a hotel for cool new brands as opposed to being anchored on something. There’ll be more ties to online shopping -- pick up and return things there. You won’t go in there to eat a corn dog, you’ll go in to get a real meal. I can see going into a mall and picking out a fabric and then having some shirts made. The retail center will be something where you can do something.