Mall morphs into Power Centre

A Toronto mall, once an example of suburban retail conformity, will try to carve a niche for itself as a new and powerful shopping experience by leveraging the image of the four superstores that will occupy it.The Warden Power Centre, formerly...

A Toronto mall, once an example of suburban retail conformity, will try to carve a niche for itself as a new and powerful shopping experience by leveraging the image of the four superstores that will occupy it.

The Warden Power Centre, formerly the Warden Woods Mall, will be the first property in the country to house a number of category killer superstores in one enclosed space when it launches in September.

The property is owned by Bimcor, an investment manager of Canadian pension funds.

The centre will contain The Sports Authority superstore; electronics retailer The Future Shop; Michaels, the arts and crafts superstore; and Petstuff, a pets and supplies retailer.

The enclosed power centre idea, like that of the category killer superstores themselves, originated in the u.s.

There, malls are being refilled, and even built from scratch, as a more convenient option to outdoor power centres.

Toronto agency Capital C Communications will handle advertising for the Warden Power Centre, which has a generous launch budget of $1 million.

Tony Chapman, president of Capital C, says it will be a challenge to overcome the consumer perceptions of the traditional mall that was on the site before.

Chapman says part of that process will be to create an ‘umbrella proposition’ for the centre.

‘We’re going to do a lot with the word `power’ – buying power, power of selection, and power of convenience,’ he says.

The link between the stores will also be stressed in the advertising so that their identities are always closely linked to that of the mall as a whole, unlike most malls that market themselves as places that simply contain a variety of stores.

‘It won’t be something like the `Scarborough Town Centre’ [in Toronto,] and that’s the identity,’ Chapman says.

‘This will be very much saying these four stores equal the [Warden] Power Centre,’ he says.

Chapman claims this strategy will enforce the idea that any one of the four stores is a good enough reason to visit the centre.

‘Having all four of them really is a unique selling proposition,’ he says.

Chapman plans to establish the Warden Power Centre as a place where consumers can be confident they are getting the best value from authoritative retailers with the latest merchandise.

He expects there will be direct-to-consumer promotions, and ‘playful’ newspaper and transit advertising.

Toronto’s McBlain & Associates will handle public relations.

‘I think we have a huge opportunity here to really break the barriers of normal shopping centre marketing,’ says Elizabeth Schreurs, director of sales and marketing at the Enterprise Property Group, the facility manager.

Schreurs expects many Canadian shopping malls will have to evolve in much the same as the Warden Power Centre, if they want to survive.

‘They have to think of different ways of doing things,’ she says.

Toronto-based retail analyst John Winter agrees that the change the Warden Woods mall has undergone is significant because it is the first of the Canadian medium-sized malls to do so.

But Winter is less sure the new form will be as efficient as hoped.

‘If it’s enclosed, it has [common area maintenance] costs, so it’s going to be a challenge to see this work out,’ he says.

‘Power centres, by definition, are big boxes strung along a parking lot, and, by definition, they have lower service costs.

‘This is a new breed. It’s the way the medium-sized malls are going to go. They are going to lose their department stores and gain a new series of functions.’

The Warden Power Centre will finish construction this month and launch officially in September.

The presence of a 43,000-square-foot The Sports Authority superstore in the centre marks the first of a number of Canadian stores the u.s.-based sports retailer plans to open.

‘It’s definitely going to be our biggest store, and they’re going to have a lot of appeal not just in this area but outside as well,’ Schreurs says.

The Future Shop, which has never before been located in an enclosed mall, will occupy 35,000 square feet, while the other two stores will have stores of about 20,000 square feet each.

‘This is a new venture for all of these guys,’ Schreurs says. ‘They don’t normally come into shopping centres, and they don’t normally come right into the city.’

The three smaller stores will open in the spring, while The Sports Authority is due to open in August.

There are still some spaces left in the mall but none as large as those occupied by superstores.

Chapman says he is working to fill any empty retail space with special facilities to help attract consumers.

Schreurs says the mall expects to attract most of its patrons from the eastern end of the city, and north as far as Richmond Hill and Markham.

Meanwhile, across town at the upscale, more tourist-oriented Toronto Eaton Centre, a three-week season-opening ‘Spring to Life’ event has been unveiled, which will involve fashion shows, home and garden displays and sports demonstrations.

Newspaper, transit shelter, subway posters, backlights and 30-second radio spots developed in-house will promote the event.