Vince Vicari
Small Business

Small Businesses Gain Mall Foothold with SBDC Partnership

The Westfield Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus has teamed up with the New Jersey Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Ramapo College to create the Small Business Success Program, which gives small businesses, either established or startups, the opportunity to rent a kiosk or inline store space at the 2.1 million-square-foot mall.

The lease terms are favorable for ventures that want to test their business concepts in a retail mall environment. According to Tiffany Ramirez, marketing manager at the mall, which is owned by France-based Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield, small businesses can sign lease agreements that span one to three months or longer.

“You can’t do that if you were a Main Street downtown store, where a business would have to at least commit to a yearly lease,” Ramirez explains.

The rental costs vary from business to business. According to Vince Vicari, regional director of the SBDC at Ramapo College, rental factors can include size of space needed, location within the mall, and the type of business seeking space.

The program launched in February and two information sessions have attracted the attention of some 400 businesses, according to Ramirez, who adds, “We are bringing Main Street to the main stage by offering small, locally-owned businesses the opportunity to showcase their goods and services alongside some of America’s most recognized brands.”

Understanding that some small businesses would need support in ramping up their respective business models and plans in order to qualify for a mall location, Ramirez turned to the SBDC at Ramapo College for assistance. Immediately, a partnership developed.

According to Vicari, the Ramapo SBDC had wanted to put together a similar program for some time, “so, when the opportunity came up, I jumped on it.” He candidly says both the SBDC and the mall “jumped” into the partnership “hook, line and sinker.”

In the partnership, the SBDC is responsible for preparing a business for the mall environment. “We conduct assessments and help with business plan development,” Vicari says. “We know what it takes to start a business … to have all of your ducks in a row. It’s everything from the business model to the financials.

“Does the business have the ability to merchandize properly? Is the product supply (line) mature enough so that if the business takes off, it is able to fund and receive the materials it needs to be successful? Does it have the proper insurance? … It’s all about the due diligence that needs to be conducted before a business engages in a professional retail facility,” Vicari explains. “We want to keep entrepreneurs and small businesses in the safe zone. We want to keep them out of the mosh pit of challenges that can plague any business.”

Meanwhile, Ramirez says Westfield Garden State Plaza helps participating businesses with its marketing expertise.

“When they come here, they get a 360-degree marketing program and an operations team that helps them succeed. The business also has access to our social media channels and platforms,” she says.

Other benefits of locating a business at the mall, according to Ramirez, include continuous foot traffic, lots of parking, and mall security. Above all this, the business would be operating in one of the top 10 producing malls in the country, which attracts more than 18 million visitors a year.

A handful of small businesses are already onsite at the mall, including: Chic Sugars, an Englewood-based custom bakery, in existence for more than a decade, which is operating a kiosk; and Tonnie’s Minis, a Newark-based dessert bakery, also operating a kiosk.

Ramirez says that current inline store space is limited, but a variety of kiosk opportunities are available.

Vicari hopes to replicate the program at other malls throughout New Jersey. Meanwhile, Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield is planning to introduce the program at its other US malls.

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