One of the best aspects of being the property manager at a shopping center is having the opportunity to interact with guests, boost foot traffic, and create loyal shoppers by hosting creative events. It takes many months of planning, a patient mindset, and nimble thinking, but the joy it brings to community members and tenants makes all the preparation worthwhile.

Hosting events creates an opportunity to awaken dormant sections of your center, bringing consumer awareness to areas that may not receive much traffic. Since joining the team at Suburban Square in Ardmore, Pennsylvania in September 2016, I have played an active role in planning events at the center. Two recent examples include Storytime at the Square -- a five-part series of interactive storytelling filled with singing, dancing, crafts and toys, and Doggie Derby Day -- a celebration of the community’s furry friends which included a local bluegrass band, portraits, balloon artists, and a doggie court gala.

Both events were hosted in The Courtyard, a beautiful area of Suburban Square off the main drag that needs a little help with foot traffic. Over the course of Storytime at the Square, we had anywhere between 90 to 250 guests attend per storytelling, resulting in new loyal customers to the Square. The doggie court gala was held in a vacant space near The Courtyard accommodating for 300 guests, creating a significant boost in traffic to that area of the shopping center.

For property managers looking to host fresh exciting events that will keep shopping centers full and communities happy, here are a few tips:

Have a designated team for coordinating

At Suburban Square, we have a team that is dedicated to hosting frequent and high-quality events for our visitors. Event planning is a full-time job, and requires thorough organization. Having a plan B, C, and D, and preparing a team to adjust accordingly as the day goes on plays a crucial role in hosting successful events.

Fire hydrants decorated the Square for Doggie Derby Day.

With this team, it is helpful to brainstorm four to five months in advance and tighten up details two to three months ahead of the event -- if you want a Santa with a real beard for winter festivals and Santa arrivals, start booking even earlier. We recently confirmed our Santa for his arrival event happening on December 2. Proper and creative signage also makes a huge difference in attendance. Make sure you give your team enough time to map out quality advertising.

Know your clientele

Storytime at the Square was inspired by the large number of moms, children, and strollers that visit the Square each day. I went to the local library and noticed that they had a storytime event every other week. I thought, “I can do that too.” Our event space was cutely decorated and comfortable for the parents and kids. We offered coffee and hot chocolate during the event which was appreciated by the attendees.

Miss Kathy told interactive stories about popular nursery rhymes at Storytime at the Square.

Guests loved showing off their pets at Doggie Derby Day!

In addition to creating a unique environment for guests, keeping the element of surprise and quality of production at a high level is always an important trait at shopping center events. This could range from surprise giveaways, food samples, and beverages, to special elements of the event that are not advertised. At Doggie Derby Day we had Besito Mexican give out free samples of guacamole, and incorporated a surprise Doggie Gallery where a local artist displayed portraits of dogs for guests to view as they walked through.

Incorporate giveaways and surprises throughout your event.

Keep it interactive

Interactive entertainment at shopping center events should be a given, especially if the event focuses on family fun! After storytelling was over at Storytime at the Square, we offered toys and games such as hula hoops and bean bag tosses. The event spilled outdoors into The Courtyard where parents, grandparents, and nannies relaxed, drank coffee, and watched the children play for hours. This brought a whole new level of energy to that section of the Square which made nearby tenants feel good about the event, and appreciate the hard work that went into the planning process.

Storytime at the Square guests played outside after the event.

Balloon artists helped keep Doggie Derby Day interactive and fun!

Learn from the past

At my previous position as property manager of a shopping center in Miami, Florida, our center put on dog-related events which were always extremely popular with a huge turnout. By seeing the number of dogs that frequent the Square, a doggie event seemed like a perfect fit. People loved showing off their pets at Doggie Derby Day, and had a blast enjoying the doggie photo booth and the live bluegrass band.

Children showed off their furry friends on Doggie Derby Day’s red carpet.

Taking note of what works at an event, and noticing ways to improve in the future will help the planning process go more smoothly. Also, listen to your guests’ and tenants’ feedback -- the good and the bad. Adherence to suggestions shows that you value opinions, and are willing to take action to enhance both parties’ experience.

Location, location, (weather) location

With an outdoor center, the challenge is always weather. My advice would be to turn vacant space into an event space. Going back to flexibility, a dormant section of a shopping center can make for a perfect space to host events, and will increase activity in that particular area of your property.

Noggin Hill, a Philadelphia-based bluegrass band, provided the entertainment at Doggie Derby Day.

The location of your center also determines talent, philanthropic backings, and tenant participation. To find organizations that will benefit from events, our team sends out invitations to local nonprofits, schools, and churches. For Doggie Derby Day, we partnered with Paws and Affection -- a nonprofit whose mission is to train and place service, facility, and companion dogs with young people who have a range of disabilities living in the greater Philadelphia area. In past events we’ve also had success partnering with other local nonprofits based on season, such as One Warm Coat during our Winterfest event.

Paws & Affection pup strikes a pose.

Have fun!

Events offer a great opportunity to interact with your clientele and tenants. Enjoy the creative process, and celebrate your success.

Local pup checking out the Doggie Derby Day scene.

Do you have any tips for hosting events at shopping centers? We want to hear about it in the comments below!

This has been an installment of StoreFront, an interview series with leaders of successful retail businesses. For more interviews, visit the StoreFront page. To learn how you can be featured, email us. We’d love to hear from you.