Home Archived Articles Q&A With The Mall in Columbia General Manager Barbara Nicklas

Q&A With The Mall in Columbia General Manager Barbara Nicklas

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Barbara Nicklas is responsible for all aspects of the management and operations of The Mall in Columbia. Prior to joining The Mall, Nicklas was the executive director of the Downtown Columbia Partnership, where she was responsible for its overall management, including development of the strategic plan and its execution.

Previously, Federal Realty Investment Trust (FRIT) engaged Nicklas in 2013 as the general manager of Pike & Rose, a mixed-use development project in Rockville. In addition to her property management responsibilities, she oversaw the marketing efforts for Pike & Rose, Bethesda Row and four other FRIT properties.

Nicklas worked for six years as the vice president of marketing, master planned communities, for the Maryland Master Planned Communities division of General Growth Properties (GGP), where she was responsible for the community and public relations, communications and overall marketing efforts, focusing heavily on the redevelopment efforts of Downtown Columbia.

Nicklas joined GGP in October of 1995 as president of Center Advertising Agency, GGP’s in-house agency for more than 100 malls. In 1996, Nicklas was promoted to vice president of marketing for the Third Party Division; to vice president of management for the division, in 2001; and to vice president of asset management, again for the Third Party Division in 2004. Nicklas moved to the Columbia Maryland Regional Office in the summer of 2005 to manage the leasing efforts for nine properties in the mid-Atlantic.

Prior to joining GGP, she was with The Rouse Company for 11 years; eight of those years were spent as a regional marketing manager, when she was responsible for 17 centers in the southeast and midwest regions of the country. Nicklas graduated magna cum laude from the University of Delaware with a B. S. degree in retail management and holds an MBA from Philadelphia’s Drexel University.

With the most recent renovations at The Mall complete, what’s next?

We have some projects that are in the works that we’re not ready to announce yet, concerning the mall and various retailers, and look forward to making those announcements at the appropriate time.

What is the occupancy rate at the mall?

This holiday, we will be fully leased with the exception of Champps Americana, which recently closed. The operator of the chain (Last Call Guarantor LLC) is in Chapter 11.

How has online shopping affected your market?

The strongest retailers are those who have a solid brick and mortar, as well as online, presence. In our industry, that’s known as omnichannel retail, which is about creating a seamless customer experience across all buying channels.

We know that people go to a mall not only to shop, but for the experience, for entertainment and for food. For instance, we have a soft play area, a carousel, a weekly Family Fun day program, a mall walker program, nine restaurants and nearly 30 eateries. Malls have been evolving as the retail scene has evolved as a result of online shopping. The Mall in Columbia is a strong property, and we anticipate it will continue to be so in the foreseeable future.

Has there been any concern about the mall losing an anchor tenant? If that happened, what would you do?

The Mall in Columbia is not anticipating losing any anchor tenants. GGP in general, though, is successfully redeveloping former department stores throughout its portfolio, breaking them up into multiple retailers and restaurants. Should The Mall in Columbia find in the future it is losing a department store, we expect we would follow a similar path.

How do you market the Mall, and how much of your efforts are directed to social media?

We primarily market through our digital channels. We have more than 18,000 “likes” on Facebook and 2,975 Twitter followers; and we communicate at least once a day on both. We also have our website and an app where we promote the events and specials of our retailers, as well the mall events.

The individual retailers, of course, do their own marketing, too. While we haven’t done any radio and TV for a while, that doesn’t mean that we won’t again.

What are your expectations for the holiday season?

Generally speaking, we’re expecting a strong holiday. We’ll be virtually 100% leased and will be offering kiosks throughout the mall that are here only for the holiday season. Additionally, we will be launching a new app that identifies overall availability of parking throughout the various sections of our parking lot and garages.

How many kiosks will you have during the holiday?

We will have 11 additional carts, kiosks and temporary in-line retailers during the holidays. The L.L. Bean fans out there will be glad to know that the company will have one of the holiday kiosks. Others include See’s Candy and Hickory Farms, which have been here at The Mall in Columbia for many holiday seasons. Additionally, Media Bros. — an Ellicott City retailer displaced by the flood — will be joining us starting Oct. 1.

What changed at the mall after the fatal shootings more than 18 months ago?

I wasn’t working here at the time, but I think the changes that happened at the mall were similar to changes that were happening across the country, with an increased focus on safety and security.  The community really came together when that happened, and I believe everyone really learned from the experience.

We have, and always have had, strong relationships with the police, fire and emergency management departments. Overall, security is a top priority, and we have a very high focus on the safety and well-being of our customers and our employees.

What are your feelings about the progress of the Downtown Columbia Plan?

We are very enthused and pleased with how the Downtown Columbia Plan is unfolding. The mall’s plaza expansion, in 2013, was actually the first development in the plan. There is also a new apartment project known as the Metropolitan with 380 units, across from Sears. Also in progress is a mixed-use project across from the mall’s new plaza, which is yet to be named (but is generally known as Parcel C) that encompasses 437 apartments, as well as some ground level retail that we anticipate will complement the mall’s offerings.

Eventually, we anticipate a total of 5,500 additional households around the mall and downtown within the next 20 to 30 years. That’s the current residential entitlement of the Downtown Columbia Plan.

What’s your take on the progress made with the renovations at Merriweather Post Pavilion thus far and its scheduled completion?

I think it’s fabulous. Merriweather has been one of the top amphitheaters in the country and is a strong regional draw. I think that will continue to be the case, since it will soon start attracting concerts that previously couldn’t fit there. I think the pace of the renovation is fine, and I’m looking forward to its completion.

With the addition of the Chrysalis (in Symphony Woods), there will be an even wider variety of shows and concerts that can be accommodated.

Why won’t the mall management allow Merriweather concertgoers to park in the mall parking lot anymore, even for the smaller shows when there are plenty of spaces available?

We have a good partnership with Merriweather, and we do provide parking for the larger shows at the Maple garage (which is next to JCPenney). Before the shows got as large as some the pavilion offers now and before the new development was built along the mall’s ring road, there was less demand for parking downtown. At that point, there was not as much concern about concertgoers parking around the outer edges of our parking lot.

However, we have to focus on what our customers want and need, and if there is insufficient parking — especially closer to the mall building — due to parking by concertgoers, that creates an issue. Remember, one thing that our customers want is easy access to parking.

Are the holiday decorations up at the mall yet? When do you think they should go up?

They will be going up in early November and Santa will be here on Friday, Nov. 11, at 10 a.m.  His official arrival, with the kid’s band Milkshake, will be during Family Fun Day on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 10 a.m. Santa will be at our Lord & Taylor court this year.

We don’t have the exact date for when we will put up the Poinsettia Tree, but that will be early November, too. And, for the record, I think the holiday decorations for the mall currently should not be displayed before Halloween.

What are your proudest achievements?

Honestly, it’s being in this job. It’s great to think that a girl from Catonsville who shopped here as a teenager and saw Columbia grow from the ground up would wind up being the general manager of the mall. That’s especially true when I consider the other stops I’ve taken, in this market and the others in between.

On a personal level, I am proud of the more than $50,000 I’ve been able to raise for cancer during the past nine years of participating in the Columbia Iron Girl Triathlon.