Over the past few decades, malls have become woven into the very fabric of America’s identity – an integral component of community building across the nation, as well as, even more simply, a sanctuary for Americans; a place to relax, shop, discover new things and meet friends.
So, given that malls exist so fundamentally for people, it’s hardly surprising that, according to Mall of America’s Executive Vice President of Business Development and Marketing, Jill Renslow – who has been with the company since she was a college intern, 25 years ago – the secret sauce that has been responsible for its immense success is in fact, the people working behind the scenes.
"It’s all about the people," Jill tells The CEO Magazine. "You have to focus especially on your internal people. Value them. Treat them well. Bring them in for the ride. Have them at the table and listen to their voices."
While it was set up with the intent to help those businesses survive during that time, we have since continued the program. We've had 38 different brands now in the space.
Mall of America first opened its doors to the Minnesota public in 1992, with 10,000 employees excitedly welcoming customers to the 330 stores on site. Today, three decades later, in addition to its specialty stores, Mall of America hosts more than 400 events each year, from concerts and celebrity appearances to fashion shows.
It has become a buzzing hub of entertainment and a destination in itself, with upward of 40 million people from across the world visiting each year before the COVID-19 pandemic and, in turn, generating close to US$2 billion.
Leading with purpose
But, as Jill explains, what they do at Mall of America is about so much more than making money – it’s about "leading with purpose". On average, Jill says, US$12,000 per day is raised for Mall of America’s community and charity partners.
A true cornerstone of the Minnesota community, the organization works incredibly hard to give back and support those who need it most. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mall of America utilized its facilities to set up Minnesota’s largest vaccination site.
As well as partnering with nonprofit organizations, Mall of America has even donated warehouse space to the charity Every Meal, which used the space to distribute much-needed food to disadvantaged families during the pandemic. Mall of America also created a rent-free retail space called Community Commons for retailers whose stores were damaged during the civil unrest of spring 2020.
"While it was set-up with the intent to help those businesses survive during that time, we have since continued the program. We’ve had 38 different brands now in the space," she says.
Sustainability at the heart
Sustainability is another hugely important element at the heart of everything that’s being done at Mall of America. And when it comes down to precisely how the company is tackling its carbon footprint, the list is extensive, to say the least.
"We were green before green was cool," Jill says with a laugh. "From the very beginning, our organization was at the forefront of developing and constructing a building that was sustainable. We have more than eight acres of skylight in the building for solar energy. We do not have central heating – it’s all by body heat and skylights.
From the very beginning, our organization was at the forefront of developing and constructing a building that was sustainable.
"We have more than 30,000 live plants and 300 live trees in the mall to provide natural oxygen. We don’t use pesticides in our theme park. We have all LED lighting in our parking ramps, the largest parking garage lighting conversion in the nation. We have a major recycling center, where we recycle the majority of our waste. We work with local hog farmers to give them all of our food waste."
And while it has a dedicated internal sustainability committee deliberating over these solutions and brainstorming the most innovative ways to combat climate issues, Jill approaches this subject with a sharing-is-caring attitude.
"I think it’s one topic that industries can learn from each other, not something that is a trade secret," she emphasizes. "It’s like, ‘What are you doing? How can we do it better? How can we collectively make a difference to our environment?’"
A common vision
Essential to an operation as immense as Mall of America is the dependence on high-quality suppliers, the key to which is, according to Jill, trust. "We’ve had partners who have worked with us since day one, and they still work with us today, because we planted that initial vision early on," she says.
As a result, Jill believes that collaborating with like-minded brands only serves to improve the experience and increase the offerings for clients. "It is a long-term investment on both sides. We want to make sure that we have meaningful partnerships that bring additional value to our customers.
"When you have the mentality where you want to work collectively towards a common vision, everybody wins."
When you have the mentality where you want to work collectively towards a common vision, everybody wins.
Given there’s no doubt that from here, Mall of America will only continue to go from strength to strength, Jill generously offers some sage advice for those looking to replicate the company’s success.
"Be curious and courageous, and don’t be afraid to take risks," she enthuses. "It’s going to push you and your team to new limits to really understand what you’re capable of and what you can bring to the industry, and your fans.
"This creates a level of curiosity in your fans where they want to keep coming back, because they know that there’s going to be something new around the corner. We’ve always kept our brand fresh, we are never afraid to take risks. We love to try new things and to test and to fail fast so that we can learn and move forward."