Making The Case For American Dream As The ‘Ultimate Experience Center’

  • July 8, 2020 at 8:10 AM EDT
  • By Adam Blair
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Mark Ghermezian, Co-CEO of the American Dream complex located in New Jersey’s Meadowlands, insists that his internal team doesn’t think of it as a mall. “We built it as an experience center, and we like to call it the ultimate experience center,” said Ghermezian during a recent World Retail Forum webinar moderated by Dan Hodges, CEO of Consumers in Motion.

American Dream’s owners, Triple Five Group, aren’t shy about putting “mall” in the names of their properties, which include the largest malls in Canada and in the U.S. (West Edmonton Mall and Mall of America, respectively). But American Dream, which is on its third developer since its first contract was awarded in 2003, reverses the traditional mall mix, devoting the majority (55%) of its space to entertainment rather than retail.

Those entertainment options include:

  • An eight-acre DreamWorks water park, featuring the largest indoor wave pool in the world and 30 different slides;
  • A Nickelodeon amusement park, featuring 30 rides both for kids and adult thrill-seekers;
  • Big Snow, a 16-story, thousand-foot ski complex that also includes a “bunny slope” for lessons; and
  • Several “mini” experiences including an ice rink, miniature golf, an aquarium and a Legoland.

Whether it’s called a mall or an experience center, Ghermezian plans to operate it as a destination — more akin to Disney theme parks than a traditional mall — when COVID-19 recedes enough to make this practical. In fact, its location in the New York metropolitan area could make it a magnet for families seeking entertainment options who are still leery of flying to Orlando or Anaheim.

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American Dream already has made significant back-end investments to support a business model that combines destination, shopping and experience, including:

  • An e-Commerce presence that builds on the intellectual property of its brands, which include DreamWorks, Nickelodeon and Lego; and
  • Redesigning its mobile app to include COVID-19 prescreening elements for consumers as well as e-learning modules for a wide range of American Dream employees.

“We’re investing in building our own ticketing platform, so you can buy bundles including your parking,” said Ghermezian. “It’s a whole world. It’s not just about ‘Hey, let’s have an experience as part of a shopping center.’ It’s not the afterthought. It’s the thought.”

The investments also include the hiring of technology, data and creative teams. “We have a full product and engineering team, we have a CTO, we have a data team,” said Ghermezian. “We’re building a full UI/UX team. We have designers. I think the culture since I joined in January is almost like being at a startup in some ways.”

Tying E-Commerce To Experiential Intellectual Property

American Dream’s emphasis on experience extends to e-Commerce, which Ghermezian sees as a potential bridge connecting the digital and physical experiences. “We’ve accelerated what our e-Commerce strategy will be, but we’re not thinking about it like ‘All the retail products should also be purchasable online,’” said Ghermezian. “It’s ‘What experiences do we have with the IP of Nickelodeon and DreamWorks, Angry Birds, Lego and so on that we can actually bring to our e-Commerce?’

“If you think about shop.disney.com, they’re selling the IP and the characters and things that they have there,” Ghermezian added. “That’s the direction we’re going as well; our e-Commerce site will bring to life all the experiences, all the characters, all the stuff that you and your family and your kids enjoyed when you were there visiting. It allows them to extend that experience into their home.

Mobile App Will Include Consumer And Employee Safety Elements

American Dream’s redesigned mobile app also will, by design, go well beyond the basics. “I think when you’re asking a customer or a guest to take real estate on their phone, you have to have a reason for it, and not just expect them to download the app,” Ghermezian noted. “We’re launching an app for when we open that will be very focused on safety and pre-screening, and allow you to see what we’re doing in the center post-COVID or during COVID.”

In addition to ticketing options, the app will gently prod guests to take their own safety precautions. “We wanted to be at the forefront in terms of ‘Look, this is what we’re doing to make sure you’re safe, but it’d be great if you could do your part too.’ If we can combine the two, it almost enables us to be the safest place to go outside of your home,” he added.

The app also will include e-learning for employees that will be “very focused on COVID, including what to expect, what to do when you come, for people that are working in attractions, guest services, maintenance, security, parking, all the way up to people sitting at a desk,” said Ghermezian.

Mobile e-learning capabilities will add to American Dream’s flexibility. “The fact that it’s e-learning means we can update it in real time as things change,” said Ghermezian. “We actually can track everybody that went through the full e-learning and [note that] they finished it and got their approval.”

All the safety measures and training will contribute to American Dream’s role as a destination in and of itself. “This is an indoor Disneyland, situated right outside New York City,” said Ghermezian. “I think people will be buying tickets and traveling to it, especially post-COVID when people may not be flying to places. This is the place people will be going with their kids, not just to shop or to eat, but to enjoy all the wonderful experiences we’ve put together, all under one roof.”

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