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The Punitive Palisades Mall Proprietor meets Peter

April 21st, 2007 · 1 Comment

What is The Palisades Center Mall?

The Palisades Center Mall is the archetypal mega-mall. With an ice rink, IMAX theatre, at least three Starbucks, and scores of retail stores, the Palisades Mall has it all. Judging by the Spartan industrial warehouse aesthetic, featuring exposed steel beams and wiring conduits, one might think it would cost a fortune to do business there. But those with entrepreneurial spirit need not have a lot of money, or corporate pizzazz, or customer service skill to do business at the mall – the Palisades Mall also has a flourishing kiosk rental sector.

In fact, if one were to visit the Palisades Mall, they might wonder if one even needs a green card to rent and operate a kiosk. There are exceptions to this, namely the former Dell kiosk that is being converted into a full-fledged Dell store. But by outgrowing its kiosk Dell is the exception to the rule. It would be hard for many other kiosk operators to move out of their kiosks, namely because their business model is so different and is often cash-only.

Many kiosks also carry the same items. Need some junky accessories for other items you bought at the mall, like a flashing LED cell phone antenna, or an off-brand charger for a three year old cell phone? Kiosks have you covered. On the other hand, you might be looking for something less traditional, like a kitchen remodeling or a home refinancing, and yet the kiosks at the mall still can fill your needs. But overall, you’re most likely to stop at a kiosk because you’re looking for a cheap electronic gizmo.

This time I was looking for iPod accessories. After holding out for years, I was offered a free 80GB iPod Video (5th Gen) in January, after I acquired a domain name at auction for Frank’s Tire Service. I paid the auction fees and gave them a 5-year term on; they gave me a free iPod. As it turned out they got the iPod for free through a vendor’s buyer rewards program. The bottom line is I got a free iPod, so I couldn’t afford not to have an iPod anymore.

I found out quickly that the iPod might as well have been designed to readily be scratched by anything and everything it touches. I needed an iPod case, and from talking with friends, I figured an iSkin would be the best. The iSkin is a brand name case (by iSkin, not Apple), but I figured that if I could get a competitive quote on a home equity loan at the mall, that I could get an iSkin as well. But bottom line, I wanted an iSkin – not some knockoff that’s going to melt onto my iPod and literally become the skin of the iPod, and certainly not some injection molded plastic sleeve that looks like it cost $.20 cents to make in China.

The Hunt for iSkin Begins

Walking into the mall from the parking garage, I hit the first kiosk I found on the first floor. An Indian man had a cheap injection molded case for $10, and figuring I had just arrived, I told him no sale. On the second floor, another Indian guy at a different kiosk had the same junky plastic case for $19. When I asked how much it was, he said, “$9.” Except then he started to ring me up and typed “$19” – again, no sale. Whether I just heard him wrong or he was trying to trick me, the same cheap piece of plastic was available downstairs for almost $10 less. Confident I could still find a discount iSkin, I proceeded to the third floor.

This kiosk, carrying a variety of cell phone accessories was cleverly named “Cell-Tech”. At the kiosk were two white men – one lanky older man with short salt-and-pepper hair and a goatee, the other a younger guy with dark hair and beady eyes that looked like the kind of guy that never took honors classes in high school. I immediately noticed this kiosk had the exact same cheap injection molded plastic case from China, so I picked it up and asked how much.

“$15,” the bearded man said, as his lackey stood by vigilantly waiting to make a sale. Considering the $10 offer literally 40 feet below, and considering my options were running out, I offered him $8.

But the bearded man let out a quick one-breath laugh and said, “That’s kind of insulting, that’s almost half of what this goes for.” Of course, I could care less about his margin – if he couldn’t match the competing price of $10, let alone beat $10, he had no chance of getting my dollars.

This also raises the question, how could the guy downstairs afford to sell it for so much less if it cost so much? The whole scenario reminded me of a story I heard as a child about a man selling sunglasses at a flea market – if you like a pair of sunglasses and ask him how much, and he said they were $20, and you offer him $10, and he takes the $10, how much money did he lose? Some people would say he lost $10, but in fact he lost nothing. If he refused the sale at $10 he “lost” the $10 in revenue and whatever profit there was to earn on that $10 sale. However he wouldn’t sell it for $10 if he wasn’t going to make money on it. In that case, the retailer’s best option is to say, sorry, $20 is the lowest I can go. But only a foolish retailer sells a product at the lowest price they can bear. The bearded guy should have known that other kiosks only feet away had this same item for $10, so it should not have been so unrealistic to think $8 or $9 was a tolerable price. This guy was full of shit.

“I know how retail works,” I said, “I see stuff like this for $5 in the Union Square subway station.” Forget for a moment that this cheap piece of plastic looks like it was cents to make. He snapped at me, “Well obviously you don’t know anything about retail or you’d know I spend $5000 a month for this place in this shiat mall.” Applying the rules of MTV’s “Boiling Points”, I decided that this retailer had, and summarily blew, his chance of earning anything from me. Turning to my friend Mike and saying, “I think we’re done here,” he continued rambling about the wary and woes – the seemingly excruciating pain – of retail life at the Palisades Mall. But if a dollar store can survive, it can’t be that bad.

Finally we proceeded to the fourth floor to check for a fourth kiosk, which we readily found. But by the time I saw that fourth kiosk carrying the same cheap Chinese plastic iPod case knock-off as the others, I realized my mistake: I was shopping at the Palisades Center. Even if the foul-mouthed bearded man at Cell-Tech was abrasive, he did volunteer his rent to me, and assuming he made 5000 sales per month, which he probably doesn’t, that amounts to $1 per item in overhead due solely to rent. There was no reason I should pay to subsidize and support the mall when the mall management company, Pyramid Mall Company, itself is considering leaving the mall (all of its malls in New York, also notably including Crossgates Mall in Albany). I figured if the mall experts determined it was a good time to leave, they were probably right. After all, I’m a blogger, and I should have been ordering off eBay or something in the first place. Everyone knows bloggers don’t go outside.

Add to this that none of the retailers at the mall actually had the case I wanted. The Apple Store may have actually had it, but since I passionately hate the aesthetics of Apple Stores, I made sure to keep at least a 50 foot distance between myself and the Mecca of post-post-post modern design. Plus, I figured my problem was partly caused by Apple’s razor and blades strategy – the iPod is sold at a price point somewhere between a loss and a dangerously thin profit margin. But Apple knows that if you buy the player (the razor) you’re likely to buy the songs on iTunes (the blades).

At $1 per song, considering a royalty cost of $.65, assuming a song file is 3 MB, Apple charges about $120 per GB of data downloaded. on the other hand is hosted by GoDaddy, at a base rate of $29.95 per month, including 500 GB of data transfer. That comes out to about $0.05 per GB. As you can see, it would be very profitable to be Apple in that situation. Of course Apple’s largest cost is royalties paid to artists (or rather the recording associations that will sue you if you download the song elsewhere). Obviously I download all my music from other sources, so the revenue from me to Apple through the iTunes music store is $0, and I fully intended to make sure the revenue earned from me through their retail stores was also $0. This is why when I was buying a case for my iPod, I avoided the Apple store. Apple designs the iPod to have this perfect mirror finish, and so it would truly be a tragedy if that perfect mirror finish scuffs – so they sell you an Apple branded case for $30, even though it’s also a cheap plastic piece that cost cents to make. Razor, meet blade again.

Escape from New York(‘s Premier Shopping Center)

So it was now time to leave the mall, but obviously not before snapping a photo of the people that worked the Cell-Tech kiosk. The escalator we were heading down happened to pass right by the kiosk, so I couldn’t help but have some fun at their expense. “*cough* RETAIL *cough*” I uttered, turning around and adding, “Oh excuse me.” The owner of the kiosk and his beady-eyed lackey, both free to witness this debacle as they had no customers as usual, turned around with a contemptuous gaze. “What?” the lackey barked, in a way that would have made Lil’ John jealous. But this conversation was already over, and so I gave them the moose face – with both hands up to my head, thumbs to my ears, fingers stretched to the sky, palms facing out, and my tongue sticking out as far as it could go, wagging up and down in the gentle climate controlled breeze.

The lackey was especially upset by this. The gaze of contempt turned to a gaze of utter rage. “What! Come back!” he kept barking. But I couldn’t hear him, I pretended. Couldn’t he see my thumbs were plugging my ears shut? He was still getting the moose. When someone’s giving you the moose, they’re not listening to you. But at that moment, the lackey made a decision that would ensure this article was composed – he grabbed his manager and followed me through the mall.

My friend and I leisurely walked on the first floor at an incredibly relaxed pace, taking in all the commerce happening at all the other respected retailers, as the foul-mouthed kiosk operators, now enraged and walking impatiently closely behind, let an endless stream of violent and obscene sentences spew forth. Mothers and children stood by idly, shocked if not exasperated. “Turn the fark around!” the lackey ordered, despite obvious defiance on our part.

I’ve heard of following sales leads, but this was a bit much. Mind you, the bearded guy and his lackey were the only two employees at the kiosk, thus leaving it completely unattended as they ineffectively pursued vengeance for my wholly childish moose maneuver. By ignoring them for long enough, they eventually got bored and went back to their little kiosk, where they spent the rest of the day nickel-and-diming on cheap electronic accessories until the end of normal business hours. Of course my friend and I were not ready to leave the mall, despite that we had been followed almost all the way out, though we did leave. But not before filing a formal complaint with the mall management, however.

This would be the end of the story, except that the mall management never answered our complaints. My attempt to haggle with mall merchants was poorly placed at best and horribly misguided at worst, and giving these retail drones the moose certainly didn’t help. But this vendor’s behavior, on its own, was unacceptable regardless what silly face a patron made at them. And it was the mall management’s job to step in and remind that douche bag that not only does he not follow the rules at the mall, he doesn’t make them either, and for the $5000 he pays to be in that “shiat mall”, he should be a little more grateful that potential customers even talk to him in the first place. Or maybe he just shouldn’t be there.

Mall management did mention that kiosks typically “don’t last long”. Based solely on my experience, Cell-Tech certainly seemed to have a good chance at joining that club. I look forward to shopping elsewhere, regardless.

Cell-Teck kiosk at the Palisades Center Mall

Is the Palisades Center Mall sinking

Look at this photo of the Palisades Mall and decide for yourself.

Tags: Business · Complaint Department · Scary Stuff

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