hen Susan and Jon Foss went looking for a new location for their swim school in 1998, they stumbled upon what some say is a new business model for the aquatics industry. By opening a Foss Swim School location at the Knollwood Mall in St. Louis Park, Minn., they became one of the first and only swim schools to be located inside a traditional shopping mall.
?The mall was literally across the street from [the location] we had been leasing, so we just thought, ?Hey, let?s talk to them,?? said Susan Foss, looking back on the decision.
Today the Foss Swim School isn?t the only aquatic opportunity located outside the traditional pool setting. Over the past decade, aquatics have popped up in all sorts of unexpected venues, from retail spaces to zoos. And given the increasing enthusiasm for aquatic recreation and the current state of the economy, experts say mixing aquatics with destinations likely to attract a similar demographic could be just the ticket to keep both operations thriving.
?Especially now with the economic downturn, a lot of developers are looking at these mixed- use projects,? Erin Hershkowitz said. ?Centers are open to all types of businesses to help boost the tenant mix and get consumers in the doors.? Hershkowitz is a spokesperson for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a New York-based International trade association for retail real estate. Echoing her assessment, a recent survey from the real estate research firm Reis found vacancies at malls and shopping centers are approaching a 10-year high.
When Foss Swim School moved in, Knollwood Mall wasn?t exactly thriving. Since then, it has transformed and developers have pointed to Knollwood as an example of successful revitalization. Foss believes her business has had a hand in helping bring back customer traffic.
?[Mall management] was skeptical, but within the first month they realized we weren?t kidding,? she said. Today Knollwood features a Kohl?s department store, Bed Bath & Beyond, and other successful retailers. Foss added that a sandwich retailer across the way from her swim school once came to her asking for the school schedule. ?He told me that when we?re closed, his business takes a nose dive,? she said.
Swim schools aren?t the only aquatics game on the retail radar. Adrenalina, a Miami-based apparel and entertainment company, has several locations in shopping destinations from New York to Texas and is expanding aggressively. The store caters to young extreme sports enthusiasts, and the centerpiece of each location is a fully operational stationary wave machine, strategically included to attract attention.
?We think they will be an added attraction to draw in customers,? said Jerry Teitelbaum, vice president of leasing at The Taubman Co., (which has included Adrenalina in more than one of its most upscale properties), in the Miami Herald. ?It?s one of the most innovative retail concepts I?ve seen out there in a while.?
The Columbus Zoo also attracted attention for its aquatic addition. It took over the management of former Six Flags Wyandot Lake waterpark and opened a renovated aquatic attraction last year. Unlike Wyandot Lake, which operated as a separate entity, the Zoombezi Bay waterpark is fully integrated with the zoo. Guests use the same entrance for both attractions, and those who purchase tickets for the waterpark get free admission to the zoo.
In its first year of operation Zoombezi Bay saw approximately 405,000 guests. That?s 25,000 more than Wyandot?s best year, according to John Gannon, Zoombezi Bay general manager and former general manager of Wyandot Lake. Attendance figures were slightly higher than estimates and brought in a significant amount of revenue for the zoo most notably. Gannon said membership increased by nearly 3,000 households, and he believes the addition of the integrated waterpark could help make the zoo more of a ?destination.?
?It?s great to bring aquatics outside of the normal element,? Gannon said. ?People love water, so if [zoo operators, retailers and the like] can include water attractions, I think people are going to appreciate that.?
Foss agrees, saying that by including aquatics in a location where people are already going, ?you?re bringing it directly to your customer base and making it that much easier for them to participate. Everybody is winning.?