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Not every store has a giant yellow Peep on the roof.
At Mall of America this week, Peeps & Co. opens a fun-loving store with a serious purpose - building a brand by showcasing the products of a single company.
But Peeps is following a popular script, as more and more companies better known as product-makers decide to try their hand at opening their own retail stores.
And when they do, many companies are choosing Mall of America as a test market, a laboratory or a launching pad. Whether Lego or Microsoft, Nine West or Columbia Sportswear, Apple or Peeps, the megamall has become a national destination for manufacturers wanting to go the next step and create their own stores, even if they're still tweaking the details.
With Peeps & Co., the iconic marshmallow candy's maker joins Lego, Microsoft, Apple and other companies with Mall of America stores devoted exclusively to selling their own products. See a slideshow with more photos. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)
"The mall has become a place to try out concepts, to see if they work, because of the huge customer base," said Jim McComb, a Twin Cities retail analyst.
The Bloomington megamall boasts an enormous number of stores that started life as consumer brands: American Girl, Lacoste, Lucky Brand Jeans, Bose, Lindt Chocolate, Desigual, Nike, AT&T, Michael Kors, and on and on. There's even a Mayo Clinic store.
The power of 42 million visitors a year is a big part of the lure, but mall officials say it's more than that.
"We have traffic, but we also have a real good cross-section of America, so you can do a lot of good market research here about what works and what doesn't," said Maureen Bausch, Mall of America's executive vice president.
Plus, the mall woos established companies considering the leap into retail.
"We're constantly out there, looking for people," she said. "If you read in an industry publication that they might open (retail stores), you call them right away."
After nearly 20 years in business, Mall of America has become a popular retail laboratory. Lego opened its first-ever Lego store at MOA. When Steve Jobs arm-twisted Apple's board of directors to open its first four Apple stores, one was at Mall of America.
The new Peeps & Co. store, with its giant yellow chick on top, is a 3,000-square-foot standalone shop on the first level of the Nickelodeon Universe theme park at Bloomington's Mall of America. The company also has a store in Baltimore. (Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri)
In 2010, Microsoft followed suit with one of its early retail stores at the megamall.
At times, those start-ups seem more about marketing and branding than just profit and loss. But they do allow product-makers to showcase their wares - and nobody else's - in the most favorable light, while capturing all the sales dollars themselves.
"You have greater control of what happens in them," said Akshay Rao, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.
"You connect with your consumers directly. And to the extent that you want to make an emotional connection with your consumers directly, you might want to have your own stores, to make sure you have control."
But there are downsides.
Retailing is a tough business, and new concepts don't have a high success rate. Not every successful manufacturer has the skills, or brand strength, for its own chain of stores. Plus, it can be tough on traditional retailers, such as department stores, when strong brands that were once partners become competitors.
The Peeps & Co. store is a creation of the Just Born candy company, a Pennsylvania-based firm that for decades has made Peeps, Hot Tamales and Mike and Ike. It opened its first retail store in 2009 in Baltimore. The Mall of America store is its second.
The playful MOA store, with the yellow chick on top, is a 3,000-square-foot standalone shop in Nickelodeon Universe. Conveying the right tone was essential.
"I don't think we're a traditional mall concept," said Marvin Cooper, a company vice president. "We need to be in a place where we can establish ourselves in an atmosphere of fun. Mall of America, the amusement park (inside), it's just so unique and such an amazing opportunity. ... That's why we chose Mall of America. We were able to build the store the way we wanted on the outside as well as on the inside."
Peeps went to great lengths to make its showcase store unique.
"All of the music in the store is written and composed for us," Cooper said. "The videos were done for us. The lighting, the LED lighting, we designed and put in so it all work together. The lights change color with the music."
Plus, there's loads of Just Born candy in colors and varieties "you can't find anywhere else," Cooper said.
"People get a big smile on their face" when they come upon the Peeps store, the candy executive said. "They can't believe there's a store like this."