Retail vacancy rates are dropping, the holiday season is upon us and office job growth continues – all factors leading to a robust 2015 for retail, even among the stubborn laggards and weaker markets. However, despite these positive developments, you’ll still see plenty of vacant space at street level within Central Business Districts (CBDs) and malls. The standard response of covering glass with kraft paper until a “Coming Soon!” sign is erected is visually unappealing in an environment where aesthetics count. It also presents the wrong perception to the consumer.

On the street and within malls and shopping centers, some store owners are taking a liability (empty space) and turning it into an asset through a variety of options such as community-based artwork for pop-up expeditions or display advertising designed specifically to add appeal to vacant store space. The former is giving back to the community, and the latter creates a revenue stream for unused space.

Owners such as Westfield Group, General Growth Properties and DDR Corp. have embraced the concept and provided brands with exclusive rights to display wallscapes, projections and fixed display devices. Consumers are drawn to these displays, which are increasingly interactive. As technology advances, we will see more promo codes as well as direct solicitation: As you stand by the “pitch” screen in the formerly vacant space, your smartphone starts to buzz with a one-time only discount on those speakers you wanted in the audio retailer two doors away.


The advent of experiential marketing has led to new brand opportunities, treating the built environment as one huge advertising opportunity. A number of advertising agencies have successfully tapped into the concept. Correctly executed, this type of marketing gets the right message to the right consumer at the right time. Off the mark, it is just more noise in a sea of messages and images that confront us every day.

I have worked on retail prototypes that espoused real estate as the new medium. Taking vacant retail space and allowing it to promote innovative products, new cable series and the like makes a one-time eyesore, vacant space, into much more than a loss leader.