Billionaire Steve Kuhn Finds New Use for Empty Retail Spaces

Billionaire Steve Kuhn Finds New Use for Empty Retail Spaces

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What’s that new use? You guessed it…pickleball!  But financier and Major League Pickleball founder Steve Kuhn called his new multi-location brand Picklemall.

Taking full advantage of large empty spaces in shopping malls, the company will launch its first indoor pickleball concept in Arizona Mills in Tempe in July 2023. It expects to open 50 locations nationally over the next two years.

Malls have long been used for exercise, and “mall walking” is a popular social activity in many communities. The indoor mall, which appeared in 1956, “saved the suburbs from despair,” according to The Atlantic.

Today, only 700 malls exist in the U.S., down from 2,500 in the 1980s.

The world’s largest mall was demolished in 2014, and the web is full of photos of abandoned malls and the tear-down process. Some malls continue to thrive. They serve as entertainment, dining, and fashion hubs, often in affluent areas. Less than an hour from the site of the first Picklemall location, Fashion Square continues to expand and flourish.

Management companies have often leased large unused retail mall spaces to seasonal vendors, like Halloween and Christmas shops. But Kuhn’s vision is to repurpose these vast areas into places that meet consumer demand, generate revenue, and renew the mall’s purpose as a social gathering spot.

Close to 40M consumers now participate in pickleball, the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. Once popular mainly with older populations, it now appeals to consumers of all ages, with 72 percent of players between 18 and 44 and an average age of 34.8.

Picklemall will allow players to indulge their passion even during inclement weather. The first site will span 104K square feet and house 24 champion-style courts in space previously occupied by At Home.

Revenue projections and build-out costs were not available from Kuhn’s team.

Like many new retail concepts, technology is built into the concept from its launch. A proprietary app will enable scheduling and performance tracking from the player’s phone.

Courtside cameras will record gameplay so serious pickle ballers can watch, analyze, and learn from their game footage.

Picklemall partnered with JOOLA USA on its ProShop, which will offer branded merchandise and equipment to buy or rent.

“What happens if the popularity of pickleball wanes?” we asked West Shaw, the company’s CEO. He replied, “Pickleball shows no sign of slowing down and is growing by 30 percent year-over-year. We see a long-term future for the sport and the Picklemall concept.”

We hope he’s right. Otherwise, another innovative business must come along to fill those courts!

But, for now, racket-wielding players can enjoy their sport come rain, shine, or oppressive heat and monsoons. And the mall will live on as a community destination.

Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in, the New York Times and Forbes.
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