Like many regions, Greater Palm Springs is fairly spread out. On one hand, it’s a part of what makes our quality of life so great here. We’ve got large lots, unobstructed mountain views, and a distinct lack of congestion. But with those benefits comes the reality of daily activities which, for many, are car-dependent and not always walkable. Therefore, with few exceptions, rather than dense city blocks full of commerce, strip mall businesses make up much of our retail landscape.

As with any location, businesses located in strip malls find both benefits and detriments.

The good, the bad, and the…

Rents in strip malls are often more affordable than they would be in heavily-trafficked or more upscale areas. You’re also probably among a lot of other businesses that people still actually walk into. Barber shops, coffee shops, sandwich shops, grocery stores, and nail salons are common strip mall tenants. These types of businesses are among the types that aren’t being rapidly replaced by online retailing.

Despite these benefits, there are certain difficulties associated with a strip mall location. It can be hard for your business to stand out. Many strip malls have a similar look to them and a very similar tenant mix. For customers, a stop at a strip mall may be more for convenience than it is a deliberate seeking-out.

Cell phone retailers and nationwide pizza chains are common strip mall tenants. They already have strong brands and loyal customers. While location matters to these big national brands, their individual retail locations aren’t as critical as they are for a very small business with only one or two locations. So how can a business located in a strip mall really stand out and succeed?

Differentiating your strip mall business

You’ll need to consider the entirety of the customer experience and make it as memorable as possible. Depending on the type of business you’re in, this might mean any number of the following. You should pay attention to the following elements:

Your food.

If you are a food-based business, is your food pretty good? For a business located in a ho-hum strip mall, pretty good is probably not good enough. Why would a customer seek your business out if you’re not a standout? There’s more to this than just using “quality ingredients,” which is a claim made so often that it has almost lost meaning. Using more expensive ingredients is not a sure-fire way to create better-tasting meals. Your job is to make sure the end product is pleasing to the eye and to the palate, and to make a profit without exceeding a price perceived to be reasonable by the consumer.

Your atmosphere.

Businesses in strip malls may not have the most exciting and appealing exteriors. The façade of your business is likely to blend in with the façade of the rest of the businesses in the immediate vicinity. Take this opportunity to unleash your creativity as you craft an appealing interior. Pay attention to color, décor, and the flow of the space. Perhaps spartan and utilitarian is your preferred look; perhaps you favor a quirky style which begs for an Instagram photo shoot. There’s no right or wrong answer, but do think about how all the elements of your business, including the interior,  create a cohesive and consistent brand that your customer can relate to and understand.

Your service.

When your customers walk in, realize that they’ve made a choice to shop with you. They may have found lower prices and a larger selection at a big-box store. They may have had a shorter wait time at a fast-food restaurant. Be sure to reward your customers for their choice! This is often reflected in the soft skills of front-line staff. Customers like to be acknowledged when they walk in to a business: even if a verbal greeting isn’t possible, eye contact and a smile are great ways to connect to your customers as fellow humans. Thank them before they leave. Customers are essential to your business, so treat them accordingly.

When my family walks into Holey Scoops, a family-run ice cream shop located in a Palm Desert strip mall, we are always greeted with a smile by the owners. By our third visit, they had committed our favorite order to memory. It may not sound like a big deal, but it’s enough to make us choose Holey Scoops over a nearby national-brand smoothie shop when we want an ice-cold treat. Businesses are built one customer choice at a time!

Your unique value.

It’s very possible to survive in a retail strip mall location that is off the beaten path, even if you’re not offering anything particularly unique. But by offering something unique, your business can thrive. I like to think of it like this: there should be some element of your business that your customer would bother talking about to a friend or coworker, or even on social media. Whether it’s your décor, your stellar customer service, your unusual merchandise selection, or your incredible food, when you offer something truly unique, people will tend to talk about it.

Your identity.

In a strip mall, you may not have much flexibility when it comes to signage and exterior identification. Be sure to seize other opportunities to create an identity for your brand. If you don’t have a logo, you needn’t spend a fortune to have one made. Websites like Fiverr are inexpensive design sources, or you can check with your local community college about connecting with graphic design students who may be willing to assist. Use your logo in your window displays, on social media accounts, on your website, and on any printed materials or digital communications. Consistency is key: customers like to know what to expect, so be sure your logo and identifying language aren’t in conflict with the atmosphere inside your store.

Doing business from a strip mall location has similarities to doing business anywhere. It’s always important to find ways to differentiate your business. When your location has indistinct characteristics, thoughtful branding and differentiation strategies can help you stand out, get noticed, and build a loyal following.