ORANGE COUNTY, CA—Customers gravitate toward businesses with good sustainability practices, like malls that offer vehicle-charging stations, Ron Hanson, VP of operational efficiency for Simon Property Group. As GlobeSt.com reported last week, Simon and and NRG eVgo, a subsidiary of NRG Energy Inc., are installing electric-car fast-charging Freedom Station sites at four Orange County Simon shopping centers: the Shops at Mission Viejo, Brea Mall, Westminster Mall and the Outlets at Orange. The stations can recharge shoppers’ vehicles in 30 minutes or less, and they encourage customers to linger at least 30 minutes longer at the centers than customers without electric vehicles.
GlobeSt.com caught up with Hanson to discuss the importance of the Freedom Stations and what’s next in terms of service in retail centers.
GlobeSt.com: Why put Freedom Stations in malls? What’s the connection?
Hanson: There are a couple of different reasons that are behind our effort to purse these stations. First of all, we as a company have a philosophy of always wanting to be at the forefront of opportunities. We formed our company almost 60 years ago when shopping centers first came on the scene and were being built in places where many people thought were crazy: places with no housing nearby. But you don’t start something like a shopping center after the population is there to support it. You have to be there far enough ahead of that curve to be able to take advantage of it.
We see charging stations as an emerging trend around the country. The number of electric vehicles purchased to date is relatively small—around a quarter million—but rates have doubled year-over-year. There’s no way to know how that trend will continue, but we believe there is strong enough interest in the program and those vehicles. We want to be at the forefront of it so that when it does begin to accelerate, we’re positioned with a network in place to provide customers with a place to charge those vehicles.”
Second, we want to provide in every regard a best-in-class experience for our customers, to provide every type of amenity service that makes sense for our customers to enhance their shopping experience with us. The vehicle-charging stations are an important amenity that we want to make available to our customers.
GlobeSt.com: What is the next evolution of service in retail centers?
Hanson: I think it could be any number of things. My area of focus is in our sustainability programs, but as a general rule we are trying to be cognizant of things our customers look for when they come to our malls, and we are constantly seeking input from them via social media or other contacts they have with our shopping centers. We want to understand what kinds of things they do want and what drives them to the malls in the first place. We stay on top of it and try to be very well aware of that, and if something is developing as a trend or frequently requested service, we see if we can provide that for them.
GlobeSt.com: Are customers concerned about sustainability in their shopping centers? Is this a trend?
Hanson: I don’t know if I would call sustainability a trend, but we recognize our responsibility to our customers and the community at large to provide environments in our shopping centers that are in keeping with good sustainability practices, such as the way in which we manage our energy consumption and how we go about doing things that maximizes our ability to limit greenhouse-gas production and create a green environment in our malls. We view it as a fundamental responsibility and part of being a good corporate citizen to have sound sustainability practices, and by doing that, I think we certainly will satisfy customers who expect us and anyone in a commercial setting to be very conscious of sustainability. If we do things well in that regard, our customers will recognize it and let us know they appreciate the fact that we’re doing it.