Decorating KoP Mall for the holidays is no small task

November 30, 2018

Source, Philadelphia Business Journal, Natalie Kostelni

Each year, with much thought and fanfare and like clockwork, the King of Prussia Mall gets adorned for the holiday season.

The reindeer, lighted trees, garland, ribboned sconces, snowflakes and faux white orchids— where they go and when they go up is a carefully orchestrated endeavor that takes both time and money. The decor alone can cost between $500,000 and $1 million.

What’s not included in that amount are the fees associated with paying a company that comes in like a SWAT team of elves to install 28-foot tall trees, preening reindeer, an elaborate carousel and other decorations. Not long after the first of the year, the same group swoops in to disassemble everything, packs and returns it all to a storage area at another nearby mall owned by Simon Property Group, which owns King of Prussia.

The process hasn’t changed much over the years but it has been tweaked. “It’s been an evolution,” said Kathy Smith, director of marketing and business development at King of Prussia Mall. “Things can get dated. We want to stay as relevant as possible for our customers.”

Smith and Gerilyn Davis, assistant director of marketing, are responsible for the herculean task of decorating the interior and exterior of the mall each holiday season and its importance can’t be underestimated. “Holiday decor is critical to the shopping experience,” Smith said. “It creates an atmosphere that extends the shopping experience. It differentiates that experience from other times of the year.”

That can translate into more robust sales. November and December account for 30 percent of some retailer’s annual sales, according to the National Retail Federation. Sales this year are expected to increase between 4.3 percent and 4.8 percent over 2017 and total spending is anticipated to fall between $717.5 billion and $720.9 billion.

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This year, Philadelphia households are expected to drop $1,279 during the holiday season compared with $1,536 nationally, according to a survey conducted by Deloitte. Of that, 57 percent will shop online compared with 34 percent heading out to shop at a brick-and-mortar store.

The timing of when the decorations go up at King of Prussia Mall are pinned to the day Santa arrives and that is typically the first Friday in November. Ten to 14 days prior, a company specializing in installing holiday decor arrives and works around the clock to put up the ornamentation. It takes 10 people just to install and fluff one of the giant 28-foot trees that rise over the two stories of the mall up to its skylights.

“It’s quite an undertaking,” Smith said.

All of the decor is up two to three days before Santa arrives so photographers can gauge lighting and other details in preparation for a steady stream of visitors waiting to sit on Santa’s lap. It’s not uncommon to see decorations in their full glory by Halloween.

There are certain decorations that have become a tradition for the mall and a carousel where Santa sits near Nordstrom is one of those. It’s been around decades and families have taken their infants who have grown into teenagers and young adults to be photographed there year after year. “It’s pretty neat,” Davis said. “Customers love it.”

While the carousel has gotten refurbished over the years, it’s a mainstay and not going anywhere. “It’s a great amenity to the center to have a tradition like that,” Smith said.

Smith and Davis start to think about decorating for the holidays during the summer. They assess what items need to be updated or repaired. At one point, there was a movement to switch to LED lights and that was addressed in advance. “It’s important to keep it fresh,” Smith said.

The merging of the two ends of the mall that many still refer to as the Plaza and Court forced some rethinking of their approach. It was determined a more cohesive plan was needed to blend the two areas together. The challenge was trying to introduce new items without eliminating decorations considered a tradition. “We wanted to create a symbiotic atmosphere,” Smith said.

It was determined the carousel and Santa near Nordstrom would remain and an additional Santa display would be installed at the other end of the mall. Overhead and floor decor was made consistent throughout, white trees were added to planters and a commitment was made to similar color schemes.

Music is also part of the experience. Until mid-November, there is 50-50 split between pop music and holiday tunes and then it’s a steady stream of Jingle Bells and Holly Jolly Christmas.