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THE ELVES OF THE MALLS <br> KIOSK RETAILERS SELL FOR THE SEASON, VANISH LIKE CHRISTMAS PAST

As the last holiday shoppers exit the Walden Galleria, Jay Butterworth will pack up his FunFeet slippers and call it a selling season.

Unlike traditional retailers who face several weeks of post-Christmas markdowns and the wait for fresh spring merchandise, Butterworth and the growing legion of seasonal sellers will be taking a breather from their six- to eight-week sales blitzes.

"Even though its been pretty hectic leading up to Christmas, I know I'll be done in a few days," Butterworth said. "Even at it's craziest moments, I like it better than regular retail."

Apparently, a lot of people share that view, given the explosion of retailers who are choosing to do their selling from carts, kiosks and other temporary units located in mall corridors, instead of behind four permanent walls. Their wares range from toys to cleaning products to hats, and everything in between.

The purveyors include well-known retail names such as Hickory Farms, Avon and Tupperware, as well as the guy or girl next door who has always wanted to try their hand at selling.

"It's a really fun retail segment that's growing by leaps and bounds," said Maria Scafone, associate publisher, Specialty Retail Report, a publication that follows the temporary retail niche.

"I can't give you quantitative documentation of exactly how many are out there, but I can tell you that malls area scrambling to find ways to fit them in. There are waiting lists for many malls," Scafone said.

She also noted that her four-year-old publication has more than 35,000 subscribers, a number that is climbing steadily.

And while the portable stores generally take up less than 200 square feet of space, they can roll up eye-catching sales and profits that benefit from low overhead and minimal employee costs.

"A lot of these are one-person operations, with one employee. It's a super-streamlined business model that has a lot of appeal," Scafone added.

Butterworth, a Batavia resident whose retail resume includes managing a Foot Locker store, joined the fast-expanding world of temporary retailing last summer on the advice of a relative who operates a successful retail cart business in Virginia. His Tucan Sunglasses cart, which offered a wide selection of glasses priced at $10 a pair, was an immediate hit.

"I liked everything about it," the fledgling temporary retailer said. "After the great experience this summer, I knew I had to get something for the holiday."

Butterworth and a friend, Jay Hutchins, are partnering in this season's FunFeet kiosk, selling oversized, puffy slippers at $19.99 a pair. Again, the product is selling well, further cementing plans for future appearances in the corridors of the Galleria.

Jim Soos, general manager of the Cheektowaga shopping center, said that while kiosk and cart sellers make their biggest impact during the holiday shopping season, the stores without walls have evolved into year-around attractions.

"They add to the diversity of the mall because they offer things our in-line retailers don't," Soos said. "They also add to the atmosphere. They are right out there in the middle of the corridor where shoppers can see and touch as they walk along."

Vera Kamins is also a first-time seasonal seller, selling her floral creations from a small booth in Boulevard Mall. "Florals by Verna," an offshoot of more than a decade on the local craft show circuit, is proving to be a successful experiment.

"I am already thinking about next year. The sales have been great. The people are wonderful," Kamins said.

Between customers, the entrepreneur sits in the middle of her display putting together new floral designs.

"I think people like to see I make these myself, but the closer we get to Christmas, I'm too busy to get much done," she said.

The many positive aspects of non-store retailing are what have kept Alan Steinberg of Buffalo in the non-traditional selling niche for the past five years. A trial run selling sports-logoed caps from a cart in what is now known as Prime Outlets USA in the Town of Niagara propelled Steinberg to build a retail stable that now includes 15 carts and kiosks in five states.

"The trick is to find a hot item, sell low and sell a lot," said Steinberg, whose ever-changing product list has included watches, sun dresses, yo-yos, laser pointers, Pokemon products and sports caps.

Because Steinberg sells all year in many of his locations, he has to constantly evaluate the drawing power of the products he's hawking.

"The beauty of this type of retailing is that you can change to a new product overnight," he said. "In fact, to be really successful, you have to keep an eye out for the next big thing."

Kiosk retailing also has proven popular for local restaurants, health clubs and salons, who are looking for ways to reach new customers. By joining the crowd of holiday-only sellers, they are boosting customer lists while desperate shoppers fill their gift lists.

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