Located just off I-90 exit 31, the North Bend Premium Outlets has been one of the many business locations in the Snoqualmie Valley that captures both highway and local traffic. Ed Huebner, the general manager of the outlet mall for three years, has seen how the demographics of shoppers in North Bend have changed.
Being so close to the highway exit, the outlet mall draws in most of its consumer base from people driving into or past North Bend, Huebner said. But as the Valley has grown he has seen an increase in the amount of local patronage to the mall as well. Several local businesses are now located in the mall, too, he said.
“We are really going to put an emphasis on that,” he said. “We have clientele that’s here already that’s one we can rely on in their slower months, as opposed to someone coming in on a day trip. It’s something that is becoming more important to us.”
It’s partially due to the growth the area is experiencing, but Huebner also gives credit to the development of programs put on by the city of North Bend and community organizations to draw people into the city, such as the annual Jazz Clubs NW events, the Jazz Walks in April and Blues Walks in September.
As the general manager of the outlet mall, Huebner has been in charge of managing the 224,000 square-foot mall and its tenants for three years. He said that one of the biggest differences from a traditional indoor mall is the influx of summertime business.
“We have such wonderful weather from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Back to school runs into Labor Day and that really is the end of the summer, kids go back and traffic drops down a little bit,” he said. “North Bend has so many outdoor activities, being so close to the mountains, we get this influx of traffic in the summertime — we call it the drive market. Whether people are driving in from Seattle, coming out here to go to the Falls, Rattlesnake Lake, here we are perfectly positioned to be a stop on their day trip.”
As with many other malls, weekend traffic is what drives the businesses, Huebner said. North Bend’s natural draw for people looking for recreation activities on the weekend allows the outlet mall to capture many of the people driving in.
“That’s why the mall is here, because of the amount of people that come to this area organically, daily traffic is tens of thousands,” he said.
In terms of trends over previous years, Huebner mentioned that the poor weather at the beginning of 2017 slowed down what was already a slow season for shoppers. He said the post-holiday winter season, including traffic from skiers, doesn’t bring as much traffic as the summer.
Predictably, the holiday season is the biggest shopping season of the year. From Black Friday to Christmas, the mall gets the most shoppers of the year. However, Huebner said the stores also see an uptick in business the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
“The biggest reason is gift cards,” he said. “All these people with money in hand are still off of school, plus you have returns and exchanges… then we see a drop off again once school starts back up.”
The slowdown in traffic, Huebner said is gradually being offset by local shoppers, who come during the weekdays throughout the year. The growth of the local shopper base has been one of the biggest changes in recent history for the outlet mall. When he first started as the general manger, Huebner saw that there was more growth on the horizon for the Valley
“I came in at a great time, the Valley has been getting ready for an influx of people, that’s nothing but good here at the mall,” he said. “We can grow that local shopper base, that’s built-in traffic.”