A Lesson from the World’s Biggest Ghost Town

Remember the movie Field of Dreams some twenty-odd years ago? Kevin Costner kept hearing a voice that told him…

“If you build it, they will come.”

Well, a few years back, “instant noodle” billionaire Alex Hu must’ve heard a similar voice.

He spearheaded construction of the world’s largest shopping mall — 9.6 million square feet of floor space — in Dongguan, China.

The mall is split into seven sections modeled after Amsterdam, Paris, Rome, Venice, Egypt, the Caribbean, and California. It features replicas of the Arc de Triomphe, Venice’s St. Mark’s bell tower, a canal with gondolas, and an indoor-outdoor roller coaster.

Very cool.

But when New South China Mall opened to great fanfare in 2005, nobody came.

The place can accommodate 2,350 stores. But for six years, it’s never hosted more than 50. No merchants, no customers.

It’s a big, spooky “ghost town.”

How come?

Some blame the mall’s location. It’s kinda remote and there are no highways adjacent to it.

Others say it’s a problem of inexperience and poor judgment. Says Beijing retail analyst David Hand, “They set out to be the biggest, and hoped that being the biggest would be the attracting factor.”

Bad call.

I’ve occasionally experienced New South China Mall Syndrome myself.

How about you?

You get excited by an idea, fall in love with it, and create a product or service without first checking if there’s a good-sized market for it.

In other words, you build something and customers don’t come.

That’s not so bad if you can bang out a new product in a day or two. But when you’ve spent a month or more on something that doesn’t pan out…well, that sucks big time.

It’s even worse if you’ve thrown a whole crapload of money at it.

If you’re suffering from New South China Mall Syndrome, stubbornly thinking that “if you build it, they will come,” get over it.

Study your audience, figger out what it wants, then create a product or service for it.

That’s a simple business formula you can count on.

“If it doesn’t sell, it is not creative.” – David Ogilvy

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