Holiday Business: The View From the Kiosk Aisle

Jane Wells for

Few businesses are as small, with hopes as large, as the kiosks scattered along the midway of the mall. This holiday, some of those running carts are either first time entrepreneurs or businesses testing a mall presence for the first time.

"I used to be a nanny," says 23-year-old Sam Brogden, who opened her "All About Me" cart outside Macy's at the Westfield Topanga Mall in Los Angeles on November 1. "This is my first business."

Brogden sells "pillow pets" bearing the likenesses of mascots for NFL and college football teams. The San Francisco 49ers and Oregon Ducks are her fastest movers. How's business? "Good."

But in the next breath admits, "It's hard."

She says her folks helped her with the $15,000 to $20,000 start-up costs to run two carts in two different malls. The pillow pets cost about $35, and Brogden is surprised she's selling as many as 60 a day between the two operations. She says she's making more money than she did as a nanny. Still, she's refusing to set benchmarks. "If I had any expectations I'd probably kill myself."

"We do have some people who've come into the store after seeing the cart." -Owner, Sweet Arleen's, Arleen Scavone

Across the mall, Arleen Scavone, two-time winner of "Cupcake Wars" on the Food Network, is setting up a cart for Sweet Arleen's, selling dessert treats — the Red Velvet cupcake is the best seller. Scavone has a store about 15 miles away, in Westlake Village, and she also has a mobile food truck, but, "this is our first mall experience."

Scavone opened her cart on Black Fridayand says business was strong. However, in the days that followed, "We were disappointed in our sales." So she moved the cart to a new location, near a GapKids, and sales improved.

Scavone says she's not investing in a cart just to sell cupcakes, but rather to extend brand awareness in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. The start up costs were less than $10,000, a risk that may already be paying off. "We do have some people who've come into the store after seeing the cart." Her biggest challenge: staffing. Even in this economy, she says it's hard finding young adults she can train who are available to work the long hours at the mall. She says she prefers hiring college students and has to work around the hours that her employees are in class.

Back at "All About Me," Sam Brogden is pretty much running the show herself. What has she learned? "I should have asked for help...about everything." Brogden says she's seeing a lot of foot traffic, but after working 11 hours a day, seven days a week, she won't do this again. "Too much work."

Yet Arleen Scavone hopes "Sweet Arleen's" is successful enough that she stays in the mall, and maybe even expands her presence there. "Ask me in two weeks and I'll have a better idea. It's a tough go when you're starting up."