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reveling in retail
Story by Susan O'Connor, Photo by Courtney Fitzwater

A man of varied interests, Gary Blakeney’s career as general manager of The Mall at Turtle Creek suits him perfectly. He truly looks forward to each day’s challenges.

“I do have a real passion for what I’m doing, which in some respect is who I am — a business manager, a marketing director, an entertainer, a visual artist and a young philanthropist, all rolled into one. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle and wow, what a wonderful life.”

A graduate of Jonesboro High School and Arkansas State University with a bachelor’s degree in commercial art, Blakeney’s career in the shopping center industry is impressive. He has worn many professional hats and earned prestigious awards.

He has served in various marketing roles, combined with sponsorship and retail development responsibilities with four companies, including CBL Properties & Associates, General Growth Properties, L & H Real Estate Group and Simon Property Group. Prior to his position with David Hocker & Associates and The Mall at Turtle Creek, Blakeney was marketing director for Park Plaza Mall in Little Rock and Southaven Towne Center in Southhaven, Miss, both owned by CBL Properties.

Blakeney has earned the industry’s highest honor with two MAXI Awards, a MAXI Merit Award, along with being selected on more than 10 different occasions as a MAXI finalist from the International Council of Shopping Centers. These awards honor community service, public relations, advertising, sales promotion, merchandising and more.

But his love of retail goes all the way back to age 16, when an interest in marine life led him to his first job working at a marine aquarium shop in Memphis, where he lived for a portion of his youth.

“Ocean life has been a passion and hobby all my life,” he said with his trademark enthusiasm. “I really thought about becoming a marine biologist.” Interestingly, Blakeney is a PADI certified scuba diver.

With a 100-gallon, self constructed aquarium at home, Blakeney was a frequent customer at the Memphis shop.

“On my first day it was all about the total retail experience — the product, the price, the placement and the promotion. It was a hobby of mine and I got paid, too! How great was that? Later, while working my way through college if I wanted some spending money, what better place to work but the trendiest clothing store in Jonesboro at the time, the Hoose Gow?”

Though he ventured for a time into advertising and promotions, Blakeney’s strong affinity for the retail world eventually led him back to it.
“It was good to step out of the industry for a time,” he said. “I had the chance to really find out what I enjoy thoroughly.”

With graduate work in business marketing and a definite creative side, Blakeney said he has been fortunate to incorporate these two facets of himself into his career.

“Looking back, it was an interesting bridge that I built with life experience and education between the business and creative worlds — worlds that are sometimes very far apart,” he said. “Looking forward, I will always enjoy the process of visualizing and executing projects that are only limited by my imagination and resources.”

Last month, Blakeney was able to use his creativity to promote the mall, as well as benefit the United Way with the mall’s Rock-n-Roll Holiday Countdown Show, a full-scale performance with dancing and music set to classic songs from the 50s and 60s. In lieu of an admission fee, guests donated canned goods.
“It was the type of show you’d see at Six-Flags or Disney,” he explained. “It brought back a feeling of nostalgia.”

Blakeney noted that malls across the country are marketing themselves as meeting places or community centers. “This recession means that malls must work harder to encourage traffic, and organizing community events is a good way to draw customers.”

And Blakeney’s efforts at The Mall at Turtle Creek are paying off. Even with a sluggish economy, mall traffic is up since his arrival in the spring of 2008.
For year to date, according to Blakeney, the visitor count of the three-year-old mall is up 22 percent over the same period in 2008. The mall’s traffic count through the current period, calculated using the International Council of Shopping Centers benchmark of 2.5 visitors per vehicle, is more than 1.7 million more than the same period last year. Sales at small shops in the mall were up by five percent January through September of this year.

“At The Mall at Turtle Creek, shopping is serious business,” Blakeney said with a smile. “Each day unfolds new challenges either in management, marketing, operations or security. It is all about teamwork. At David Hocker & Associates, I am a member of an accomplished team that is passionate about creating an exciting, vibrant and entertaining shopping center.”