Q&A with Mark Shapiro, executive director, Harry and Rose Samson Family JCC, Milwaukee, WI
Interviewed by David Posner, Vice President, Mandel Center for Excellence
David: You spoke about your new project, J-Shore at the Bayshore Town Center at the Executive Seminars in January. It created a lot of buzz, and I understand you just honored them with a new JCC award.
Mark: We created a new award called the Yachad Award for the organization that best exemplifies partnering with the JCC. The Bayshore Town Center just received it.
David: This speaks to a deep relationship you have with Bayshore. What is Bayshore?
Mark: Bayshore Town Center is not your average mall. It is a concept created by Yaromir Steiner who came up with the idea of creating not only a place to shop, but a living center. It transformed an old strip mall into the centerpiece of north shore Milwaukee. It’s more than a destination mall; it has close to 100 high-end condos. It has entertainment centers, restaurants, as well as indoor and outdoor shopping.
The outdoor entertainment space transformed Bayshore into the town square.
David: What was is that made you think a relationship with this center would be useful to both parties?
Mark: There are two key concepts that come into the relationship with Bayshore. A marketing associate at the JCC of Chicago taught me the idea of spray and pray. It’s what we typically do with our marketing
materials. We send out a 37,000 piece mailer with our membership promo into the community and pray they will pick it up. Truth be told, we need to go to our members instead of having them come to us. If there was a high end mall, there is a very good possibility that the Jewish community is there. We decided rather than sitting around waiting for them to come to us, we would go where they are.
David: Were there any other demographics present at Bayshore Town Center that were desirable to the JCC?
Mark: Absolutely. I learned that they seek stroller traffic in the Town Center. It was kind of
odd how the relationship began. Heading into the holiday season about two years ago, we wanted to rent a kiosk in the hall to sell membership and gift certificates for our spa. The price was so exorbitant that I thought let’s see if I can pull a few strings and use the nonprofit card. It was through our outside PR company, which happened to have a relationship with them, that the general manager and I wound up having lunch and brainstorming ideas.
David: Did they have a relationship like this with any other nonprofit?
Mark: One of the things that is different about them, is that they have their own separate 501(c)(3), called the Bayshore Community Foundation. The Bayshore Community Foundation raises money through their parking meters and parking tickets. It started as a Change for Charity program and it’s one of those where they hand select six different charities annually to receive the money that comes out of the parking meters every two months. They also run something called their Cornerstone event. Once a year they pay for a major fundraiser with an organization and they use this to raise money for the organization they partner with. We have been selected to be their Cornerstone recipient for the next three years. It’s part of this overall sponsorship/partnership we have with them.
David: Let’s talk about the partnership.
Mark: After meeting with the general manager, we came up with an idea about how to build community inside the Town Center and to advertise with their brand. We both had certain needs, and this fulfilled
both our needs. They were such an amazing brand that anything we could do to be associated with them would work for us.
David: The brand of the JCC in Milwaukee is pretty strong from our perspective. Associating with Bayshore, was it really something of incalculable value to ramp up your brand even more?
Mark: There is no question that we feel we have a really strong brand. But there is something about this Bayshore Town Center that really was a cut above, almost a Disney World feel to it. It allowed us to show off the JCC brand in a more public venue than we can inside our building. It’s the concept of going to where our current members, and potential members, are. The partnership with Bayshore allows us to do exactly that through our program offerings at J Shore – the indoor space we built. We were able to achieve both our goal and their goal.
David: What were they looking for?
Mark: They were looking to create a shopping experience that feels good to all the senses. The owners have three other of these mall-type properties, Zona Rosa (Leawood, Kansas), Peninsula Town Center
(Hampton, Virginia), and The Greene (Dayton, Ohio.) They were looking for an opportunity to make people feel good through their shopping experience. Whether it’s creating carnivals for the kids in the square or the free towel trolleys, our programming was helping their shoppers exceed their expectations.
David: What are some of the program elements that you provide for the mall?
Mark: We handle all of their programs for families and children on the square. We handle Square Kids, which happens every Tuesday. Wednesday is JCC day on the square. We run carnivals, splashing games in the fountain, chalk art. We do everything. We have mini-Maccabi games, baby ballet class, an instrument petting zoo with the symphony, and a program where kids can dance with the cheerleaders from the Milwaukee Bucks. We partner with a local nature center, and a local arts and crafts studio. We are in charge of the towel trolley. It has become of the signature pieces for us and the Town Center. There is a bubbling fountain in the middle of the square and we have set up a cart with towels for parents to dry off their kids for no charge. Bayshore pays for the entire service including the staffing, towels and laundering. We train the staff as membership staff for the JCC.
David: Am I correct in thinking they are not simply there to take in towels; they are there to develop relationships with the people who are using that service.
Mark: While the towels are being handed out, people are asking all about the JCC. The staff is there to answer questions and give them a week pass to the JCC.
David: What other programming elements do you have there?
Mark: Year round we have J Shore, the indoor center piece. It’s a 2,000 square foot store front. It’s our space to do anything we want. We offered in the first year free classes to the community, starter classes of things we already do, baby ballet classes, mom and tots classes and senior-adult lunch and learn programming. We are currently programming between 10 and 15 hours a week inside this space. We are growing up to 20-25 hours a week programming inside this space this coming year. For the first time we are going to offer paid classes, which is more than just the free starter classes we have been offering at the mall. We believe wecan do this without cannibalizing our existing program here. We have found a club of people who are connecting there and are not coming across the bridge to the JCC. We might as well keep them connected.
David: Is there anything else?
Mark: We also have our J-Walkers program. We branded those people who are already morning mall walkers. We gave them a key fob that has our logo on it. They have a little check in where they can scan in at J-Shore. If they scan more than 20 times a month, they are entered into a raffle for a gift card to Bayshore.
David: In this case your commitment towards wellness and health coincides with their trying to create community by actually creating positive reasons for people to exercise.
Mark: We send over our personal trainers one day a week. We are developing a partnership with Aurora Health Care, one of the major hospitals in town. They are going to be sending over their physical therapists and people from their cardio programs to be running programming every week and will be doing blood pressure screenings. For us it has created an additional partnership and touch point with Aurora, an organization we want to partner with. Then there is the gift wrap program we do during the holiday season. We are the home of gift wrapping in the mall. It has helped us create a partnership with local nonprofit organizations. We have been able to select other organizations to come and work the gift wrap table and they get the proceeds from whatever happens those days, like the Boys and Girls Club and La Causa. They come in and bring in their own volunteers and they get all the proceeds. Last year we were able to build relationships with 14 nonprofits, which are very excited to do it and are clamoring to sign up to do it again.
David: Is there anything else you do involving nonprofits?
Mark: We also allow any nonprofit organization that isn’t doing a competitive program with us the chance to use the facility any time they want. If it’s a community-based program, we will do it for free. If they are charging for their program, we will charge them; if not, we will let them use it for free.
David: Let’s now talk a little bit about the financial relationship. You have benefits and risk there too?
Mark: There definitely is. We signed a three-year partnership agreement with them. We pay a flat fee for everything we do there, including the towel trolley and the space. We get an enormous amount of electronic advertising on the electronic screens that are put up throughout Bayshore. The annual partnership agreement is a flat fee, which we recover at least 50% of in guaranteed sponsorships that the Bayshore Town Center gives back to the JCC. They also fund a substantial amount of costs for the annual fundraiser. We are having our first one this fall, where the success of the fundraiser can easily exceed the amount of money we pay for the sponsorship fee.
David: How did it come about that you were interested in exporting the JCC brand further out in the community?
Mark: Five years out from its construction phase, the JCC in Milwaukee had to understand what it meant to take its brand outside of the building. Off-Center, a program we started to run our activities outside the JCC when our building was under construction, attracted more people than the ones in our own spaces. So we knew we were going to have success outside of our building. It was also finding the right partner. Chris Jaeger (Bayshore general manager) is as crazy as I am. Truth be told, these were some of the easy decisions because you have a partner who is willing to take the same risks as you are. Sometimes that is where innovation comes from, finding someone else who you can talk your ideas through with. There is no question that each of us is better together than apart. So I don’t know if it was as conscious a thought as you described. It was still a leap of faith.
David: Some people would look at that and think you’re crazy, or it’s the definition of what executive leadership is.
Mark: It’s a little bit of both. One of the biggest challenges was how I was going to get the board of directors to approve this idea. I found one or two officers who had the same approach to innovation as I did. I cultivated the ideas with them, they approved it and brought it to the whole board. Because we were taking the JCC brand to a more public venue, I felt the board needed to be a part of that decision.
David: Do think the concept of getting outside of the JCC and doing programming there leads to more people in the main building?
Mark: Of course, we want to get more people in the building. The question is, is it a direct line? I don’t think it’s a direct line anymore from advertising to getting them in the building. I believe one of things we are all missing is that we have to go out to where they are, because if we don’t they will never
connect with us.
David: Thank you