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MK Illumination’s grottos and animation concepts make a dramatic impact and create steady revenue.

The new-age consumer is savvy and has high expectations. This means shopping centers must continually review the “experience” within their malls to meet demand. Christmas time is the ultimate test for this, as it is one of the busiest periods on the retail calendar with competition for spend (on and offline) and footfall at its peak. It is no surprise that those centers that deliver the best Christmas experience will surpass the competition – creating a “not to be missed” grotto and animation is essential.

For a successful grotto and animation to add real value, John Barber, Head of Grottos and Animation at MK Illumination, emphasizes that the sheer size or interactive element of a grotto often creates the impact that both customers and shopping center managers are after: “Our installation at Bluewater for Christmas 2013 was a prime example of best practice within the UK market. The scale and design drove footfall to the center with over 20,000 children enjoying the experience over a five-week period. Customers were greeted by a huge ice castle linked with an interactive concept that had three Santa chambers to reduce queuing time, creating real impact. Customer research identified that annual return visits were up year on year and the main reason for their visit was the grotto – even with a charge of £5 for entry, which was the first time Bluewater had charged for grotto entrance.” The 300-store Bluewater shopping center is located in Kent. One customer said: “What a stunning ice palace. A magical moment for my whole family with the real Father Christmas. He even knew the adults’ names. A true Disney experience. We will be re-visiting before Christmas Eve!”


Grotto and animation management is a unique business model within the UK market, where customers often pay to visit Santa or see a 3D film. On exiting the grotto, they spend further through merchandise including photos, snow globes, soft toys, and key rings, generating revenue for the shopping centers and increasing the return on investment for malls. This revenue generation model allows malls to invest heavily in design and creativity for their grottos, which drives footfall and helps a center reach its key performance indicators.

The best grotto and animation concepts in today’s market involve themes that connect with local shoppers and marketing plans that often involve interactive elements. MK Illumination has launched some great concepts in this arena, so we are one to watch. A recent trend is for grotto experiences to have open frontages to allow customers to get a sneak peek of the adventure ahead of them. From a practical point of view, centers within portfolios are now looking for inter-mobility between sister centers, allowing re-theming on grottos to keep costs at a minimum while reviving the experience for shoppers annually.


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