Have you considered starting a business, but found the costs of renting an inline store or standalone shop prohibitive? A mall or airport kiosk or retail merchandising unit (RMU) may be your opportunity. With more manageable start-up costs, ranging from $2,000 to $8,000, kiosks and RMUs are a more accessible way to become a business owner.

Running a kiosk or RMU can be a highly gratifying and lucrative venture. Like any entrepreneur, you will have the opportunity to wear a lot of different hats including marketing, branding, and administration. It can be a great opportunity if you enjoy a dynamic workday, have an entrepreneurial spirit, and want to step into business ownership without a significant capital investment.

You’ll have a lot of work to do on the business side, but before you start opening business accounts and taking out insurance, you will need to consider the products you are going to sell.

Maybe you already have a product you are passionate about, which may be your inspiration for starting a business in the first place. However, if you are unsure about what you want to sell, we’ve laid out some ideas to consider. Below you’ll find time-tested and proven concepts as well as innovative up-and-coming ideas.

First, here are two things to remember that will help you set your business apart when you have less space than traditional retail stores:

Give the Customer Options

One of the downsides of a kiosk is the competition; you are in a mall with dozens of other retail stores, sometimes selling the same products that you do. It may feel daunting going toe-to-toe with big brand-name companies, but kiosks do have advantages. One philosophy is to give the customer more options of one product than they are likely to find at a big-box store. A retailer that is only carrying one or two versions of something a customer needs is likely to lose a lot of customers that don’t like their meager options.

Give the Customers a Unique Product

The mall is full of products vying for a customer’s attention, but mall kiosks and RMUs are uniquely positioned to offer the customers products that are distinctive. As a smaller businesses, carts and kiosks can find and fill holes in the markets they serve more nimbly.


1. Sunglasses

Sunglasses are a well-tested kiosk staple. A few things make sunglasses great:

  • Everyone uses them; they aren’t a fad or niche product.
  • Customers want to try sunglasses on, which gives you an opportunity to connect with people.
  • People lose sunglasses all the time!

Sunglasses are relevant for all demographics and are not location dependent. They are frequently a recurring purchase – everyone knows someone who loses their sunglasses every few months, and they are fragile enough to need to be replaced regularly even if you do keep track of them.

Because of their universal appeal, sunglasses can be sold in both airports and malls. Travelers may have forgotten theirs, or not realized they needed them in an unfamiliar environment. Or vacationers might be looking to “treat themselves” with a convenient and useful accessory.

There are also many different types of specialty sunglasses, from sunglasses specially made for various hobbies to colored sunglasses that claim to boost mood. Sunglasses also go through various trends such as wooden frames. A section of specialty sunglasses can draw attention to your RMU and set you apart, generating interest and a great sales opportunity.

There are some barriers to overcome, though. Most malls and airports will already have a sunglasses vendor. This can be mitigated by choosing a more prominent or convenient location, which will require deep understanding of the consumer. Like this story (insert story) shows, location can give you the advantage you need to succeed against competitors.

2. Phone Accessories

Electronics themselves can be risky to sell in an RMU – both because of the higher risk of shoplifters (blog) and because people tend to buy cheaper “impulse” items from kiosks over expensive items like electronics.

Electronic accessories, on the other hand, lend themselves well to cart/kiosk sales. Flashy phone cases and pop-sockets will draw attention, while a plethora of options will give you the opportunity to make customer connections and cross-sell. A kiosk gives you the opportunity to provide the customer with designs that are less mainstream and might match their style and interests better.

Red Cell Phone Case

Like sunglasses, phone accessories, particularly cases, are nearly universally relevant and frequently repeat purchases. They are affordable enough to be low-hurdle impulse decisions. An enormous variety of distinctive and quirky accessories outside of traditional cases can help you draw attention and start conversations.

Also like sunglasses, phone accessories have some barriers you’ll need to overcome. Competition for phone cases and other accessories is high. However, there are enough types of phone cases and unique accessories that you can carve yourself a niche in the market by offering products your local competition doesn’t. You can also experiment with designing your own cases, or commissioning art for new designs, if you suspect there is a hole in the current offerings.

Cookie display

3. Food

Food is a consumer staple, and food stores tend to perform better in economic downturns than retail stores. Consumers also tend to have a stronger loyalty to specific food items than to other purchases, repeatedly buying their favorite pretzel every time they go to the mall or suggesting a mind-blowing ice cream flavor to all their friends.

Food is a consumable; every time a customer buys your food item you are selling them an experience. Some food also has the benefit of advertising itself; pleasant smells will draw hungry shoppers.

A food kiosk set-up can bring focus and emphasis to its offerings, grabbing customers attention for an impulse buy. Depending on the type of food you choose to sell, a kiosk may also be able to house dozens of options and variations, providing something that may entice every passing customer.

Because of this specialization, a food kiosk is less likely to face direct competition. While there will be other restaurants and carts offering food, you are more likely to be the sole donut vendor or chocolate connoisseur.

For that reason, you’ll want to make sure you choose a food category that doesn’t have a lot of close competition; a kiosk will have a bit of a space disadvantage compared to a restaurant. It’ll also be important to think about the actual eating experience. Is the food you choose something customers can comfortably and easily eat on the go, or will you need seating?

There are some unique entry barriers to opening a food kiosk, including higher initial costs and extra regulations and rules to comply with. Also, because food items are perishable, so inventory management will be vital. Each customer exchange will also require more time and personalized interaction than a simple sale as you serve them their refreshments. Back-ups in your service line can be adverse if you are positioned as an impulse buy.

These barriers shouldn’t discourage you. Connecting over food is a staple of society; you’ll have opportunities to create relationships that vendors selling non-food products can’t, which can create repeat customers out of ordinary interactions. In addition, food kiosk are an example of how having added barriers to entry can be a benefit, as it often translates into less competition.

 4. Apparel

For many people, clothing is the purpose of a mall visit. Dozens of retailers with specific styles makes it possible to curate a wardrobe or find a specific piece for an outfit. This is where its important to understand your ideal customer demographic; the people who will be passing your kiosk that you’ll be targeting. You can draw their attention with items they need and close the sale by having unique designs they can’t find in a more mainstream retail store.

As an example, if you live in a town with a lot of hiking locations, hiking gear sourced from unique manufacturers might be a good option. Or if your location has a particular interest in a show or activity, looking for apparel connected to that local draw might prove profitable.

You can do this for any product you choose to sell, but we suggest it for apparel in particular because of the enormous range of types, uses and styles of clothing: talk to potential customers about experiences they’ve had with looking for a specific article or type of clothing that they couldn’t find in person. See if you can find any trends. Consider doing surveys to determine if there is a more general interest in your community. Are there stores with products adjacent to what yours that you could offer more options for? Some creativity can go a long way in figuring out what is missing and how you could fill those needs.

Colorful Scarves

There are also some great options to make your own apparel, creating one-of-a-kind offerings. You can make the artwork yourself or buy it, but this option might be a great way to bring something new to your mall that customers can’t get anywhere else. Word of mouth can generate more sales when customers receive compliments or questions about your products.

Apparel is subjective in terms of appeal, so you’ll have to have a deep understanding of your customer base. No matter how well you know your base, you may still end up with pieces that miss the mark, forcing you to sell at a discount.

5. Artwork

While bigger retail stores will sell mass-produced artwork, a kiosk has the opportunity to sell one-of-a-kind pieces that provide extra value to customers through their inherent uniqueness.

You’ll have to know your customer base a bit here as well, but art is a personal experience and gratifies desires rather than needs, so there is no formula that will tell you exactly what will be successful. It will be important to match the general tastes of your customers, though. If you are selling dark, brooding pieces, but most of the people who pass your kiosks are young families, they may not be able to envision hanging the work in their home.

With art you’ll be able to connect with customers over the story of each piece, starting conversations about the artist or the purpose behind the artwork. Customers will be able to walk away knowing they own something unique.

Selling art will take upfront work unique to the market. You’ll need to find local or online artists that match the style and content you are interested in selling, and they’ll need to be interested in working with you.

Like apparel, art is subjective. It can be challenging to determine what styles will sell, and tastes can change rapidly. If you don’t sell your products you may end up having to liquidate at steeply discounted prices or having to decorate your own home with all of your wares!

6. Locally Made Items

Shopping mall browsers may not be accustomed to shopping at the mall to specifically look for locally-made items, but more than half of consumers say they prefer to buy from a local business rather than a national retailer.

Finding locally made items to source will be a unique challenge. You’ll be limited by what is already being made or what you have the capacity to make yourself. Local business directories can help you find brick-and-mortar shops that might be willing to work with you. Other businesses making items locally may be too small to have a building of their own, possibly working out of homes or garages. You might be able to find these businesses at local fairs, expos, and community days.

Locally made items tend to engender greater support and interest, but you’ll still need to think carefully about what items you stock. It may make sense to put yourself in direct competition with other retailers in the mall: you have the advantage of selling locally produced products and you already know there is a demand for the items. Selling a variety of items might help catch more consumer interest as well.

7. Accessories

As with apparel, selling accessories from your cart or kiosk will set you in competition with the larger retailers at your mall. Accessories lend themselves well to bright, eye-catching visual displays, pulling customers in for an impulse buy.

There are a wide range of accessories you could decide to sell, so you will have to decide if you want to specialize on a type of accessory or on a thematic style in a range of accessories. Specializing and offering a wide variety of a specific item, such as jewelry for piercings, may set you apart from other retailers with more limited offerings. It may also bring your customers back every time they want a new piece of jewelry for their piercing.

On the other hand, you could choose a broader range of complimentary accessory items, like stocking both scarves and hair accessories. Choosing colorful, vibrant centerpieces will grab customers’ attention. Give them the opportunity to examine and try on your wares so you have time to make a connection and cross-sell items that will accentuate their first choice.

Like apparel, selling accessories will require in-depth knowledge of your customer base and their taste, as well as the competition around you. You’ll also need enthusiasm and interest in the products you sell to be able to excite customers.


If you decide to open a mall kiosk or RMU, picking what you will sell is the first important choice you will make. Stay tuned for our next installment “Next Steps for Opening Your Mall Kiosk or RMU”. Have you opened a unique RMU? Let us know in the comments what you offer! And if you need a lockable fabric cover to secure your cart/kiosk after hours, give us a call!


Contact Megan Kalima

Equip, Inc.