Pop-up shops are popping up nationwide, as entrepreneurs strive to take advantage of the uptick in consumer spending around the holidays. The retail model, which calls for setting up shop in temporary spaces or at local events, is ideal for small-businesses that can’t (or don’t want to) pay to lease a traditional storefront. Pop-ups also provide sellers with an opportunity to bolster virtual brands and a means for commercial landlords to fill otherwise empty buildings on a short-term basis.
Abigail Kiefer, one of four partners in the online retailer Red Clay, took her products on the road in a 1966 Airstream trailer (pictured below). Kiefer parked her store, which showcases sustainable home decor hand-made by American artists, near the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., for its debut in early November. She subsequently spent three weeks selling wares alongside other mobile businesses in an undeveloped Fayetteville lot. Kiefer is hopeful that her personal visits will increase online sales. “[The pop-up shop gives] people the opportunity to touch and feel the objects before they buy them,” she says. Next stop: Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Nightclubs, art museums, and residential areas — especially those already packed with boutiques — are ground zero for pop-up shops. Earlier this month, Melissa Sands, owner of North Shore Flea, organized a weekend sale for 13 vendors near Chicago. “We popped up in an empty storefront [in Highwood, Ill.] that I was able to secure. We’re going to pop up again at the end of January,” she says, adding that she likes to give each pop-up shop a theme. The next one will focus on vintage jewelry.
For fledgling retailers the low overhead in a pop-up shop is especially attractive. Ryan Town launched Remix Watches in Scottsdale, Ariz., as a pop-up shop. The retailer of branded silicone LED watches in interchangeable candy colors debuted in October at an event held in conjunction with Phoenix Fashion Week. Next up, he hit nightclubs, concerts, and more fashion shows. “We did a launch party for a nightclub and that was one of our most successful days. We sold almost 200 watches,” he says.
Town logs many miles traveling to regional events. He pays no rent and peddles watches in a tastefully decorated booth. “You have to have a good setup. You can’t just put a table in the corner,” advises Town, who invested in a 10-foot by 8-foot sign that’s “colorful and aggressive.” He also uses 6-foot table cover emblazoned with his logo and a flat-screen television on which he displays the company’s YouTube videos as teasers. In 2012, Town plans to add a disc jockey to his pop-up retail concept. Even so, “it’s a low-cost way to set up shop,” he says, estimating he spent about $1,000 for the reusable set-up, including signage.
Town adds that it’s important to examine where your target customers already shop or visit. A retailer of baby clothes wouldn’t want to set up a booth inside a nightclub. Likewise, a seller of a sports products would want to seek out locations that attract active, athletically minded people.
Pop-up stores can benefit landlords, too, specifically those struggling to fill commercial units with year-round tenants. Andrew Jacobs operates a 7,000-square-foot pop-up store for JAM Paper & Envelope (pictured at top) on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, which complements the stationery store’s three permanent sites in New York and New Jersey. JAM’s two-month holiday pop-up last year extended into the new year — and it’s still in operation. “The landlord has not been able to find a long-term tenant for the space yet and is permitting me to stay in the space until it is leased long-term,” Jacobs says.
To fill 1,500 square feet of unused space, Jacobs launched a second pop-up shop within the JAM pop-up shop. A toy shop, he determined, would do well during the holiday season. “I spoke with Melissa & Doug [a designer and manufacturer of educational toys], who helped me open the store. They picked the merchandise and sent merchandisers to help make it feel fun,” he says. “I previously had zero experience with toys.”
Pop-up shops have potential for all types of small businesses. Celebrity hair stylist Naz Kupelian launched Naz Kupelian Beauty Lounge in Boston as an offshoot of his full-fledged salon there. A “style squad” mans the pop-up’s two hair and makeup stations, which cater to visitors on the go yet provide the same sophisticated vibe as the salon. What Kupelian hopes ultimately to do is encourage visitors to the mobile salon to check out his permanent operation. What better means to advertise?