interior of bloomist location
The interior of Bloomist's pop-up store inside Maman cafe in New York City. — Bloomist

Pop music sensation BTS, celebrity chefs, Google, Amazon, retail icons like Nike and digitally native upstarts all play the pop-up store game – opening temporary retail spaces to amp up excitement.

Strategic objectives are as diverse as the players: BTS’ May 2019 pop-up stores kick off a world tour to capitalize on fan mania for boy band merchandise. Chefs experiment with daring new culinary creations like Cheetos-infused dishes. Google offers free workshops while Nike’s Atlanta pop-up, described as the “physical manifestation” of its mobile app, attracted a line of sneaker heads that snaked around a city block.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s decision to close 87 pop-up kiosks is not viewed as a failed venture but rather a yearlong experiment, informing next moves in brick-and-mortar retailing including expansion of Amazon Books and Amazon 4-Star, which sells only products rated 4 stars or above on Amazon.com.

Off limits to no one, pop-up stores — some open only a few hours or days — have become a marketing mainstay. Their fleeting presence stokes curiosity for what may be a whirlwind romance or the beginning of an enduring relationship.

The universal thread linking all pop-up retailing initiatives is the drive to learn about consumers’ evolving desires and to test new retail concepts, sites, markets and products – a low-risk, low-cost proposition. Conditions could not be better to give pop-ups a try: retail vacancies are at a seven-year high; short-term space rental marketplaces like PopUp Shops, Appear Here and Storefront make it easy for landlords and tenants to find each other; and shopping mall owners no longer insist on multi-year leases.

“There is absolutely no doubt right now that short term is the new long term,” Storefront CEO Mohamed Haouache told NPR, noting malls that once let space sit vacant rather than accept a short-term lease have changed their tune. Kimco Realty, Simon Property Group and Westfield are among those now offering pop-up programs with flexible leasing terms unthinkable years ago, generating revenue and foot traffic for long-term mall tenants, too.

“There are many vacancies now in shopping centers and malls and these landlords are trying to figure this out, to reinvent themselves,” PopUp Shops co-founder Barry Goldware told CO—. He said PopUp Shops may partner with a company that leases large spaces from malls and then divides, subleases and curates a group of pop-up operators that complement one another.

Location is everything. And you want a good location – within a location.

Barry Goldware, co-founder, PopUp Shops

If only you could pick your neighbors – wait, you can!

Favorable adjacencies is a priority for Bloomist CEO and co-founder Michael Zung, now halfway through a three-month pop-up in New York, the top destination for pop-up stores, according to research firm JLL.

When scouting out a pop-up location for Bloomist, which sells exquisite dried flowers and nature-inspired home décor, Zung visited a highly touted, trendy space but it lacked the atmosphere he sought and later found at Maman café and bakery, with its south of France, shabby chic ambiance. Zung’s pop-up neighbors inside Maman, such as Le Boudoir, Apotheke and Rose & Rex, share an emphasis on fine goods and even the neutral color palette Bloomist favors.

“Maman was our vibe,” he told CO—. “They have the profile as well. Maman is among the top 10 most Instagrammable cafés in the U.S., according to Zagat. They also were chosen by Oprah as having the best chocolate chip cookie.”

PopUp Shops’ Goldware underscored the importance of selecting a space that complements the brand, whether inside a bustling shopping mall, atop a 40-foot-long corrugated shipping container or even in an urban alleyway.

Location. Deal. But most important: What is the objective?

“Location is everything,” Goldware said. “And you want a good location – within a location.” He cautioned restraint if a coveted opportunity arises – such as a high-end mall, like Houston’s famous Galleria – but the space available is on an upper floor that sees far less foot traffic than the main level.

“You’ve got to dig into the exposure,” he said. “OK, you don’t need millions of people walking by, but you want to make sure your customer is one of them.”

After location, “It’s deal. Deal. Deal,” Goldware said. “People doing pop-ups need to understand financials, their gross margin. They need to know what they can afford to spend on rent and stick to that.” Don’t fall victim to the charm of a space if the numbers don’t work out, he said.

Other aspects to carefully consider include merchandise presentation and, if selling apparel, a pre-fab dressing room, he said. Clear pricing and signage, well-trained staff and good lighting all make for an inviting atmosphere.

Perhaps most important is identifying the overarching objective, Goldware said. “Sit back and ask yourself: ‘What is my true objective for this pop-up?’” Pick one and ensure all strategic decisions align with the goal, whether it’s to expand to a new market, test a site that could become permanent, to launch a new product line, to elevate the brand or to clear out aging merchandise from a brick-and-mortar store.

“If you want to elevate your brand, then sales are not so important. It’s exposure that is important. If you want to let the world know what a cool brand offering you have, you want them to come in and touch and feel the merchandise and truly appreciate the quality and style,” Goldware continued. “You would not put old merchandise in there.”

Zung’s chief objective for Bloomist’s pop-up is to collect feedback from shoppers interacting directly with merchandise, something not previously possible with the digitally native brand. Shopper questions such as, “Will this papier-mâché bowl hold water?” surprised Zung, who told CO—, “Of course it can’t!” Observing shoppers interacting with merchandise reveals opportunities to refine online product descriptions, anticipate how consumers use home goods and suggest helpful solutions.

A secondary objective is to test a new product not currently sold on the Bloomist website. “We are thinking of putting online a unique dried flower called Protea, the national flower of South Africa. It’s an ancient species, around since the dinosaur age,” Zung said. If pop-up shoppers respond well to the Protea, he added, Bloomist may add it to the website.

Pop-up stores create excitement, showcase exclusivity, yield valuable customer insights and build trust – especially for online-only retail. “It’s just great marketing,” concluded Goldware.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published May 21, 2019