The recent economy has created an abundance of unoccupied spaces and some retailers are putting them to good (if not permanent) use. Pop-up stores have become an interesting and profitable way to reach more customers as well as create increase brand awareness.
Temporary in nature, pop-ups typically do not offer a full or in depth assortment of goods and can be leveraged to communicate varying ideas. Target, for example, has used pop-ups in Manhattan in the past to bolster its fashion cred in a very public forum. The stores created an enormous amount of buzz without carrying the typical staples available at most other Target facilities.
Toys ”R” Us has opened nearly 600 pop-up Toys “R” Us Express stores this holiday season, nearly doubling the number of doors they have open and thus adding a tremendous capacity for those must-have holiday toys. When it comes to branding, these stores are bare-bones and Spartan, to say the least. Temporary banners adorn the storefronts and stock fixture. This allows for the stores to be rolled up quickly after the holiday season has ended. The space is basically borrowed and fully looks the part. In contrast, the Target stores were exceptionally branded. (Watch the video above for the David Stark & Liberty of London for Target store, to get an idea.) The pop-ups seemed to stretch the Target brand to provide that fashion vibe that makes it so different from the more basic store. Two very different tactics with the same result in mind: increased exposure.
Many established brands have also discovered that pop-up stores are a great way to publicize an event or product launch. It is an ideal way to create news around the brand with a quick strike that is both efficient and cost effective. Last year, the Gap leveraged the pop-up format to draw attention to its Pantone line of colorful T-shirts. Also last year, P&G launched a free sampling pop-up that encouraged guests to sample a variety of their products and had a good participation over a very short period. Both were done to create awareness of a product or line.
In urban locations, I believe pop-up stores can create disruption in a daily commute that attracts attention — basically, due to activity in a vacant or seemingly forgotten space. In some instances, quirky or irregular architecture works for the brand and affords the opportunity to go beyond the typical branded look to make a statement.
Some brands also have discovered that occupying vacant tenant space allows them to play to a strictly seasonal customer and create an annual presence without the fixed costs of permanent facilities. Halloween City, a division of Spencer Gifts, occupies larger vacant spaces starting in the months leading up to Halloween. This past year, they had over 800 locations nationwide — not bad for a brand relevant only for short time each year. Wire fixtures, easy to put up and take down, are brought in for merchandise. Makeshift cash wraps and fitting rooms are the only other elements in the space. Lighting, flooring and wall are all carried over from the previous tenant. During the weeks leading up to the big event, pop-ups such as these drive traffic to neighboring established brands as well.
Unoccupied mall space has also become plentiful. Many brands, like KB Toys, have shut their doors. The spaces that have opened up have become ideal for the mom and pop types of pop-ups. With an entrepreneurial dream and a good idea, these one-off stores have the potential to become the new brands and concepts of the future. Some of these infant brands will make it, some will not, but the pop-up store at least affords them the chance to legitimize their businesses in brick and mortar.
Until the volume of vacant space is depleted, pop-up stores should thrive. They are an ideal way to create buzz and opportunity to extend your brand in a timely, cost-effective manner.