Starting Out as a Pop-Up Shop

A rising number of stores around the world are testing new markets by opening temporary retail spaces known as “pop-up shops.” According to pop-up expert Christina Norsig, the 2009 recession led to a huge rise in retail space vacancies, which created a perfect opportunity for retailers to take advantage of short-term, inexpensive leases. While pop-up stores had always existed, this combination of circumstances cemented it as a powerful retail trend.

Pop-up stores quickly attract curious crowds before moving on, generating plenty of buzz and exposure for the brand. Their transitory nature offers a level of surprise and a feeling of exclusivity for consumers that are “in-the-know.” According to Norsig, today’s consumers have a short attention span and crave the thrill of the hunt. Many eCommerce companies have been riding the wave of the pop-up craze and are using the model as a litmus test before opening a brick-and-mortar store. Notably, in 2009, popular online store Piperlime opened a wildly successful pop-up location, kicked off by an appearance from fashionista Rachel Zoe. The result? A permanent location in SoHo.

While many eCommerce companies are using pop-up shops as a way to break into the brick-and-mortar business, it can also be attractive to entrepreneurs who want to open their first store. Jaya Kahlon of Toronto, Ontario, is the successful owner of SAUVAGE, a small boutique that started as a pop-up.

Jaya wanted to introduce cool labels that were under-represented in Toronto to a fashion-forward crowd. In 2012, she opened a pop-up store to see how area locals would respond to certain brands. She chose Queen Street West, a popular site for independent retailers that sell unique and edgy designs. For several months, the temporary shop drew in shoppers from the eclectic neighborhood and from Toronto at large. She used this concept to build interest in the brands, as well as to collect data about shoppers’ tastes in the Queen West area.

The project was incredibly successful and drew many repeat clients, leading Jaya to open a permanent store just over a year ago. Those same clients continue to visit at her permanent location, which is just a block away from her pop-up roots.

The opportunities to create customer memories and boost brand exposure using the pop-up model are vast. It’s a concept that both mega corporations and independent retailers can employ to equal advantage, and given the ever-shrinking attention spans of consumers, it’s a strategy worth exploring.