Why pop-up shops are no temporary trend: BRC, Appear Here and Transport for London discuss

No longer simply the preserve of independent retailers and food vendors, pop-up innovation is shaking up the retail market with more established brands popping up in temporary spaces, creating memorable brand experiences.

Pop-up shops have become ever more popular, with high streets across the country becoming home to temporary franchises cropping up in disused retail spaces. But no longer is pop-up simply the domain of small independent businesses. It’s now a lucrative means of bringing innovative retail experiences to life, and the names popping up are bigger than ever, with brands such as Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton and Nokia investing in the trend.

Pop-up shops add an estimated £2.1bn to the economy each year, a figure which could increase by over eight per cent in the next 12 months and one which led Richard Lim, head of business information at the British Retail Consortium (BRC), to proclaim: “we’re only at the beginning of the pop-up revolution”. The concept might not be new, but more and more online-only retailers are dipping their toes in the bricks and mortar world with temporary lets, while traditional high-street retailers are trying out new ideas in small, short-term spaces.

And leading the charge is not a retailer’s operational department; the decision to ‘pop-up’ is frequently falling into the domain of the chief marketing officer. “Marketers are spending their money on print and digital. But once they’ve maxed that out they’re thinking about retail and if they can pay for it flexibly it can be scalable and cost effective as an acquisition channel,” explained Ross Bailey, cofounder of Appear Here.

Appear Here could be described as the Airbnb for commercial property. It was established just 18 months ago by Bailey to help make the process of renting vacant shops for short periods as easy as booking a hotel room. Retailers can rent a space for as little as a week and sign the lease within a few clicks via the website. Bailey explains that he came to the idea after setting up his own pop-up shop selling t-shirts in Carnaby Street during the Queen’s Jubilee. A few weeks later, the CMO of Under Armour called him for advice on how to set up a pop-up for the Olympics.

“I though there must be a pain point for you to call up some random kid in London and at that moment realised that it was the same issue for the big brands as for little guys,” Bailey says.

Transport for London (TfL) is among the landlords to have started renting out vacant space through the company. “It is a key part of the TfL retail strategy,” explains TfL’s head of retail Stuart Anderson.

“We have 1,200 units across our portfolio and at some time some of these will be vacant.” TfL has created a “pop-up destination” at Old Street Station in London’s east end and is opening up space in Piccadilly Circus where retailers can lease space for a week, a month or a year.

Citing his favourite example, Anderson said Jamie Oliver brought his cocktail making YouTube channel – Drinks Tube – into the real world. Nothing was for sale in the pop-up, instead people could request for a new cocktail through social media using the hashtag #CocktailRequest and then watch it being made.

“From a consumer perspective, neither digital nor physical retail is enough for today’s shopper, and what pop-up shops are able to do is link the internet wold with the real world,” he says.

Fashion brand Marc Jacobs is similarly investing in the pop-up space. Last month, it created a pop-up shop to promote its latest fragrance, Daisy. Rather than creating a place where people could purchase goods with money, social currency prevailed and the space became a physical call for online engagement with the brand.

Visitors to the store were encouraged to tweet pictures and videos of the shop – which was opened for three days – using the hashtag #mjdaisychain and in exchange they would receive a free manicure or keyring. Natalie Moon, marketing director at Coty Prestige – the manufacturer of the Daisy fragrance – says:

“One long weekend is the perfect amount of time for the pop-up Tweet Shop. It was long enough for consumers to have time to stop by and experience the world of Daisy, yet it was short enough to leave them wanting more, curious about where it will pop up next.”

Appear Here’s Bailey agrees, explaining that for a pop-up to grab the increasingly fleeting attention of the consumer it has to take advantage of a moment. “In the same way ITV pitches space around the X Factor to all of the media agencies, we can do that physically. It’s giving retailers the opportunity to attach themselves to a moment in time.” For Wimbledon this year, tennis ace Maria Sharapova launched a pop-up shop for her sweet brand Sugarpova. The store on Wimbledon High Street appeared the week before the tournament and closed its doors almost immediately after.

Similarly, Louis Vuitton opened its first pop-up shop in Dover Street Market last month in time for London Fashion Week and the market’s 10th anniversary celebrations. The store showcases a selected edit of Nicolas Ghesquiere’s debut AW14 womenswear collection. “There has to be a curiosity and an opportunity to miss out; were you there, did you see it, did you hear about it? And it’s the kudos of discovering it for yourself. Brands are realising that to be here today you have to be gone tomorrow. It’s that scarcity that has real value to consumers and pop-ups bring that for brands,” adds Bailey. Finally, the pop-up shop can be a place for brands to try out a new store design, technology, collection of goods or even a concept, without investing heavily.

Boxpark in Shoreditch, London, is a ‘pop-up mall’ built from old shipping containers and is temporary in every sense of the word. “That whole area is going to disappear in a year. It has the intention to do that. They’ve brought the audience to them compared to something like Old Street where you take ideas to an audience,” says Baily. Among the residents are Gap, which is using the space to hold events such as DJ nights and to showcase a curated collection before it appears in general stores.

Meanwhile, student travel agency STA Travel is testing a digital concept store in the space which features iPads, free Wi-Fi and digital screens showing the latest holiday deals. And just a few doors down, the Guardian has launched an entirely new venture – its own coffee store. Littered with tablets, a tweet wall and plenty of workspace, it also houses a space for interviews and hosts regular events. The likes of Boxpark, underground pop-ups and other initiatives of this ilk are indicative of the massive change our high streets are experiencing.

BRC’s Richard Lim says the organisation is supportive of such initiatives, having recently partnered with EE to bring better technology to pop-up stores.

“It shows just how innovative a sector retail is. It’s becoming much more experiental and is not just about going in and getting your groceries once a week. The high street is changing,” he says. Agreeing, Bailey called for a ban to the word popup: “It’s just retail – people wanting to showcase their wares and products. They should be able to do that over a week, a year or five years if they want to.”

Rather than culling the sense of community in town centres by appearing and disappearing, pop-up retailers have generated their own unique kind. Anderson says: “We’ve got one pop-up that’s been in Old Street for 40 years – a fruit stall. The owner is very much part of the culture and environment; he advised a pop-up next door selling health juices about the best place to buy fruit and vegetables and even took him to his supplier at four in the morning. It’s indicative of the pop-up culture – sharing information and helping each other. It’s not just about making money.”

This interview was originally published within The Drum magazine's 3 September issue, available to purchase through The Drum Store.

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