Having lost so much ground to the convenience of online shopping, old-school feet-on-the-floor retailers are fighting back with the flash and panache of pop-up stores. Recently in New York, for example, the British boy band One Direction tapped a momentary market by creating 1D World near Madison Square Garden to sell fingernail stickers, iPhone cases and varsity jackets to teenage fans attending the band’s show at the arena.
This trendy phenomenon has been useful for collaboration between brands, as when Vogue, the Council of Fashion Designers of America and upscale clothier Nordstrom partnered to show off goods from rising stars in the design industry in six stores across the country. Beginning in February, the cross-promotion ended when the merchandise ran out.
A common reason for popping up is simply to grab attention. Early this year, the menswear designer Duncan Quinn divided a 1966 London double-decker bus into one part mobile bespoke boutique and one part cocktail lounge. It’s rolled through New York, Miami and Los Angeles, admitting guests by reservation only.
Tina Santiago, a user-experience designer for the firm Hot Studio and organizer of the Pop (Up) Culture panel at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, believes that given economic trends, this phenomenon is apt to last. “Inventory will move online, and the demand for long-term leases will decrease,” Santiago says. “Property owners will have to start considering short-term leases or other alternative agreements, lowering the barrier to entry for other entrepreneurs. We’ll see more pop-ups—more staging, prototyping and experimenting ideas.”
Pop-up solutions can make sense when selling to consumers of all economic backgrounds: Market Street shopping center in The Woodlands—a ritzy Houston suburb—makes 200 square feet available for a few weeks each year so Big Little Fudge can offer chocolate treats to shoppers of Tiffany & Co. and Norton Ditto. In Cleveland’s struggling old Slovenian neighborhood, developers have even offered short-term, rent-free leases to startups ranging from a hip-hop dance studio to a genealogical society.
Mobile technologies, such as Square and PayPal Here, have empowered pop-up success, but social media is driving the revolution. Location, location, location isn’t quite the same asset when an audience can be conjured via iPhone, says Santiago. “Businesses can now build consumer demand in quicker, cheaper and more agile ways. When brand experience becomes less associated with a physical space and more with the overall experience, online and offline, then permanency in a space becomes less important.”
Shunt, the London theater collective, has staged plays in the vaults beneath the London Bridge subway station and in a tobacco warehouse, among other nontraditional venues.
Seeming purposefully nebulous in its area of expertise, The Pop Up Agency is a buzzy collective made up of six international students who are “part of a generation which flows effortlessly from one dimension to the other.” They offer to fly anywhere in the world, meet with a client to come up with a project, concept or strategy, and move on in 48 hours’ time. “Every day new ideas pop up in our heads when we think about popping up at a place where we have never been before,” the group explains on its website.
If 50,000 people spending a week in the middle of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert for Burning Man isn’t impressive enough, consider Kumbh Mela, the 48-day Hindu religious festival held once every 12 years in northern India. With some 80 million people making the pilgrimage this year, Kumbh Mela was dubbed “the world’s largest pop-up mega-city” by Harvard Gazette.