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Why New York City Retailers Love Pop-Up Shops

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Pop-up shops are springing up faster than Buzzfeed gifs on Facebook. In the past year alone, online jewelry retailer BaubleBar hosted over fifty sponsored events at their Greene Street pop up, and Kate Spade Saturday introduced its entire new brand to New York via giant temporary touch-screen windows, where customers could order merchandise for Manhattan delivery within an hour. They now have a Soho store and a "traditional" pop up in the Meatpacking District—and another digital pop-up shop is opening for the holiday season, this time in JFK Airport's Jet Blue terminal.

Meanwhile, a handful of online brands transitioned to live retail for the long haul, like eyewear brands Tortoise and Blonde "popping in" at Urban Outfitters's Noho location and Warby Parker turning its once temporary brick-and-mortar annex in the Meatpacking District into a full-fledged flagship.

Though it's not exclusively online brands digging into the trend of temporary retail, they certainly represent their fair share of the pop-up pie, and no two brands host a pop up in the same way. Desired outcomes vary as well—some may be looking to just drum up brand buzz, while others are testing out a permanent location. Customers have continually flooded these events, and companies keep expanding the definition of what these retail spaces can be. So why do retailers love 'em so darn much?

There are two strong reasons: For one, they like that a limited-time offering draws customers in, much like online flash sales. And second, they have commitment issues—retailers like the freedom of mobility pop-up shops offer, as opposed to being locked into a long-term lease. With retailers relishing in that flexibility, and shoppers digging pop-up shop's offerings of special prices and events, it looks like temporary stores are the ultimate shopping win-win.

Those in the business have definitely caught on to the fact that the urgency of time creates demand—the term "pop up" in itself indicates temporariness. "It's like that old thing: If you can't have it, you want it," said Stephanie Pappas, the former owner of Eva New York who has taken advantage of this urgency by turning the now-shuttered Bowery shop into an exclusive short-term retail space. "So when people know it's not going to be there for a long time, they tend to flock to it."


Eva New York, now Open Gallery Space

It also allows designers to take greater charge of their product than they could in established retails stores, as Pappas used to do with Eva New York. "It just worked out that I could evolve into a pop-up shop where it could be more about the designer, their vision, and what they want to do." As an example, Kanye West's Yeezus Tour shop was a recent resident.

Designers, artists, and fashion businesses who are coming to New York for a limited time can rent out what she calls her "open gallery space" for as little as one day or as long as three months. "What I've done before has been a couple days, or two or three weeks, but people I'm speaking with for spring want two-month-long pop up shops," Pappas said of the schedule she's still finalizing.

Tristan Pollock also saw a need for brands, especially online ones, to connect with their customers in person, so he co-founded Storefront to match designers and crafters with space for temporary retail. "A lot of these new brands grew up online, and now they're coming back offline," Pollock explained. Storefront serves designers in the New York and San Francisco areas, helping them find anything from standalone shops to market booths and even providing insurance. Storefront is now also the exclusive coordinator for retailers to pop up inside the city's subway system.

"So many people wanted to get into retail and they didn't want to find a five-or ten-year lease and get stuck in one location," said Pollock. "They want to move around by the day, week, or month throughout the year, and go to markets, malls, retail stores, and be able to grow their business offline as well as online."

It's this issue of commitment that pop-ups seem to be skirting, making them the friends with benefits of the retail world—all the fun without any of the serious work, like signing a lease and paying high rents or maintaining a staff long-term. It allows retailers to always be on top of what's current, whether it's being in the hottest neighborhood du jour or capitalizing on a pop culture trend.


BaubleBar's Soho pop-up, courtesy of BaubleBar

Pop-up shops in New York City also tend to have more in-store events than the defunct Fashion's Night Out. "It's like an event within an event," said Pollock. "You have a pop up, which is essentially a retail event, and then inside that pop up they'll do a launch party or a new clothing line, or they'll even have workshops and classes and speakers."

And if there's a legal limit for how many events a pop-up shop can have, BaubleBar certainly surpassed it this summer. They were looking for a format that "allowed us to explore the social aspect of shopping," said Julie Straus, BaubleBar's director of partnerships.

So their seemingly endless summer pop-up shop on Greene Street, with partners like Gin Lane Media creating an in-store app and Perch Interactive setting up a visual display, represented a creative way to attract new shoppers and to keep them coming back. "We saw folks coming back and shopping multiple times with us over the course of the summer," Straus continued. "They're able to touch and feel the product again, and then transition to shopping with us online."

Kate Spade Saturday decided to go a bit subtler with the transition from online shopping to brick-and-mortar by installing four touch-screen shopping windows throughout Manhattan this summer. "This felt like an innovative way to merge the online and offline worlds," said Kyle Andrew, the brand's senior vice president, of the partnership with eBay.

The tech-y approach was not only fun for shoppers, but also crucial for the new brand to collect customer info. "Not only were we selling product but we were gathering valuable marketing data at the same time," Andrew explained. "We were able to tell how many people walked by the windows, how many people actually stopped to interact with the windows, how much time they spent there, and how many actually placed orders." That included a lot of umbrellas sold on rainy days, she added.

And that eventually translated to more tangible retail in some of those spots, both temporary (a pop-up on Gansevoort Street) and permanent (at Spring Street). After shoppers used the windows, "there was a strong push from our customers to open retail locations so that they could come in, feel the product, and try it all on," Andrew said.

So where will pop up shops go from here? One thing we know for certain is that its name will keep changing. While some shops pop "up" in empty spaces, others pop "in" to other stores. And while Warby held an "annex," DailyCandy held a "bazaar." In general, "everything gets labeled 'pop up' because that's one term that encompasses everything" and means the same thing to many people, said Straus, adding, "it comes to semantics."

Regardless of the name, pop-ups are sticking around for the foreseeable future. "I think pop-up shops are the term of now, but it's this retail experience—it's not going to go away," said Pollock. "It's just going to potentially change names or be used in different manners, but there's always that need for a really accessible form of retail" for storeowners, to get in and out quickly without any commitment to location.

"I love looking at other brands, and you see what Birchbox or Warby" is doing, said BaubleBar's Straus. "Everybody is just having so much fun with it, getting more creative, taking it to the next level."
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