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Retail commerce | Pop-ups

The Keys to Pop-Up Success

Photo: the inside of a shopping mall
An expert shares his tips for choosing a location, merchandising, and more


As far as Stephen Brooks is concerned, pop-up shops aren't just a great way for retailers to create or expand its physical presence. They can also help malls survive the ongoing "retail apocalypse."


"Shoppers have gotten bored going into shopping malls and seeing the same stores in the same locations selling the same products," says Brooks, the self-dubbed "Pop-Up Retail Expert," who has more than 35 years of retail experience. "Pop-ups can make malls more community-based, more entertaining. With them we can cultivate regional, local retailing to be the bedrock of the community."


image: Pop-up retail expert Stephen Brooks

image: Pop-up retail expert Stephen Brooks


As a retailer, your more immediate concern is probably what pop-ups can do for you—in particular, whether opening a short-term kiosk or stand in a mall or a shopping centre is right for your business.


"I really haven't come across anyone that shouldn't be trying it, other than b-to-b," Brooks says. "I don't think there's anything that should deter people from taking the pop-up concept and applying it to their own business." Particularly for online-only businesses exploring additional channels, "it's a great opportunity to test before expanding into locations and taking a more permanent approach." He adds that pop-ups can also help businesses looking for an exit strategy generate additional cash and demonstrate their viability and potential.


While Brooks contends that every consumer retailer can benefit from launching a pop-up, he notes that not every retailer has made a success of doing so. But much of that, he says, is down to missteps on the retailers' behalf. How can you avoid making the same mistakes?


• Think carefully about your location. "It's very much like buying a home; it's all about location, location, location," Brooks says. You want the mall's demographics to line up with those of your business. Foot traffic should not be your sole criterion. An obvious example: Say you sell health and wellness products for older consumers. Your local mall may get 10 times the traffic as a nearby shopping center, but if the mall is frequented primarily by teens and young adults while the shopping center is more popular with consumers 55 and older, the latter may be your better choice—especially if the shopping center's rent, fees, and other terms are more amenable (which they're apt to be).


Once you've settled on your location, you still need to think about your locale within it. "If you're in fashion, you might want to be near other fashion stores, or maybe you'd want to stand out," Brooks says. And interestingly, he advises not being close to a mall's entries and exits: People coming in have not fully transitioned into shopping mode, and those leaving are focused on getting out. Near the restrooms/toilet facilities, however, can be an effective spot.


• Give yourself enough time to assess results. Brooks says that 12 to 18 weeks is a healthy span of time for operating a pop-up. And don't be discouraged if sales during your first two or three weeks are disappointing. During that time you need to instil confidence in consumers unused to your physical presence. "Week four, week five, that's the level of sales you can expect" going forward, he says. If your pop-up has a seasonal focus—you're selling gift hampers in the run-up to Christmas, for example—"it's going to be a steep curve as you get close to the holiday event."


• Budget for added expenses. Especially if you currently sell only online or by direct mail, you might be surprised that you'll need to pay for business insurance, electricity and other service charges, payment processing gear, a strongbox to keep cash, and wages to keep your kiosk staffed. Speaking of which...


• Train your staff. It's not enough to have your teenage son or daughter sit in a chair by the kiosk paying more attention to his or her mobile than to the shoppers passing by. Those working your stall need to know about the products and need to be friendly, accessible, and polite. If a shopper asks whether a certain item comes in a different colour or size, your staff need to be able to answer and, if possible, direct the shopper to your website or your bricks-and-mortar store if you do sell that variation.


• Make sure your kiosk keeps the same hours as the mall it is in. Your standalone shop might close at seven on weeknights, but if the mall in which you have your kiosk stays open till nine, so should your kiosk. ("How many times have we walked through malls with covers still over units at 11 in the morning?" Brooks asks in exasperation.) A shuttered or covered kiosk is the opposite of good advertising.


• When merchandising, less is more. Don't load up your kiosk with hundreds of SKUs. Too many choices have been shown to overwhelm shoppers. Stick with seasonal items if relevant, best-sellers, and if one of your goals is to test new items, the products you're trying to get a read on. By the same token, while you want to ensure you have enough product to meet demand, you don't want your kiosk or stand to look like a mountain of unsold goods. Having too much of a product can be off-putting to shoppers; they might think, "If they have such a huge pile of scarves, is it because nobody wants to buy them?" And the more stock you have, the more time it will take you—or your paid staff—to set up and pack up your kiosk every day.


Of course, determining how much stock is too much or too little is tricky. If you already have a physical shop, you can correlate your sales per square foot/meter to make an educated guess. But in general, you want to be sure that whatever stock you're offering can easily and quickly be replenished.


• Make sure prices are visible. If people can't see how much an item costs, they're likely to assume they can't afford it.


• Get the word out. "Market using all the free tools you have available to you: Facebook, video, Twitter, Instagram," Brooks says. "If you have an online business, let people know where they can meet you in person. You've got to be out there, you've got to get your message out with a strong call to action: We're only going to be here 12 weeks, you're going to get great customer service."


Let's assume you take all these suggestions to heart and your pop-up meets or exceeds your goals. What then? The next obvious step may be to open a full-fledged, year-round shop in the same location, especially if one of the reasons you opened your pop-up was to gauge whether expanding into physical retail was right for your business. Just bear in mind this caveat: "Where businesses tend to fail after pop-ups is they'll think, This is great, and then they'll sign a three-year lease, and the business will fail in 12 months because they weren't aware of the other intricacies," Brooks says. Operating a bricks-and-mortar shop, as any bricks-and-mortar retailer will tell you, entails additional expenses: not just the lease and utilities but also additional staff, retail fixtures, and the like. Then there's the need to refresh stock regularly, track metrics such as sell-through and turn rates, and instantly excel at visual merchandising.


Before you think ahead to all of that, however, focus on making your pop-up a success. And if (when!) it is, feel confident in knowing that having mastered this, you can master the next steps as well.


author: Sherry Chiger

Sherry Chiger

The editorial director of Your Commerce, Sherry Chiger is an award-winning writer and editor. She was formerly editorial director of Multichannel Merchant and Catalogue e-business magazines.


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