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The Anatomy of a Winning Pop-Up Shop


They’ve been fleeting fixtures on streets and in shopping centers for a while, but pop-up shops are here to stay. In fact, the strategy for pop-up shop success has evolved beyond its original goal of generating buzz and sales.

Though they still boost revenue, these concepts now primarily help retailers test and improve upon on new ideas, as well as attract a new demographic that wouldn’t necessarily visit a flagship store. From behemoths to startups, retailers of all sizes are finding that pop-ups provide fast user feedback that helps direct their overall strategy.

What are the makings of a winning pop-up shop today? If you haven’t considered a pop-up, or if you haven’t taken a fresh-eyed look at today’s concepts, here are some inspiring examples.


Longer Horizons

The days when it made sense to invest in a temporary location for a few days in the hopes of driving traffic are over. To achieve pop-up shop success, retailers are building temporary outposts to last for weeks or more. Longevity allows retailers to glean more insight into their customers and generate more sales.

In November 2019, Gap Inc. will open a pop-up shop to grow its men’s activewear brand. Hill City, which began as an online-only brand, sells 80 products ranging from hoodies to running shorts. The 1,000-square-foot store in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley will feature products from its e-commerce platform and remain open for one year. Gap hopes that building in-store buzz will position the Hill City brand to open more stores and grow alongside its billion-dollar Athleta women’s leisurewear sister brand.

The RealReal, an e-commerce consignor of authentic luxury apparel, home goods, and jewelry, also made a successful transition to physical space thanks to an initial pop-up presence. Founded by CEO Julie Wainwright in 2011, this home-based start-up quickly grew into a full-fledged company with the desire to expand. Before expanding into brick-and-mortar, the consignor tested demand in its largest market, New York, by opening a pop-up shop in trendy SoHo for two weeks in December 2016.  The company opened up its first permanent store the following November in the same neighborhood. The RealReal has since used the pop-up model to test other prime markets in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas. The consignor currently operates three permanent luxury retail outlets in New York and Los Angeles, as well as a handful of pop-up shops in some of the largest cities throughout the United States.


Going Beyond Guerilla

Over the past decade, retailers have deployed pop-up shops as part of their guerilla marketing campaigns. Using unconventional tactics to reach a wider audience, these low-cost strategies are designed to create memorable customer experiences in unexpected places that generate sales and brand awareness. 

Tommy Hilfiger is a long-established pop-up maestro whose strategy has evolved over time. In 2011, the retailer took the pop-up concept to the extreme by opening a standalone, gray-shingled beach cottage in New York City’s Meatpacking District. The shop, incongruously plunked on a cobblestone street lined with industrial lofts and warehouses, showcased 60 items from Hilfiger’s one-time Prep World collection.



After four days as the first stop of the retailer’s Prep World tour, the cottage was disassembled two and moved to Los Angeles. 

In 2019, the retailer evolved the concept of pop-up shop success with a longer-term Tommy Jeans pop-up in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Wrapped in red, white and blue foil evocative of Andy Warhol’s tin foil-wrapped Silver Factory, the store features local designers-in-residence making custom gear, free coffee from Joe Coffee Company, and Instagram-friendly art installations. Capitalizing emergence of the resale market, the shop also features reclaimed TH goodies handpicked by Tommy himself, as well as an area that sells recycled denim made from deadstock fabrics. In contrast to the short lifespan of Prep World, this pop-up is open from early September through December 24th, 2019.

But you don’t need the budget of an established multinational brand to capture consumer attention and achieve pop-up shop success. Allbirds, the San-Francisco-based online footwear brand, opened a temporary site on SoHo’s Prince Street in 2016. The eco-friendly shoe retailer built a hamster wheel to test shoe comfort and fit and a space for shoppers to customize their laces. With its minimalist style, the small space invited customers to experience the brand at a relatively low cost to the company. This allowed Allbirds to test consumer appetite before beginning to invest in permanent locations the following year.   

The very different pop-up concepts from Tommy Hilfiger and Allbirds, as well as the evolution of Hilfiger’s strategy, show that retailers can use the model as an important component to their marketing strategy no matter their vision, size, or budget. Retailers who can capture customers’ attention and give them a novel reason to visit will win buzz and sales.


Retail Labs

Pop-up shops can help retailers develop, test and iterate upon products faster than traditional marketing strategies. Popularized by software companies, the agile model thrives on collaboration and continuous customer feedback to reduce waste and increase speed. In the retail world, pop-ups provide unique landscapes for testing product and consumer preferences.

Warby Parker deployed the pop-up model to understand how consumers shop for eyeglasses.  Traditional optical stores displayed frames on floor-to-ceiling shelving, which can overwhelm and frustrate browsing customers. Warby Parker discovered that eye-level displays with fewer choices create a smoother customer experience. The pop-up format’s low investment costs helped the online brand transition to brick-and-mortar retail. The eyewear company experimented with a variety of pop-up shop formats to scout the best locations for its permanent stores. Consumer feedback from its mobile school bus pop-up shop success helped the company pinpoint a prime location for Warby Parker’s Washington DC store, which remains the most successful in its portfolio.

Bark & Company, a monthly subscription service that sells treat boxes for dogs, set up its BarkShop Live pop-up doggie park in Manhattan in 2016. The makeshift park gave dogs the opportunity to play with a variety of the Bark & Company dog toys. Using collars tracked to the toys’ RFID tags and a mobile app, dog owners could track which toys their dogs preferred. The owners could buy these items directly through the app and have them delivered to their home. The quick method gave Bark & Company valuable insight for future brand expansion and product design. 


The Big Picture on Pop-Up Shop Success

Pop-up shops are nothing new but in recent years, smart retailers have found a way to advance the concept and reap more benefits than sales and buzz. These businesses are taking cues from Silicon Valley software developers and creating prototypes to study consumer preference and test for bugs.

Successful pop-ups provide fast customer feedback and valuable insight for product development. These experiments can help established retailers build their portfolios and facilitate online brands’ transition to brick-and-mortar retailing.

Sometimes you only have one chance to wow shoppers. When done effectively, pop-up shops can incubate lasting growth and success.

CB4 helps retailers get it right every time, at every single location in their chain. Watch this video to learn how it works.   

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