Four days. That's how much time New Yorkers had to get a piece of the upscale design line Proenza Schouler at discount prices. On Feb. 2, the über-chic discount retail store Target (TGT) popped open a store in lower Manhattan, to display this latest high-fashion-at-low-prices design line. The store then closed on Feb. 5.
In a world of BlackBerries and instant messaging, there's a growing sense of haste in people's lives. In response, companies trying to get consumers' attention are trying to create a sense of urgency. For retailers, who need to get people into stores to try out their clothes, their shoes, and any other new products, the store itself is the new limited edition. So limited in fact that it may last a mere 96 hours. "There's a certain passion about things that shout 'act now!' and that has transpired into the way we shop too," says Claudine Gumbel, co-founder of Think PR, a New York fashion publicity firm.
These days, retailers are adopting the concept of a pop-up store with gusto. A pop-up store opens up at an empty retail location for a few days in a major city, or a mall, with great fanfare. And then, poof! It's gone. Last year, in November, Nike (NKE) opened a pop-up store in Soho for just four days for the sole purpose of selling 250 pairs of the Zoom LeBron IV NYC basketball shoes, named after the popular 22-year-old NBA All-Star LeBron James. The special edition shoes were priced at $250 each.
In May and June, Gap (GPS) kicked off a '60s style tour, where it used a school bus as a traveling pop-up store that made appearances in Los Angeles and New York and stopped at beaches on both coasts. Instead of seats, the bus sported shelves filled with t-shirts, flip-flops, and beach hats that people bought and paid for at a cash register near the driver's seat. Even the stodgy giant Wal-Mart (WMT) adopted the concept last April, when it showed its new fashion line Metro 7 in a Fashion Cabana in Miami's South Beach district, open for only two days.
Retailers use pop-up stores to generate buzz and excitement around a new product launch, as in the case of Target's Proenza Schouler line. Sometimes, the stores are a great way for stores to check the pulse of consumers and try out new products. Usually, they are less costly than television ads, which can run in the millions of dollars to produce and broadcast, and the stores generate similar buzz and publicity for new brands.
Even nonretailers are giving it a try. The U.S. Potato Board, which represents American potato growers, opened a pop-up store in New York, during the week of Thanksgiving, for less than $200,000. The group, with the help of cartoon character Mr. Potato Head, promoted the message that potatoes contain more potassium than bananas as well as nutrients like folic acid and vitamin C.
"We were featured in The New York Times, in the network morning shows, and in many places," says Amy Kull, senior vice-president at communications firm Fleishman-Hillard. "We could never have bought that much media within that budget."
"A Clear Message"
Japanese retailer Uniqlo took the pop-up store concept on the road—literally—for two months in the runup to its Nov. 2 Soho store opening. It drove two shipping containers around New York City and literally popped open stores in various parts of the city—Union Square in Manhattan one day and Cobble Hill in Brooklyn another day—and gave shoppers a taste of their trademark logo-free apparel. "The shipping containers gave New Yorkers a clear message—that we're coming literally from Tokyo to New York," says Shin Shuda, chief marketing officer of Uniqlo USA.
Pop-up stores have worked especially well, though, for brands that don't have a retail outlet store. Currently, the carmaker Lexus (TM) is wrapping up its multicity pop-up art gallery tour in Chicago. There, it has rented retail space to showcase three avant-garde artists—a photographer, a video movie maker, and a wood carver—whom the company feels reflect the innovation and design elements of its latest self-parking car.
For much of last year, Ford (F) opened kiosks in several malls around the country to show off its midsize Fusion. The kiosks, labeled Fusion Studio D, were targeted at women, and offered makeovers, fitness training, and health information. The kiosks would pop up in malls in cities around the country, just days before the local Susan G. Komen Foundation's Race for the Cure, and signed up people who wanted to run to cure breast cancer.
Looking for Kicks
Of course, it's not easy to set up a pop-up store. Unoccupied stores in hot retail locations aren't easy to come by. Moreover, they can backfire, if a retailer doesn't staff the store with some of the best customer service personnel, who know enough about the brand. "We had to make sure there were people who live and breathe Florida to explain what they were missing," says Nicki Grossman, chief executive of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, which set up a pop-up store—complete with sandy beaches, a golf putting hole, lifeguards, and beach beauties—in January in New York.
No wonder companies feel the pressure not only to be cool, but to offer visitors an additional kick. For instance, when electronics company JVC opened its pop-up store, it offered karaoke and let people film themselves using its newly launched video camera and make their own DVDs, which folks could then carry home as gifts. And sneaker maker Fila let people draw their own designs on a computer, which they printed on a T-shirt that shoppers could take home with them for free. "You had the sense that you are creating artwork and you are really engaging the consumer, which is the most important part," says Gumbel of Think PR.
Retailers have clearly discovered that pop-up stores bring brands to life and let people sample products in a great format, without much cost. "Try getting that from a 30-second ad," says Claudia Strauss, president of Lime PR, in New York.
Click here for a slide show about the making of a pop-up store.