Pop-Up Shops: Temporary Spaces, Permanent Appeal

Julie Schroeder doesn’t put much stock in advertising, but she is a firm believer in pop-up shops. The owner of the Los Angeles fine jewelry gallery Persimmon Handpicked Objects has staged three pop-up events to date and has another in the works. During two shops last spring, clients footed the bill for catering and space (a luxury hotel and a private home), leaving the store owner—who scheduled the events on Persimmon’s closed days—with a neat little pile of “found money,” she says. And that’s after she donated 10 percent of sales to an L.A. children’s charity.

“Pop-ups are here to stay,” says Christina Norsig, CEO of PopUpInsider, which helps educate would-be pop-up sellers and advertises space for temporary lease. Norsig estimates that “thousands” occur each year, mainly in the United States and the U.K.

In Schroeder’s first event—a two-day, open-to-the-public shop in September 2009 in San Diego—she set up alongside three noncompeting businesses (an architect, a florist, and a painter) in a vacant commercial loft. She displayed 500 SKUs of lower-priced ­jewelry ($150–$700) in two freestanding antique cases, one tabletop unit, and slabs of wood and pieces of fabric. “Pop-ups are a way to utilize space and take away that stigma of distress,” says Norsig, alluding to a national 13 percent retail vacancy rate. Adds PR guru Susan Morgan, who orchestrated a pop-up last year for Schwarzschild Jewelers in Richmond, Va., “It’s kind of like creating a guerilla shop—here one minute, gone the next.”

For store owners lacking widespread recognition, pop-up stores can build brand awareness and create a sense of urgency to buy. They also help firms hone price points and styles, and offer the chance to decide if a market merits hanging a shingle. A temp shop even enabled Sikara & Co. founder Mousumi Shaw—an Austin, Texas–based maker of silver jewelry with retail prices starting at $45—to snag new clients: “I picked up three wholesale accounts each in pop-up shops in Boston and San Francisco,” she says about her 1,000-square-foot sites. Plus: They’re great alternatives to traditional marketing. “Instead of paying for ads, I host pop-ups,” says Shaw. 

There are, however, inherent challenges. The look of the environment must be consistent with your brand. The pace is fast, starting with getting the message out; shipping and ­staffing costs can balloon quickly. And you won’t have the authority you do in your own space. “In some places trash removal requires union employees,” says Norsig.

And of course, there are the days, weeks, and months of planning. Take a 2009 event, which re-created the Schwarzschild Jewelers store at a private club: More than 300 people turned out to see merchandise from 29 brands, including John Hardy ­jewelry and Juliska glassware. From a penthouse, guests sipped champagne and looked out over the James River. Some $2,000 worth of raffle tickets were sold for a chance to win an Omega watch. Four sponsors—including a local Mercedes-Benz dealership—helped to defray costs. The problem with this glamorous affair? It lasted all of four hours. Sighs Morgan: “We needed the space for longer than a day.”