Learning from a Pop-Up Store

I recently worked with a specialty retailer who has a limiting seasonality to their business.  I have seen this before with other retailers: fishing, tennis, golf, hunting, even woodworking all have their narrow seasons.  It is difficult for such retailers to expand their store base profitably.  But there is much they can gain and learn from a well timed pop-up store.

My first pop-up store was in 2003 testing a gaming store and environment in Hollywood. It was open for exactly three days.  We learned a lot: yes to pizza, no to nachos.  Yes to energy drinks, no to diet sodas. Yes to t-shirts, no to hats.  Yes to stickers, no to controllers.  It was planned, merchandised, opened, closed and evaluated in under 3 months.  Light speed in retail terms where sometimes it takes 90 days just to agree to a test.

Here is how to make pop-up stores work for you:

1. Give real estate or a realty agency working on your behalf the go-ahead to look for an appropriate venue.  Be specific about what you want: A+ or D  location? What do you need for square footage?  What is the amount you are willing to pay for 1 month of space. (Even if your store is only open a week, most places will require 1 month minimum payment.)

2. Create a skunkworks team who can build you a lego-set of fixtures, signs and promotional parts (social media, micro sites, radio ads — media with immediacy!) that can be configured for tests as needed.

3. Circulate a request for ideas from your merchants, vendors and store operators to create their dream pop-up store.  They need to be clear about the market they want to target, the assortment they want to provide and the long-term impact of a successful test.

4. Vet all ideas through a cross-functional strategy group that is incentivized to test many different ideas in the pipeline and not develop just one idea to completion.

5. Under-allocate systems, visual merchandising and store operations resources (you can perfect those things if the test is successful and you decide to expand) while over-allocating customer insight resources.

6. Convene a post-mortem the WEEK AFTER the pop-up store.  Don’t spend weeks overanalyzing.  What worked?  What did you learn?  What will you do next?  If you don’t go fast, it isn’t a pop-up.

I have a client who has a 10-day store at the Minnesota State Fair.  During those 10 days, that pop-up store is the volume leader in the chain.  Same merchandise – just perfect timing and location. Another client creates a different assortment that travels with a sports team.  Different assortment AND different locations.  Both consider their pop-up stores investments in new customer acquisition as well as on-site sales successes.  They’ve learned a lot.

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