Pop-up shop brands

Pop Goes the Pop-Up Shop — For Big Brands and Mom & Pops

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The Pop-up shop has long been part of the retail and restaurant landscape. They are temporary locations. Multi-location brands may take their products into small footprints or new configurations and venues and small brands may start with a limited-run concept and then expand it.

5 Pop-Up Models

Some are seasonal. For example, Bryant Park in New York City has been the site of a popular holiday market in November/December. People visiting the area, ice skating, or simply looking for last-minute holiday gifts have a vast selection of products and food from big and small brands. The market has been so popular that a spring market happens in 2023 to coincide with Mother’s Day. That shop will be for local vendors but can serve as a great awareness-builder for brands in their infancy.

Another example of seasonal pop-ups is the Spirit Halloween store, which was founded in 1983 and has had as many as 1,000 locations. Spencer’s Gifts owns the brand. As retailers vacate previously-leased spaces, Spirit moves into their “skeletons” and benefits from a treat rather than a trick. The brand has generated as much as $1.1B in a year.

Multi-location brands use activation pop-ups to showcase and sample new products, engage consumers with the personality/experience of the brand, and drive people to shop online or in permanent retail locations. They create great opportunities for social media influencers if properly planned and executed. A whopping 80 percent of retailers have incorporated pop-up locations into their strategy.

Locating a brand pop-up at a conference, sporting event, or other large consumer gathering allows retailers to expose their products and services to captive audiences that might never think to frequent a larger established location.

Some pop-ups have wheels rather than brick-and-mortar. Food and fashion brands sometimes adopt the old “bookmobile” model and take their promotions on the road. These are a few of the brands that created moveable feasts. And product activations via vehicles are now a common part of the promotional landscape.

Digital brands like Google and Amazon have used a pop-up strategy to establish a human connection with shoppers. These attempts have had mixed results.

“Proof of concept” pop-ups are single-location, short-lease brick-and-mortar stores. Sometimes they arise simply out of opportunity. A location may be available for a limited period of time, and an aspiring retailer or restauranteur may decide to test a new concept at that location. For example, in Phoenix, a bar owner, Rick Phillips, opened a deli featuring New York style lox and pastrami in a busy office complex. The Little Pickle garnered a huge customer base over five months. It also attracted significant local media exposure during its short stint. The owner is now looking for a permanent location and receiving offers to franchise the concept.

When A&W was founded as a roadside stand in 1919, Roy Allen and Frank Wright probably never imagined that it would grow into a restaurant chain with close to 500 locations.

But scaling from a single location to a multi-location national or global brand is not for everyone. Sometimes a single-location concept is the right decision for an operator.

SWAS (store-within-a-store) pop-ups became a trend starting with Target and Macy’s. Subleasing space to specific brands is a win-win. The vendor often has a shorter commitment and smaller footprint than if they leased their own space. And the “landlord” has created a source of new traffic and shopper convenience.

Pop-Up Marketing Tips

Make sure you’re choosing a location that is conducive to new business. Distribution planning for pop-ups is critical.

No matter what form your pop-up takes, being found online is as important as setting up a larger or long-term footprint. Search optimization, local PR, social media,  targeted gatherings for community groups, and positive reviews can all ensure awareness and traffic. Do not rely solely on drive-bys, walk-ins, or existing customers.

Projecting inventory and shopping patterns can be more challenging when a location is deemed temporary. Be prepared to make rapid adjustments.

After bidding farewell to the pop-up(s), invest time and resources in analyzing the experience and decide whether to repeat, expand, or stick to your more “permanent” installations. You’ll want your pop-ups to be a key part of your growth and expansion strategy — not a distraction from your core business.



Nancy A Shenker, senior editor with Street Fight, is a former big brand (Citibank, Mastercard, Reed Exhibitions) marketing strategist and leader. She has been featured in Inc.com, the New York Times and Forbes.