Pop-Up Shops aren’t Just a Trend — They’re Here to Stay

Once reserved for warehouses, the pop-up has gone on to occupy street fronts, space within existing stores and – most notably in the past year – even prime mall real estate, allowing limited time engagements for brands to sell their products.

The pop-up shop is turning up everywhere.

“We’re seeing pop-up retail more common than ever in Canada; it’s become an important part of the retail strategy for brands,” said Craig Patterson, founder and editor-in-chief of Retail Insider. As Retail Insider reports, retail consultant and head of Vancouver think tank DIG360, David Ian Gray, called 2018 “the year of the pop-up.”

Once reserved for warehouses, the pop-up has gone on to occupy street fronts, space within existing stores and – most notably in the past year – even prime mall real estate, allowing limited time engagements for brands to sell their products. They can be seasonal – Halloween or Christmas-themed – or associated with causes like Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Earlier this year, both The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar opened up pop-up shops in Toronto. Whatever the case, it’s safe to say the concept isn’t a disappearing trend.

pop-up shops
The line-up for The Weeknd’s Starboy pop-up in Toronto (Image: Sarah May for StyleDemocracy)

For retailers – especially smaller and less established ones – the pop-up makes sense. Not only are they not bound by long-term, pricey leases, but pop-ups enable business owners to experiment with new concepts and to connect with a larger audience, conducting hands-on market research as they get to know their customer (both old and new). For e-commerce retailers, the pop-up allows experimentation with a physical presence. Patterson points to two now hugely successful Canadian brands – Kit and Ace and INDOCHINO – that grew by the way of the pop-up.

“The perceived sense of urgency and exclusively associated with something that is a limited offering drives traffic to the pop-up store,” said Patterson. Recognizing their value, he said that malls are now doing all that they can do facilitate the pop-up, offering retail spaces at shorter term leases – from a few days to months at a time. In spring 2017, Yorkdale Shopping Centre’s CONCEPT – a partnership between Oxford Properties and design firm figure3 – opened its doors to offer a 3,600 square foot space designed specifically for rotating pop-ups.

Yorkdale’s CONCEPT Space (Image: Grayson Miller for StyleDemocracy)

Cadillac Fairview – who owns malls like the CF Eaton Centre, CF Sherway Gardens and CF Fairview Mall – has also jumped on the pop-up bandwagon. Desiree Girlato, owner of Toronto handcrafted jewellery boutique Armed, sees unmatched value in hosting pop-ups in city malls in addition to running her brick and mortar shop on Dundas Street West. Last spring, the brand held a pop-up at the Eaton Centre during Mother’s Day weekend – the first that the mall had hosted.

“We were centre court on the street level and we got a ton of attention – it was impossible to miss us and you almost had to walk around it,” said Girlato. “It gave us an opportunity to meet the mall shopper, who typically doesn’t shop local or street level; they’re a whole different market. We got to do Friday and Saturday, which offered two different crowds. We got the office person on Friday, and on Saturday, you have the people who drive in from all ends of the city and beyond. You’re dealing with a huge audience; something we don’t get on Dundas West. The hope is that you get people who will take to the brand and follow it afterwards.”

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Armed’s pop-up space at CF Eaton Centre (Image: Instagram/@Upandarmed)

The pop-up can be just as beneficial to malls, offering an opportunity for them to broaden their horizons in terms of brand offerings and to bring local to the mall shopper. “If it works, they can interject you into an opportunity to do a full-blown store but in a short-term lease,” said Girlato of Cadillac Fairview. At Cadillac Fairview properties, anything less than a year term is considered a pop-up. After the success of their first startup, Armed will take over an 800-square foot retail space at CF Sherway Gardens from October 20 to January 1.

“A pop-up can feel like a legitimate store,” says Girlato. “Compared to our last, the Sherway pop-up is a lot more permanent-feeling. We are outfitting the store in everything from the signage to the interior design to reflect the vibe of the brand. You don’t want people to walk into your store and not get that, and it needs to be cohesive to the spot on Dundas. It’s important to create the experience. I am not just going to come in and throw some jewellery on the walls; that’s not going to cut it.”

For some brands, the pop-up is more about the experience than the sales. For example, in June, IKEA opened the IKEA Play Café in Toronto, where shoppers could sample the company’s famous meatballs, play games and shop a limited selection of kitchen products.

pop-up shops
The IKEA Play Cafe (Image: Instagram/@sdimktg)

Going beyond retail purposes, brands are experimenting with pop-ups as marketing stunts. Earlier this month, Google announced it would open a doughnut-themed pop-up shop across the United States and Canada to promote the new Google Home Mini speakers (which are fittingly about “the size of a doughnut”). South of the border, Marie Claire partnered with Mastercard to open a futuristic pop-up shop. Located in Soho, Manhattan from September 23 to October 12, the store is organized by magazine section and is tied to the publication’s October issue, which highlights the connection of technology and lifestyle.

The concept for Google Home Mini Donut Shop (Image: Google)

Recently, we’ve seen the introduction of opportunity-recognizing businesses designed to connect retailers with temporary retail space. For example, short-term real estate technology start-up thisopenspace allows brands to sell in real life and with flexible terms. Having started as a rotating retail space in Vancouver, the company allows businesses of all sizes showcase their brands with access to temporary storefronts and services like staffing, merchandising, sales and analytics. Most recently, thisopenspace powered Queen West’s “Sleepover,” a pop-up that is currently the world’s first store dedicated to all things sleep-related and is powered by Shopify. Pop-up go is another online platform that helps pair retailers with available temporary retail spaces.

Whether PR stunt, for market research purposes, experience-focused or sales-driven, it looks like the pop-up is here to stay.

Do you shop at pop-up shops? Let us know in the comment section.

Featured Image: thisopenspace Sleepover via Instagram/@thisopenspace

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