Pop-Ups Keep Popping Up

Retailers are increasingly taking great advantage of the phenomenon known as the pop-up shop. Much like traveling carnivals of yore, these easy-come-easy-go businesses make a fast buck by setting up in a temporary location with a limited amount of wares and testing the water so see how the area responds to their presence—and how much profit’s in it. And then, once they’ve taken what they can from their space, they pack up and go, leaving behind only a flurry of nostalgia, expired advertisements and packing peanuts.

Once dominated by seasonal setups—such as Halloween costume shops and Christmas-themed boutiques—the pop-up shop has been recently exhibiting high-end fashion apparel. New York City’s SoHo, for example, has seen an onset of pop-up fashion stores introducing known brands as well as undiscovered start-ups to the mainstream. Similarly, the Hamptons are expecting a flood of stands to show up out of nowhere come summer, targeting the vacation crowd and then heading back to the city by Labor Day. In both cases, small businesses can get a taste of the big-time for a flat investment; established brands can follow the money all year round—saying so-long to the notion of an “off” season.

In 2011, you can expect to see an even greater presence of pop-ups. This not only benefits the retailer, who can try out a location before committing to a long-term lease, it also benefits the property owner who might otherwise have been looking at a long-vacant storefront thanks to the economic climate. It also serves the community, who can get a taste of new wares and exotic flavors; small-business owners are able to experiment, bringing new life and energy to a locale without too much at stake. Pop-up stores mean that when there’s a strong demand for a certain product, it can be answered quickly, even if the crowd is unpredictable and the product’s fad is likely to fade within a few fiscal quarters.

The best part about this, however, for the retailers themselves, is the fact that a short-term existence means a fantastic opportunity to generate buzz. Locals strive to visit the shop before its expiration date so that they can become a part of the location’s history and see something that their friends who stop by next month may not get to experience. Marketers bank on the sense of excitement and elitism that accompanies any limited-time-only offer. At the end of this the pop-up shop’s stay, there’s also often a second chance to make a big splash by marking down products and creating final or fire sales.

Although pop-up stores have been popularized by apparel and accessory merchandisers in 2010, this year’s forecasts have shown that other industries are seeking to bank on the tactic as well. For example, pop-up bakeries and cafes are sure to be seen nationwide, catching on to the tailwind of the mobile food truck phase. It seems to be a matter of acknowledging the transitory nature of consumers, addressing their short attention spans and proclivity to ditch what’s known in favor of the next best thing. And that’s more than a matter of being trendy–it’s just another case of plain old smart marketing.

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