How Pop-Ups Are Changing The Retail Game
Interview with StoreFront CCO, Joy Fan
StoreFront is a service that provides short-term retail spaces for pop-up locations. We sat with the company Chief Creative Officer (yes, that’s the title!*), Joy Fan. We joined her in SoHo to get to know her better and get some insider tips.
Estee: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got started?
Joy: I’ve been involved in retail real estate for over 10 years. I started off as a designer, after which I worked in interior and visual design at Levi’s. In 2008, after a number of years between NY & SF, I recognized the opportunity for pop-ups rising from the downfall of the real estate market. My first partnership was at Westfield. At first, the brands were small and local, then it was national and now international brands such as Bonobos and Warby Parker. Ultimately, I joined the Storefront team to aid in the retail revolution.
Estee: How long have pop-ups been around?
Joy: Pop-ups have been around forever! Probably for as long as sample sales. Technology has added a different mix to the entire retail landscape, both from an e-commerce and real estate perspective. In the late 2000s, 10 year leases were beginning to expire. Between 2006-2008 they were refinanced and now those 10 years are up. Yet somehow, brands aren’t jumping to renew their leases. Subsequently, there are more retail vacancies than ever before. Retail has gone through so many changes as well. It has evolved in the past five years, with brands turning from a fully e-commerce approach to one that’s omni-channel and experience-based.
Ten years ago we started with a pop-up here and there. Big brands, like Adidas, would host short-term events and conferences. With time, the economy has changed based on consumption patterns as more and more brands turned to pop-ups as solutions for marketing efforts, exclusive releases and short-term retail spurts. To the contrary, Macy’s, Bloomingdales, and Nordstrom were betting on the fact that real estate would continue to rise. The department stores are trying to reinvent themselves, and people are still leaving. That’s creating many vacancies. Just to give you some perspective, in January 2017 – vacancies were at an all-time high at 33%; while in January 2018, vacancies are at a whooping 37%!
Most people aren’t seeing the difference in vacancies, because we at Storefront are taking advantage of vacancies by offering brands pop-up opportunities, which excites consumers. In the old days, ‘short-term’ was a dirty word. It meant that you couldn’t manage a property and didn’t know how to engage with audiences. Nowadays, many brokers love short-term leases.
Estee: Can you provide examples of brands that implemented the pop-up strategy successfully?
Joy: Everlane is the biggest example – we powered their pop-up last year in Williamsburg. What’s funny is that in 2012 their CEO and founder said he would never be in brick and mortar. He would rather shut down before he went to physical retail. Since then Everlane has done numerous pop-ups and now has a permanent location. When they introduced their denim line [in a pop-up], they had lines out the door. We’ve also worked with other brands such as Warby Parker and Bonobos.
Educating the public is one of our goals. We are beginning huge partnerships with landlords and institutions to ensure that the property values remain at competitive rates. We are glad to share and release any type of analysis and data.
Pop-ups are important because they deliver not just products, but true experiences. People get excited when they have the opportunity to touch and feel things. The experience alone is more ‘instagrammable’ than someone who said they spent a saturday shopping online.The social influence will remain the same with an elite space. You can expect digitalization to hit things like your checkout experience. However, going into the store will remain.
Estee: How are big retailers responding to the pop-up phenomena?
Joy: Bloomingdales created mygirlshops within their department stores. Nordstrom created Nordstrom local, and JCPenney opened up its Jacques Penné pop-up in New York City with us. Overall though, department stores struggle. We see pop-ups as a blank canvas. We give the entrepreneurs the power to put bets on that space using technology, on-demand delivery, and staffing. To then be able to add value back to the consumer and provide an educational tool.
Estee: What advice do you have for startups looking to launch pop-ups?
Joy: You may want to ensure you have a solid following before launching a pop-up.
Foot traffic alone is not enough to garner traction and revenue. The key is to build a consumer base, create an opportunity to meet and interact with customers, and then use the pop-up as an opportunity to test the market and ensure that products are viable for what the startup has invested in.
Many brands that start online first and build up loyalty base. Then they go offline only later. Pop-ups serve as the perfect transition from e-commerce to physical retail and provide creative opportunities which can include meeting the designer, a panel, or showcasing and elite or exclusive line.
Estee: What do you have to say about other startups in the temporary retail space?
Joy: My approach to all these companies is positive: any owner who adapts a pop-up strategy as his or her business model is headed in the right direction. Parasol Projects have been around since 2012, and have seen success both independently and in collaboration with us.
Estee: What’s The Storefront’s strategy in the coming year?
Joy: The best direction for us is to ensure accurate database of availabilities at all times. This means extreme detail on the technical side. Everything now is on demand. You have to be just as fast with your features. Additionally, The Storefront is rapidly expanding internationally: more cities in the US & Europe.
We look to the brands that fit our demand. We have a specific secret formula that we use to track brands, and study how to grow. The key is to listen to our demand and consumers. That is our formula – listening to consumers.
You can purchase e-commerce brands anywhere. Our brands aren’t just looking at one location. They can test where they want to open up a brick and mortar. Anyone who is in the pop-up realm is an asset to us.
Estee: What is your advice for startups looking up to Storefront?
Joy: Always listen to your customer. You have to first grow from 5 consumers to 100, and then you can grow to 1000. When you follow the trends you forget about loyalty. Loyalty is actually the key! The loyal customers will be the ones to direct you into the future.
*In response to our joyful reaction of the CCO title, Joy responded: “Ha, is that a surprise? We are in the space of disrupting retail and real estate so we are constantly innovating. What makes us unique is our drive towards community and creative solutions.”