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Mon, Apr 13, 2009
The Business Times
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Pop-up frenzy
by Melissa Lwee

[Photo: Nokia pop-up showroom.]

ONE moment it's an empty store or land space and the next, it is a buzzing hub of activity with merchandise and services on offer and customers galore.

But wait a few months or even a few days and suddenly it's empty space again.

Welcome to the world of pop-up stores - temporary shops that usually sell goods for a limited period of time - that has taken the retail world by storm.

In 2004, Japanese fashion label Commes des Garçons started the trend by opening (and subsequently closing) a series of 'guerilla' stores worldwide each lasting no more than a year. Singapore was privy to this when one such boutique sprouted in Bukit Merah in 2006.

Subsequently, the world went pop-up frenzy.

In 2007, American retail store Target opened a four-day store in Manhattan to sell clothing from Proenza Schouler at discounted prices; Monocle magazine's editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé opened a pop-up store in London last year for five months selling Monocle magazines and gifts; champagne house Moët & Chandon opened its first British pop-up store last winter selling bottles customised with Swarovski (in Singapore, a pop-up concession stand at The Link was set up for two months for the same purpose) and even Topshop in London announced the arrival of a pop-up boutique in February hosting a range of international designers for eight weeks.

What few people know though, is that the pop-up store concept is not new in Singapore and has been used to great effect locally, albeit less frequently.

In 2006, the now defunct boutique Venue Asia came up with the idea of Venue Box - a compact 30 sq m portable fashion store unit that was taken to 16 different locations around Singapore and Malaysia to sell their wares.

'As a retailer, the biggest problem was having to open a new boutique everytime a new mall was launched in order to stay competitive but I found that to make little economic sense,' says Venue's founder Alexander Hashcher.

'When I was looking for a location at VivoCity, we passed by the port and when I saw all the containers, I thought, hey, these containers can be used to create mobile shops wherever I want without having to commit to a property lease as long as there is an appropriate empty space and I got the relevant permits.

'I could also choose to open when business was good like the Great Singapore Sale season and close when business was not which meant flexibility.'

The concept so impressed Ferrari that the car manufacturer commissioned Mr Hascher to build them a roving showroom that travels with the team at the various Grand Prix.

This prompted Mr Hascher and two other partners Gerhard Lanyi and Markus Krill to start Grandstand, a company that designs, builds and operates mobile venues out of container sized structures. Each structure costs roughly $2,000 per sq m to build.

The company's latest projects include the mobile Aqua Bar launched during the Grand Prix last year that spent five months at Clarke Quay (next to be seen at Sentosa) and a roving showroom/bar that Nokia has been using around Singapore for various events including Zouk Out.

The way to go

Mr Hascher adds that pop-up stores are the future not just because of their flexibility but also because it appeals to a consumer market that is spoilt for choice.

'The more trendy a market gets, the less loyal consumers are to brands. With so many shopping malls around now, it is difficult to ensure return visits,' explains Mr Hascher's partner Gerhard Lanyi.

'But, it's a different story altogether if you open a shop just outside their doorstep like a plot of land in a housing estate. If they won't come to you, you go to them! It also doubles up as a roving billboard making it an effective advertising tool as well.'

Agrees Dr Seshan Ramaswami, practice associate professor of marketing at Singapore Management University: 'The most appealing aspect of a pop-up store is its novelty and its scarcity - that the store is unusual, and there is a chance of picking up something that not many other consumers might have a chance to buy. On the manufacturer's side, the concept allows for a very targeted marketing programme in terms of both space and time.

'A manufacturer has more control over the distribution channel when it runs its own store or stall temporarily. This is true especially for items which need specialised set-up or displays which may otherwise clash with the decor or ambience of a department store.'

Inspired by the popularity of their pop-up venues, Grandstand is now looking to expand its services to include the leasing of these pop-up stores by building more mobile containers that can later be mixed and matched accordingly, not unlike Lego models.

What this means for potential retailers - both local and international - is the ability to do market research and test the local market without signing a permanent property lease. A British noodle chain for example, is considering using Grandstand's pop-up store concept to do a test run in Singapore before deciding whether to open shop here.

More joining in

The ability to test run a label is also the reason why retail consultant and fashion wholesaler Glamour Inc is hopping onto the pop-up store bandwagon.

They are hoping to work with local retailers to set up pop-up shops within existing shops showcasing and selling new labels brought in by Glamour Inc seasonally.

'In our showroom we have a range of 20 to 30 designers focusing on the latest fashion trends. From these, retailers can pick what collections they like to suit their own retail styles to showcase and create a fashion moment in the store,' says its spokeswoman Cary Cheng.

'We feel that this will assist the retailers (our client) in showcasing new products, new concepts and is especially useful for retailers to test the waters before committing to a new programme of products.'

Interestingly, the pop-up phenomenon has even gone digital.

Local fashion blog Fashion Nation ( launched a pop-up store called Store Nation on their website in January.

'Everytime we have a new collection to sell, we put up a notice one or two days in advance,' reveals Fashion Nation's blogger Stephie Tan.

'On the day of the sale itself, we put up a link to a shop site that will open only for a limited period of time. When it's meant to close, it will close, regardless of sales.'

According to Ms Tan, the shop focuses on unique finds and independent labels with an upcoming third collection that will feature a fresh Indonesian designer. She added that the decision to start the store online has the extra advantage of being able to service international clients who would not be able to enjoy Shop Nation if it were physical.

'The pop-up store concept works on massclusivity. It is exclusive for a time period but everybody can have access to it,' she says.

'It is also good for us in terms of customer service. Because there are only two of us, if we opened an online shop, it would take us awhile to respond to all queries. But, with a pop-up shop, the fact that it is only open for a short period of time means that we know when to focus all our manpower, responding to queries as promptly as possible.'

This article was first published in The Business Times  .

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