Merchant Innovation

The Pop-Up Shop Boom Is Making Retail Concepts Sillier And Sillier

Is retail heading to the dogs?


Have you noticed lately how ridiculous some of the concepts for new retail stores are getting?

A renowned New York City chef recently teamed up with Kellogg’s to open a trendy cereal-themed restaurant near Times Square and is selling Fruit Loops and Frosted Flakes for $8 or more a bowl. An entire cottage industry has sprung up, both in eCommerce and brick-and-mortar locations, exclusively dedicated to men’s beards and the “art” of grooming them. Most major U.S. cities have at least one “grocery store” or bakery that caters exclusively to dogs (although they still make their owners pay). Kanye West is getting his own line of adidas + KANYE WEST stores, thanks to the success of his clothing line with the sports apparel retailer.

Heck, there’s even a dust and dirt store that recently opened on posh Oxford Street in London (OK, it’s actually a Dyson Demo store, but one of its coolest features is that the walls are lined with 64 different varieties of dust, dirt, food and other staining materials that customers can experiment with as a way to test the company’s line of vacuum cleaners).

What’s going on here? Have we, as global customers, collectively lost our minds and decided that all we want to do is shop at stores as specialized and myopic as possible?

Are we on a path to stores that will only sell right shoes, and we’ll have to cross the street to buy the other from the Left-Shoe Store?

Will we someday hit the zenith of this movement and have a store that, literally, only sells apples?

Melissa Gonzales, founder and CEO of Lion’esque, a firm of pop-up architects who have helped develop over 80 pop-up stores in New York City, Los Angeles and the Hamptons, discussed this phenomenon with Bloomberg TV in May.

“You see them more often in cities that have high foot traffic, like New York City, and seasonality like the Hamptons, but they’re happening nationwide. They’re happening across the world, they’re happening in London, they’re happening in Australia, New Zealand, so it’s definitely a paradigm shift that’s international for retail,” Gonzales said.

To Gonzales, pop-ups are growing and thriving like never before because, unlike the big-box stores and chain retailers who have come to dominate the retail industry over the past several decades, pop-ups offer a more personal, unique and fun experience to customers.

“In this retailing anywhere society, they can really connect with a customer on that aspirational level and create something authentic so that they can create a deeper relationship with their customer,” Gonzales said. “You want to go where the customer is. Pop-ups allow you to travel to them, versus making them work to get to you.”

Plus, there’s always the excitement and “cool factor” of bragging to all your friends about how you shopped at this cool, little store you've never heard of before and found items that nobody’s ever seen before and that might not even be there in a few days when your friends go looking for them.

Jake Dyson, son of the Dyson company Founder James Dyson and the director of development, told Design Week that the objective behind the company’s new demo store, modeled on Apple’s original concept, was to get its products into the hands of costumers and show them just what they can do.

“The Dyson Demo encourages people to be hands-on,” Dyson told Design Week. “It’s all about showing the inner workings of products; it’s really important to demonstrate them firsthand so people understand the engineering behind them.”

And the marriage between Kanye and Adidas is just good business for both parties, as Kanye’s clothes and sneakers sell like crazy, although Adidas probably got the idea from a Kanye West pop-up shop that opened in New York’s Soho neighborhood in March of this year to promote the release of his new “Life of Pablo” album. New York Daily News talked to customers who waited in line for hours that day just to get their hands on a recycled Levi's denim jacket customized by Kanye for $400 or dropped close to $900 on as much Pablo gear as they could get their hands on.

The pop-up concept has been around for years — think food trucks and those Halloween-themed stores that always seem to spring up in strip malls come early October — but Gonzales says it is finally starting to come into the mainstream.

Perhaps as a reaction to years of Walmart’s domination of the retail industry?

Even pet bakeries are good business, apparently, as a five-pound bag of Chicken Little Sfizis is selling for $120 at Polkadog Bakery in Boston’s South End neighborhood.



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