When Ross Bailey, founder and CEO of Appear Here, first came up with his business concept, he wasn’t thinking about building the Airbnb of commercial real estate. He was thinking about selling t-shirts, specifically shirts he had made to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee in the U.K., along with some other commemorative memorabilia. Bailey had the idea that he would set up a pop-up shop, called Rock & Rule, and watch the royal commerce-enthused roll in.
There was, it turned out, a fly in the ointment. It wasn’t setting up the shop — he had his concept locked down. It wasn’t finding an audience — he had people ready, willing and able to shop. What he didn’t have, and had a stunningly hard time finding, was a place to put his pop-up.
Though the concept is common today (and it seems like anyone who’s anyone is setting up some pop-up concept or other), a scant five years ago, it was a very new concept— one that owners of commercial real estate weren’t necessarily into yet. They weren’t looking for short-term tenants measuring their stays in months; they wanted tenants whose terms were several years long. There was (and, in some sectors, still is) a tendency on the part of retailers to believe it is better to let a prime retail location go vacant, rather than risk lowering the value of the property with a series of short-term leases.
It’s a wrong idea, Bailey told PYMNTS in an interview, one that is putting the brakes on a lot of retail innovation — as stores that are well-suited for short-term physical engagements push away from innovating in the real world, for fear of being trapped in a long-term lease. Appear Here, he noted, is hoping to fix that gap, and reset both retailers’ and retail landlords’ thoughts on how physical retail can and should be done all over the world.
“I wanted to create a global community where anyone with an idea could find space to make it happen, and now we have over 160,000 brands using Appear Here globally to launch their ideas,” Bailey noted.
Now, with the rollout of its latest product, Additions, Appear Here isn’t just trying to help brands find better spaces to try out new and exciting retail experiments. It is working to build additional services — so that retailers and brands can better migrate their ideas for a physical location — in a reality that consumers can touch with their own hands.
A New, Enhanced Experience Via Additions
The Appear Here experience is mostly designed around simplicity — for both the brand looking for space and the landlord looking to lease it out.
To get started on the platform, retailers create an Idea Profile, which includes information on the brand’s story, its vision for a physical space and links to its mood boards, website and social channels. From there, future shopkeepers search for commercial spaces, much in the same way they’d look for a listing on Airbnb.
“We wanted to make booking a shop as easy as booking a hotel room so that anyone can do it, anywhere in the world,” Bailey said.
When they find what they want, and mark their preferred dates, the whole Idea Profile is sent to the landlord, on whose end the service “feel[s] a bit like Tinder” in that they can view the brand’s Idea Profile and swipe left or right to approve of the deal.
“Once there is a match,” Bailey said, “we have a concierge team [that] can help schedule a viewing and guide the brands through the booking process, to pay and sign for the space all online through Appear Here.”
It’s a good start, Bailey noted, but with the Additions service, Appear Here can do more — by thinking about what value-added services it can include with its commercial space rental platforms — to help take its commercial partners to the next level with their pop-up shops.
“Once a booking is complete, brands can now add services like a POS system with Square or furniture for their store. We collaborated with the award-winning architect, Richard Found, to design a store fit-out that can be rented by the week or month,” Bailey explained.
From design to development to launch, Appear Here is hoping to be the guide platform that helps the user take care of every part of the adventures in physical retail. And though Additions is only in beta in the U.K. right now, Bailey noted, the goal is to get it rolling out to all of Appear Here’s markets in the next few months.
The Landlord Challenge
Appear Here has expanded greatly and globally since its early days at the Diamond Jubilee. As of today, Appear Here has helped launch over 6,000 stores worldwide. The challenge, Bailey noted, is always bringing in new landlords to list on the platform — and they usually need a bit of education on the firm when they first encounter Appear Here, particularly when it comes to the revenue benefits inherent with the platform.
“Landlords who list with Appear Here earn an average of one and a half times more,” Bailey said. “Every space listed on Appear Here is photographed by our editorial team to make sure it looks its very best. We’ve also created landlord dashboards so you can track space performance, look at real-time data on the demand and manage whole portfolios online.”
He noted that landlords often need a bit of persuading to join the platform, but once they get interested in the model and see that extra revenue coming in from their properties, they can find it hard to turn back.
Retail, he said, for most retailers — particularly the digital natives testing out physical commerce — isn’t about long-term engagements so much as it is about putting in a toe on engaging a new type of customer with an expanded experience. With Additions (which is slotted for global rollout soon), they are hoping to take even more hassle out of the process by incorporating design guidance.
In a new retail world, Bailey noted, servicing retailers needs to have a new definition and new ways to expand.