What do Kanye West, Julian Edelman, and Amazon have in common? They’re all part of the growing trend of short-term, pop-up retail locations in Boston and across the country.
The idea of temporary retail locations is generally traced back to the development of heavily seasonal businesses – such Christmas-themed shops or the wave of Halloween stores found in malls nationwide every fall.
But the idea has gained traction as a much more widespread concept in recent years, with temporary stores lasting anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, fueled by social media networks which make it easier to announce new locations and drive traffic.
Now, the industry website Pop-Up Republic puts the size of the industry at $50 billion.
With the right brand and right messaging, the attention a pop-up can generate is intense, tapping into the trend of “experiential retail” that has become a buzzword in the commercial real estate industry.
“Pop-up shops are really more prevalent than many people realize,” says Emily Ou, a Brokerage Managing Director focused on Retail at Cushman & Wakefield. “People may not even know a location was a pop-up until it leaves.”
While pop-up activity is strongest during the holiday shopping season and warmer summer months, retailers continue to open up short-term locations year-round in both street-level retail and in-line mall settings.
This past summer, a clothing pop-up featuring apparel from musician Kanye West opened on Boylston Street for three days, generating enough hype that people camped out overnight for the chance to buy his merchandise. Other celebrities – such as New England Patriots’ stars Julian Edelman and Martellus Bennett – have also set up temporary retail locations on Boylston Street.
Running apparel company Tracksmith has tapped into local activity in a different way – setting up temporary storefronts near the finish line of the Boston Marathon each of the past two years.
Even large brands are using the idea to test different approaches. Amazon recently launched a retail location in the Natick Mall – called Amazon Bar – where consumers can try out devices such as Amazon’s Echo, Kindle or Fire and purchase accessories and gift cards. In many cases, the differences between pop-ups and traditional retailers aren’t clear to consumers.
While long-term leasing is still the standard, Ou says the pop-up concept provides positive opportunities for both retail tenants and landlords.
The initial commitment to just a short lease allows retailers to either launch a short-term concept or to test out a new market. If successful, the tenant may be able to transition into a long-term tenant in that space, or use that track record to help in securing a long-term lease elsewhere.
Landlords benefit both from the rent payments on otherwise-vacant space, but also from the increased activity and foot traffic in an area.
“Compared to an office building, vacant retail space has a much larger impact on the surrounding properties,” Ou says. “Sales pick up, and leasing out space is that much easier when a street is full.”
Time will tell how the concept will evolve and develop in the future, and whether more and more locations become permanent pop-up incubators, hosting a series of short-term locations.
But within the ever-changing world of retail, pop-ups are definitely here to stay.