The pop-up store has many perks for retailers. Growing retailers like Kit and Ace host pop-up shops in new markets to see if they might be a fit for a permanent location. New product lines can be introduced in order to gauge customer interest, like Kate Spade’s New York City home goods pop-up that ran earlier this year. For online only retailers like ModCloth, a pop-up gives the customers a chance to see and feel products in person without needing to invest in a full-time brick and mortar.
But oddly enough, more retailers are launching pop-up spaces that don’t sell — or even feature — their own products. Following Burberry’s London fashion show, it hosted a weeklong pop-up that sold artisan-made products from collective The New Craftsman instead of its newly on sale collection. Kith hosts pop-ups featuring a cereal milk bar. Earlier this year, Tiger Beer launched a Chinatown pop-up that sold other brands’ merchandise rather than its Singapore brews.
“Brands want to associate themselves with a type of lifestyle — not only along the lines of what they sell, but with what their customer associates with outside of that,” said Niani Tolbert, founder of the agency Creative Cntrl. “Pop-ups that don’t push product are about participating with consumers outside of ‘hey, buy my stuff.’”
Brand engagement and social media impressions, the rise in experiential retail and the “halo effect” of connecting with a consumer outside of sheer product-slinging are all cause for the branded pop-up that doesn’t try to drive sales. The premise of the pop-up lends itself readily to fashion, where store openings require market research and online-only retailers need an outlet to connect with customers in person. But more companies are realizing the beauty of the pop-up outside of retail: they’re a chance for interaction, and if that leaves a potential customer with a good feeling, it may not matter that they’re not leaving with a purchase.
Ford recently partnered with Made LA for a pop-up activation with brands like 69 Denim and RTA. While designer brand Hood By Air wrapped a Ford Fusion in a custom car wrap, the event wasn’t used to sell cars or peddle services, but rather enforce the brand’s connection to fashion, music and culture. In September, Ford teamed with Refinery 29’s 29Rooms exhibition in Brooklyn as a chance to get in front of urban millennials in a setting unrelated to cars. The Ford-branded “Garden of Energi” room at the exhibition served as branded platform to share a message around sustainability. Both pop-ups were used as platforms to reach a new customer without actually pushing them to the car salesman.
“When we took a look at our audience, we sought out specific partners that spoke to the audience that we wanted to create an awareness with, as well as brand consideration and purchase consideration,” said Kathleen Kross, Ford marketing manager. “We wanted to be part of the conversation Refinery 29 and Made LA were having. It was a great way for us to share our story with an audience who might not be familiar.”
While Ford left its sales pitches out of these activations, there was still some connection to its core business. Similarly, Burberry’s weeklong pop-up following its Sept. 2016 fashion show in London hosted an exhibit on the making of the Burberry collection, insight to the brand’s history, art and theatrical performances, and a shop for artisans represented by The New Craftsman, which partnered with Burberry on the pop-up space. Even though Burberry had just hosted its first see-now-buy-now fashion show, the products weren’t present at the pop-up, which allowed more room for the The New Craftsman designs, as well as insight into the brand beyond sales.
Other pop-ups lack a clear connection to their parent brand entirely, besides the name. Capital One recently opened a cafe pop up in New York City that sold coffee, provided free Wifi and a workspace to people in the area. The New York location has now closed, but the company has also tested the concept in other markets for the sake of building a branded community, with the Capital One name quietly hovering in the background. (There are ATMs in some permanent cafe locations.)
“These brands want to be seen as more than a brand,” said Tolbert. “What Capital One tried to do was say ‘We want to make sure that you have caffeine and you’re ready to go.’ Then, when’re considering a new bank you might remember that good experience.”
Tolbert said that these pop-ups are playing the long game. As a result, they’re easier for big brands with big budgets to execute. When you’re not making money on an experience, the case for production costs is harder to make, and ROI is harder to measure. Tolbert suggested pushing people to share the pop-ups on social media in order to increase reach and measure impressions.
“The goal around these is to create awareness,” said Kross at Ford. “We measure that through impressions and engagement — it’s not about purchase intent or actual sales. You’re not going to see the returns right away.”
Image: The Ford Garden of Energi room at Refinery 29’s 29Rooms.