Appear Here is on a mission to prove physical retail isn’t dead, it just needs a push in the right direction. The company, which helps fledgling retailers rent available storefronts for pop-up shops, is hoping its second competition since 2015 will further affirm its position that the future of retail isn’t exclusively online.
Founded by CEO Ross Bailey in 2013, Appear Here operates similarly to Airbnb, but instead of renting rooms to travelers, it liaises with landlords to identify short-term retail space for businesses. Property owners can list spaces for free, but Appear Hear takes a 15 percent commission from the rent, which varies depending on location and size of the venue. Beyond startups, the company has worked with several prominent brands, including Net-a-Porter and Nike, which have used the site to identify locations for experimental activations or to test new products.
Appear Here’s forthcoming challenge, titled Space for Ideas, calls upon entrepreneurs to submit proposals for their companies along with a vision for a brick-and-mortar experience. Winning teams will receive a three-week stay in a shop in a locale of their choosing, in either New York, Paris or London, as well as point-of-sale technology courtesy of Square. Elizabeth Layne, CMO of Appear Here, said beyond providing business owners with the resources needed to get a store up and running, it gives them invaluable brand awareness in high-foot-traffic locations.
This renewed brick-and-mortar purpose is the foundation of Appear Here, which recognized that as stores continue to shutter, long-term leases feel increasingly risky to brands. Pop-up stores provide a lower-risk alternative to selling products in a physical setting, while at the same time serving as a valuable marketing opportunity. The numbers are telling: The pop-up industry was valued at $50 billion in 2016 alone.
“Brands want more flexibility than ever before,” Appear Here CEO Ross Bailey told Glossy earlier this year. “Stores used to be opened as a sign of growth and for shopper convenience, but that’s now matched online. Physical retail is still needed, but to tell a story. That demands more unique approaches.”
When Appear Here first held Space for Ideas in 2015, it helped bring awareness to a then little-known collapsible bicycle company in London called Porterlight Bicycles. After its winning stint in a physical store, the company signed a deal with Deliveroo (a food service delivery company comparable to Seamless or Grubhub) to serve as the official bike of the business.
This year, Appear Here was able to attract several well-known judges, including Warby Parker cofounder Neil Blumenthal, Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet and Soho House CEO Nick Jones, among others. Though Layne said Appear Here has worked with Net-a-Porter in the past, the judges were chosen specifically for their entrepreneurial backgrounds and penchant for testing retail boundaries. Beyond scoring the entries and selecting the three finalists, they will also provide hands-on insight and feedback.
Appear Here is currently in the application phase and already received several hundred applications since it opened submissions on July 31. Layne said it anticipates upward of 2,000 applicants.
“We love brands that pick a space and use it as a launch pad to getting picked up by an amazing buyer, a concept store or a department store,” she said.