Overall, running a popup was a valuable experience for me as a designer. It allowed me to test my market before committing to a store of my own. My shop did well, but I also learned that I wasn’t ready for a permanent storefront.
In my case, the problem was that my product didn’t have enough mass market appeal. High-end merchandise with a limited group of target customers doesn’t necessarily flourish in a brick-and-mortar setting. Products with a slightly broader appeal do much better. So I haven’t run another popup since those first two that I did; I’m busy relaunching my line with a new approach. I’d like to produce just one or two items (instead of a complete collection) with a broader market appeal. I’ll still be true to my design aesthetic, I just won’t be producing a full line. Then I’ll focus more time and energy on online sales. Running a popup showed me exactly what direction I wanted to move in!
Here’s what I’d say to landlords who might be considering a popup tenant. Both of the spaces that I rented had been vacant for a long time — but the landlords continued to show the spaces during the popup, and both of them immediately got rented after I left. They were rented to long-term tenants paying the market rate. There are a lot of designers out there who would be willing to take a space as-is, in exchange for reduced rent and a short-term lease. Most designers are multicreative — they don’t mind fitting out the space on their own. This is tremendously beneficial to the landlord, as it makes the space much more attractive to tenants.
Landlords could even consider taking the first step. They could publicize the fact that they’re open to trying two or three month leases. They could be accessible — have someone people could call to get information about the space. Huge building management companies often waste tons of space because interested renters can’t call anyone or get answers to their questions. It’s great to be open! Philadelphia, in particular, is becoming known as a great place for independent creative ventures – this is something New Yorkers are starting to appreciate about us more and more. It’s exciting to be a part of that.
Existing shops and boutiques can also list their spaces. They could offer a nook for a “store within a store,” or offer to swap out their space entirely during the holiday season. The ad would be simple — “Open to Christmas buying season popup partner in the shoe category” (or jewelry, or whatever).
One of the things I love about the popup ethos is that there’s a certain magic to it. The shop is here today, gone tomorrow. Finding one is more like happening upon an event than visiting an establishment. If you could get a handful of landlords with boutique-like spaces and connect them with some kind of design community, there would be tremendous potential there!
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