Popup Philadelphia: Spotlight on Designer Kendra Brill

Popup retail is everywhere during the holiday shopping season. We love this trend in retail, and we wanted to talk to some local shop owners about their experiences. We’ll be sharing highlights of these interviews over the next few posts.

Our first interview was with Philadelphia designer Kendra Brill. 

Fashion isn’t Kendra’s day job. She works full-time for an investment firm, where she and her partner manage nineteen companies, including some tech startups. But in July 2011, when Kendra turned 40, she decided it was time to realize a dream. She started working on her own clothing line and by October she had a complete collection of seventeen pieces, which she marketed during a three-month popup retail event. We asked her a few questions about her experience of running a popup. Here’s what she had to say.

During the winter of 2011-12, I ran a popup store at 54 N 3rd St in Old City Philadelphia. In spring of 2012 I repeated the same concept in a nearby location.

Kendra Brill retail spaceWhen I was looking for space, I had a lot of options to investigate. There was so much prime commercial real estate just sitting empty. All these landlords were waiting for long-term tenants paying the market rate, which is a bit short-sighted, because the same rationale applies to commercial real estate as to living space. From a landlord’s perspective, it’s best to have the space occupied. Having the space built out and in use makes it much more attractive to potential long-term tenants, so it’s in their interest to make a deal with a short-term shop. Yet they tend to need a little convincing.

DSC_1288In terms of choosing the location, I knew I wanted to be in an area where there were residences. After that, it was a matter of finding a landlord who was open to the idea. I found Old City landlords much more amenable than Center City ones. Center City found the whole idea very weird; Old City landlords were more laid back and open to options. (It’s too bad Center City is like that. Those are heavily-trafficked shopping corridors, and could be very fruitful venues for short-term retail!)

I visited established Old City merchants and asked them about the shopping dynamics in the neighborhood. They all told me the same thing: the best place for a popup would be 3rd Street, between Market Street and Arch Street. There can be a huge variation in the patterns of foot traffic from block to block in this area, so it was important to get the local perspective.

Kendra Brill light fixtureThen it was time to build out the space. A visual artist friend of mine, Michael DeLuca, did the windows – for fun. I knew that I wanted an industrial-chic, New York loft type of aesthetic. Michael got that, and he did a fantastic job. He had plenty of experience; he’d done Louis Vuitton’s windows for a decade. A cousin did metalworks and designed fixtures. Once we were done with the metalworks and fixtures, by the way, we returned them to the artist, who sold them. Basically, we borrowed his pieces, showcased them, and then returned them for sale. I continue to work with my collaborators in the project and promote their work.

I’d advise potential popup merchants to go out and meet potential landlords in person. Let them see that you’re an adult professional. Ask about the lease price, and then make them an offer — less than the monthly rate they’re asking, but paid up front for a term of two or three months. Stress that you’ll take the space as-is, and let them know that they can show the space while you’re occupying it – this is often a major selling point. You’ll be building out the space, making it look awesome, which will make it a much more attractive space to show. So, practically speaking: maybe the going price is $2000/month but the place has been sitting vacant for ages. A fair popup offer might be $4000 for 3 months, with the stipulation that you take the space as-is.

Stay tuned for part two of Kendra’s interview. She’ll tell us about what she learned from her popup experience and what landlords can do to attract great short-term tenants.