Most retail stores would consider staying in business for just a few days a total failure. But a growing number of merchants are opening overnight shops that appear and disappear within the blink of an eye.
These "pop-up shops" essentially are temporary boutiques that pop-up in random locations for a couple days to a week and offer exclusive items. The quickie format originated in New York City but is rapidly spreading across the nation, filling in empty spaces abandoned by out-of-business retailers. Some pop-ups are run by large retailers but a new trend is towards pop-ups fronted by small boutiques with a strong online presence. Minimal storage costs and cut-rate rents allow retailers to offer high savings, although the selection is fairly limited. Shoppers like the bargains but also appreciate the unique products on offer.
If the trend continues, it could reshape the nation's retail landscape, diminishing the power of commercial landlords and making it easier for large merchants to test new locations and products with little commitment. It also allows smaller companies to quickly run through new stock without the expense of storage or hiring permanent employees.
Toys R Us opened roughly 80 temporary toy shops nationwide this holiday season, including several at upscale malls previously unavailable to the chain. JCPenney touted its back-to-school offerings last fall through interactive pop-up displays at six Southern California malls.
Target is considered by many to be the granddaddy of pop-ups. The big-box chain introduced Isaac Mizrahi's fashions for women at a 1,500-square-foot pop-up in Rockefeller Center. One Christmas, Target even tied a 220-foot barge with its bull's-eye logo to a pier in the Hudson River.
This holiday season, temporary stores run by Target offered 50 products, including 99-cent Christmas tree ornaments and selections from its Rodarte fashion line.
These quickie stores continue the blurring of the line between retail and entertainment, as marketers and property owners merge their creative talents. But temporary stores aren't entirely new. Some shopping centers have specialty-leasing departments that turn empty space into paying tenants for a brief periods. What is new is the interactive, entertaining nature of the shops.
During the holiday season, one New York clothing store held karaoke contests. High-definition TV provider Voom rented space in Minneapolis, where customers could experience HDTV on a comfy couch in a living-room setting. And eight Westfield Shopping Centers in Southern California allow customers to test drive a Hyundai on racetracks built in the mall parking lots.
Even magazines are getting in on the trend. Wired pitched a tent last November in a SoHo storefront to promote its advertisers' latest consumer electronics. The holiday store drew 1,000 visitors each of the six weekends it was open, despite the fact that the store didn't really sell anything. Instead, consumers ordered electronic treats on laptops linked to a temporary Web site.
While pop-ups are finally making their way into middle America, New York City and Southern California are naturally moving on to the "swing shop" trend, where stores change their merchandising concept entirely on a cyclical basis. New York City retailer Scoop created the new concept last fall at a store expected to change its concept six times a year, each cycle offering a different twist.