Fall 2015
Regional Retailers Leverage Pop-Ups

by Melissa Gonzalez

Lessons learned from Ministry of Supply, Boohoo.com, Sole Society and Safety 1st.

What happens when a brand is looking to test a new market, gain feedback about a new product line, enhance brand awareness and/or widen its reach beyond its core demographics? Today they are turning to pop-up retail activations as a solution to connect one-on-one with customers. Via a temporary physical environment, menswear brand Ministry of Supply has been able to test and retest, with the goal of eventual permanent brick-and-mortar stores. U.K.-based fast fashion retailer Boohoo.com was able to build brand awareness in the United States and connect with key influencers. West Coast-based online shoe retailer Sole Society has enhanced awareness of their local presence in the L.A. market. And, children’s retailer Safety 1st successfully introduced their new product line to their target customer market and widened their reach beyond core demographics.

Let’s look at what each of these retailers learned from their pop-up experience.

Ministry of Supply

“As a company, testing and iterating is in our DNA and we use that testing methodology in everything from our clothing to our website,” says Kit Hickey, Co-Founder of Ministry of Supply. “Via pop-up shops, we are always looking to cement our relationship with existing customers and find new customers—but, also test our branding language in a physical space.”

As a newer brand, it’s not easy to dive into a longer term, 10-year lease. However, by investing in numerous pop-up shops, ranging from one day to six months, the Ministry of Supply brand was truly able to test how they present their value proposition and product line in an immersive environment. They were able to hone in on their retail branding language to convey who they are and what they stand for in a physical storefront. In addition, it was a concrete way to test if they can successfully penetrate a particular city or neighborhood.

Sole Society

For Sole Society, pop-ups have been a great tool to help convey that the brand is an L.A.-based company. “Many customers didn’t know that we were local, so by having the pop-up here at our offices, it really put us on people’s radar,” reports Christine Kayayan, Marketing/PR Coordinator of Sole Society. By focusing on their local community, they were able to strengthen their relationship with existing customers by getting their shoes physically in the hands of buyers so they can see and feel the quality, and try them on at the same time, as well as spread word of mouth to broaden their customer reach.


Coming from the U.K., with a mission of U.S.-market penetration, Boohoo.com needed a high-impact activation to generate brand awareness and also allow for opportunities to connect with key opinion leaders in the United States. “To achieve our goals, we kept our customers at the forefront of the experience so they can get to touch and feel the brand and see what all of the noise was about,” says Kelly Byrne, Senior International Marketing Manager of Boohoo.com. As a result, the Boohoo.com Soho pop-up shop was a true experiential shoppable showroom that featured secret DJ music sessions in the tucked-away lounge area, blogger meet and greets and VIP events for social media influencers.

Safety 1st

For Boston-based Safety 1st, the pop-up shop was in a key market for the brand where they felt confident they would be able to reach their target audience.  “While our core audience is prenatal women and parents and caregivers with children zero to eight, we were able to tap into demographics outside of that core, really helping to trumpet our brand message,” says Marianne Pyliotis, Senior Marketing Communications Manager at Dorel Juvenile Group.

Safety 1st had a three-pronged strategy. Goal one was to reintroduce Safety 1st as a local, hometown brand to Boston parents and caregivers. Secondly, they wanted to garner on-site product reviews. “Watching our target consumer interact with our products provided us with invaluable insights and kernels of information that we can take back to the product development process and directly affect product solutions while still in development phase,” Pyliotis says. Lastly, they wanted to secure local media coverage, and ultimately were a great hit in the Boston Herald and covered by local mom and dad bloggers and influencers.

Expect challenges

While each brand had clear goals, and ultimate success stories, pop-up activations also bring some challenges. For Ministry of Supply, it was finding landlords who believed in their vision and were willing to do a short-term deal. They were fortunate to partner with some great landlords and companies, from Jamestown to Roger Smith co-founded by Lion’esque Group to Artis Coffee, which has enabled them to do short-term leases in truly turnkey spaces. For Boohoo.com, which is an international brand, not having a presence on the ground in New York was a challenge for them, so they contracted Lion’esque Group to handle securing vendors, permitting (something they never had to deal with in the U.K.) and run the show from build-out and breakdown to making these things happen flawlessly. For Sole Society, their continuous challenge is finding the happy medium of knowing how much product to bring in to sell, as well as finding the right time frame and days of the week. Over numerous pop-ups they continue to test timing (weekdays versus weekends, evenings, afternoons, etc.). And for children’s retailer, Safety 1st, time constraints were their largest challenge with an aggressive six-week timeline to coordinate everything from general contracting of the space to establishing a robust calendar of events and engaging programming throughout the run of their show. Ultimately they walked away with a pop-up shop that favorably showcased their brand and new products.

Across the board, despite the challenges, each brand benefited from their pop-up strategy in brand awareness, collecting and analyzing data, testing new markets and making sales. For Ministry of Supply, physical retail has by far and away exceeded their expectations and they’re really focusing on physical retail growth over the next few years, through a combination of pop-ups and longer-term leases. For example, their pop-up in San Francisco on Fillmore Street had amazing success and this solidified their decision that San Francisco is a great market for them and they are actively looking for a longer-term lease based on the analytical findings of that pop-up activation.

For Boohoo.com, their first New York City pop-up shop exceeded their expectations in terms of generating new customers, massively extending their social reach and creating talking points amongst influencers in the market, which was their initial objective. For Sole Society, their L.A. pop-ups met expectations and as a result the company has a strong following of repeat customers now for their pop-up sample sales. And the first Safety 1st pop-up exceeded the retailers expectations as they were able to reintroduce their brand locally, garner local media coverage and capture numerous online product reviews on-site. They plan to continue to evaluate the pop-ups and make recommendations to their other brands and business units on best practices and lessons learned.

For more information, visit LionesqueGroup.com.

Melissa Gonzalez is the founder of The Lion’esque Group and author of The Pop-Up Paradigm. She co-founded RSPOP with the Roger Smith hotel and has since grown the venture into three street-level revolving storefronts. She also works as a consultant for major online retail brands and property groups looking to leverage omni-channel strategies via pop-up shops.

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