Over the past few holiday seasons, New York City has seen an increase in the number of pop-up shops and marketplaces due to not only the experience they offer, which has become increasingly important, but also the bigger factors at work in the economy such as the rise of rent and online shopping affecting year-round brick-and-mortar stores.
Pop-ups are all about right here and right now. “Trying to maximize the exposure and only pay rent in the maximum traffic. You know exactly when people are going to be there and focus on when that traffic is and when the customer is buying,” said Chris Conner, owner and franchise consultant at Franchise Marketing Systems,
Vacant, a source of connection for real estate owners and those seeking to open a pop-up shop in both NYC and L.A., defines a pop-up store as the following on their site: “A pop-up shop is a short term or temporary store used by companies to build brand awareness, launch a new product, test a consumer market or targeted retail location, including experiential marketing.” Opening a pop-up to test new ideas and products in one of the most heavily trafficked cities in the world during the holiday season can be a great benefit for business owners.
“It is a very public focus group that is willing to give you a ton of information that you can learn from,” said Melissa Gonzalez, founder of The Lion’esque Group, a retail pop-up shop agency. These temporary stores are a different kind of experience for shoppers and people are “going in there to discover, to be surprised and delighted,” she said.
PopUp Republic, a prominent figure in the pop-up business, said that in 2014 the pop-up industry made $2 billion during the usual holiday shopping rush.
In NYC alone, there are many iconic pop-up shops and market places, collections of pop-up shops, that have appeared for many years, including Bank of America’s Winter Village at Bryant Park, the Grand Central Holiday Fair, the Union Square Holiday Market and the Columbus Circle Holiday Market.The Bryant Park website states that the Winter Village hosts over 125 “boutique-style shops”.
According to Claire Bernard, marketing director at Urbanspace, which runs the Winter Village at Bryant Park, Union Square Holiday Market and the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, the pop-up market at Bryant Park has been around for 23 years while the one at Columbus Circle has been around for 13 years.
Even though these places may be only around for a few days, weeks or months at a time, a good amount of planning goes into creating a successful pop-up. Gonzalez said that the Lion’esque Group tries to have clients plan at least three months in advance but the average is closer to about six weeks of planning and that duration of the pop-up really doesn’t play too much into the amount of planning.
Before set up begins one of the first, and most important, steps to running a successful pop-up is finding a location that receives not only a large amount of foot-traffic but also the right kind, especially if your shop is geared to a particular type of customer.
A very important aspect of running a successful pop-up, though, is finding a location that receives not only a large amount of foot-traffic but also the right kind, as most shops are geared towards a particular type of customer. This requires finding landlords who are willing to rent short-term to a business.
One of the things that hurt year-round stores the most is that they usually struggle to pay rent during the off-season. “Rents just got way too high too fast,” said Ken McCarthy, an economist at Cushman & Wakefield, “Now what we are seeing is tenants pushing back.”
This is leading to a higher vacancy rate in some places. Manhattan is easily the most visited borough during the holidays due to the numerous window displays, Christmas trees, ice rinks, shows and many other holiday-themed attractions. According to an article in The Real Deal, which covers real estate news in New York, Cushman & Wakefield, commercial real estate brokers in NYC, said that Manhattan had a rise in vacant retail space from the first quarter of 2015 to the first quarter of 2016. Cushman & Wakefield reported that this included some popular areas such as between 42nd and 29th streets on Fifth Avenue (31%), Soho (25%), Herald Square (22%), the Meatpacking District (22%), Times Square (20%) and Madison Avenue (17%). The rise in vacancies is due to the landlords’ reluctance to lower rents and tenants inability to cover such high rental rates.
“It’s troubling to think that the vacancy rate is going up, it sounds alarming and it probably won’t end soon,” said Barbara Byrne Denham, an economist at REIS, Inc., which deals with commercial real estate data and analytics. She is believed that something positive could ultimately come out of the high vacancy rates, though, “It will keep rents from soaring.”
Even if rents are kept from going sky high, retail businesses still have to deal with e-commerce, which typically offers low prices that brick-and-mortar stores can’t compete with. “Retail is diminishing in value every day and every week because more people are shopping online and trying to stay at home,” said Conner.
But one thing that the online market cannot offer is an experience. According to an article from Business Insider in July 2016 by Bob Bryan, Bank of America looked at data from those with Bank of America debit and credit cards and found that when it comes to consumer’s spending habits, more people are spending their money on experiences rather than buying goods. While by experiences they most likely mean going out and doing something, places like pop-up markets provide that experience a lot of people are looking for, particularly during the holiday season.
“That sense of urgency, limited time only tends to drive more traffic and sales,” said Gonzalez.
Hayley Lind, a 23-year-old Pennsylvanian who moved to NYC in 2015, thought she was completely in tune with the NYC pop-up industry, having attended numerous sales for many designer brands throughout the year. Last year though, she was completely and pleasantly surprised when she discovered the Union Square Holiday Market.
“My friend and I stumbled upon it last November and both spent a ton of money,” said Lind “I bought all my family’s Christmas gifts there, as well as a few things for myself.” The draw for her was the unique items offered for sale, things she said she didn’t think she would be able to find anywhere else, and the fact that they were affordable. “The goods range from beer-making kits, handmade socks, NYC artwork and Moroccan inspired jewelry. There really is something for everyone,” said Lind, who is excited to see what this year’s market, in addition to other holiday markets, would bring.
“The markets have grown in the 23/13 years. They have been at their current size for a couple of years now” said Bernard, “We are maxed out in size as we don’t want to overtake too much of the park land that’s meant for pedestrians and the community.”
At Bryant Park, an employee at the information booth said sanitation workers walk around the park during the holidays and count the number of people visiting the marketplace. For those that have strolled through any of the marketplaces, it can sometimes be pretty obvious that a majority of the visitors are tourists, trying to soak up some of that typical NYC holiday experience.
But just because there is more traffic during the holiday season and because they don’t have to worry about paying rent during the off-season, doesn’t ensure success for all pop-ups. Gonzalez said that there are a few important things that play into whether or not a pop-up will be successful. She said that merchandising picks and marketing are extremely important because so many people are doing pop-ups right that there is a lot of competition out there.
Gonzalez said that pop-ups shops really must develop an audience before opening up. Owners need to keep in mind who their audience is and what they are looking for. During the holidays, she said, people are looking for three main things: giftable products, great deals, and something to wear for the holidays.
“Never think of these things as your make or break,” said Gonzalez “On average pop-ups break even at best.