Now you see it...

Francis Pearce takes a look at the latest crop of pop-up stores, from those that have a very short lifespan of just a few days to those that have settled in their location...

The short life of the adult mayfly - a few hours or days devoted entirely to mating - helps explain why the male has two penises: design can make a big difference if you're here today and gone tomorrow. In retail, the pop-up puts design to work to introduce customers to brands or renew the acquaintance in ways that may be ephemeral but also create a lasting impression, a relationship.

But the term pop-up is elastic. Leaving aside secret cinema, peripatetic restaurants and flash PR, in retail it describes anything from a hotel's one-day 'pop-up ashram' yoga and spa experience through to the five-year project at Box Park in East London, where a 'pop-up mall' created from shipping containers offers temporary trading spaces.

Pop-ups can be indoors, outdoors, have their own premises or appear as a promotional concession in a department store, can be low/no budget or megabrand extravaganzas, experiential, transcational (sales-driven), experimental (playing with a brand) or operational (testing out a location). As a medium for symbiotic branding they can piggy-back on events or be events in their own right. It is safe, though, to say that pop-ups are characterised by their real-world presence, usually brief and transient.

In the digital age they are one of the few ways that retail can make the brand experience about being right here, right now - creating something unrepeatable, memorable and engaging that is also available only to the in-crowd.

'The meaning of pop-up is changing but the fundamentals are sound,' design agency Fitch's senior insight analyst Jim Whyte says. 'The key trend driving it is that consumers have so much available online. They can simply order things through a network of relatively shallow digital connections, but people still want something tactile and unique. You have to be in a particular place at a particular time to get a particular experience'.

Tom Lovegrove, account director of marketing agency RPM distinguishes pop-ups from the usually longer-lived temporary store: 'Pop-up is predominantly used for raising awareness and generating PR and also presents an opportunity to showcase and/or test new products and measure customer behaviour. The focus of temporary stores is predominantly sales.'

Between October and Christmas 2011, Google opened its first real-world pop-up inside a PC World store in London's Tottenham Court Road to promote its Chromebook personal computer. Its research showed 80 per cent of computer buyers want to touch them before they they buy. The 28 sq m store-within-a-store was deliberately colourful in contrast to the nearby Apple store's cool white, an appeal to computer world tribalism and perhaps even a subtle form of competitive 'brandalism'.

The physical, real-world nature of the pop-up is crucial, Lovegrove says. 'Ultimately pop-up shops create tangibility for brands and therefore build relationships based on a physical experience and interaction with that brand or product. This is why more and more internet sites are moving into retail, as pop-ups are able to convey brand personality, create engaging experiences, and as a result help build brand affinity. It also helps to see that major brands such as Mary Kay, EBay, Boden and UKTV have successfully used pop-ups as part of their marketing strategy, and others will definitely follow suit'.

As an example of symbiotic branding, the Maxim Creative Group installed a pop-up store for sportswear brand Ellesse at Harvey Nichols, celebrating 30 years of the Manchester nightclub the Hacienda with an exclusive collection. This triple-leveraging of sports brand plus aspirational store plus cultural icon was executed in a relatively pared-down design. The pop-up was allocated 14 sq m of space and fitted out with retro, white, high-gloss display units. The design used just three colours, orange, black and white, and included clubbing imagery and graphics on the wall panels.

Big events such as the Olympics or the Jubilee often trigger pop-ups by big brands. But Whyte warns: 'The pop-ups that don't work are those that are overwhelmed by the bigger event. It's very easy for them to get sucked up and all look the same.'

During the 2012 Games, the Westfield shopping centre at the gateway to the Olympic Park hosted experiential pop-ups created by Design4Retail for brands such as Magnum ice cream on behalf of brand consultancy Hot Pickle.

'The big appeal of pop-ups is their transience - their "now you see it, now you don't" dynamic that lends the activity an air of excitement, creating a buzz and increasing traffic. It's vital then to capitalise on this by supporting the pop-up with a range of other channels, including social media and PR,' says Lovegrove. He adds: 'When a consumer walks past a pop-up they need to know it is there immediately, so look and feel, as well as first impressions, are everything.

'The key with pop-up design is to approach the space with creative flair and ensure it is dressed with a consistent theme that reflects the brand personality and appeals to the target audience'.

Successful pop-ups create 'daily disruption' and 'deliberate scarcity', says Whyte. The former is accomplished by 'disrupting the daily routine with a surprise and challenging the consumer to get engaged with the brand. Where you have a technology-based lifestyle you need to create a real experience, but there's a lot of competition for attention so it has be innovative and experimental.'

That can also involve playing with preconceptions and habits of thought. John Lewis opted for an industrial look when it opened its first pop-up store in Exeter in September for six weeks to give customers a foretaste of the lines it proposes to sell in a permanent 'click and collect' department store. In contrast to the brand's usual upmarket, clean-lined but rather mumsy style, the 111sq m sales space was more edgily decked out in galvanised steel and chipboard, and the labels were handwritten.

'There has been a shift in the way we view status. Ownership isn't the same as it used to be,' Whyte says. 'I read somewhere that status used to be about being at the top of the pyramid, Now, it's about being at the centre of the circle, the hub of the network, the quickest to adopt new ideas, being in the know, in the right place at the right time.'

Pop Store provides retail strategy consultancy and brand development as well as creating pop-ups, often within stores. In September, it opened and closed the pop-up in London's Soho promoting Bob Dylan's album, Tempest, for Sony over the course of a week, simultaneously with three more in Los Angeles, New York and Berlin. The Beak Street pop-up offered Dylan fans a downstairs cinema, a sitting area with old magazines and posters and a space to hear and buy the new album ahead of its official release. With 50 years of ready-made material to draw on it was, says Pop Store director Sam Clapp, as much about curation and creating a gallery space as about design, but the key was being authentic to the brand. 'If it's only going to be there for seven days you don't need to spend thousands on the interior,' he says. 'We hired some furniture and bought some pieces to mix and match, but we also have a warehouse with fixtures that we can reuse, respray or use differently, and we work with a props company either hiring from them or getting them to finish things off differently'.

The low-cost pop-up has been put forward as a potential saviour of the high street. Almost 15 per cent of UK shop premises are empty, according to the Local Data Company, although the Association of Town Centre Managers, which takes a rosier view of things, disputes this. Efforts to encourage pop-ups include Middlesborough's We Are Open project, which has been operating since 2009 to give local creative businesses showcases. Carli-Jayne McNaught, who has run the Olde Young Tea House in the town, recently recreated a sitting room at Middlesbrough Institute for Modern Art to coincide with a fashion event. Part cafe, part installation, the pop-up helped her extend her business at low risk.

Perhaps the easiest way to design a pop-up space is to start from scratch. Protean's Reform System framework is used to build demountable walls and ceilings within pop-ups and temporary spaces. At Tate Modern it is used to create seamless walls for small galleries for three months at a time. The idea is that it can be installed or removed to create an empty shell quickly and reconfigured at will - it was used by Visit London London Partners to create an information centre for journalists in the Olympic Media Centre, for example - but some short-term installations turn long term: the systems installed at Stansted Airport for Budget car rentals and Easy Bus are still where they were in 2008.

According to trendspotter Peter Firth at The Future Laboratory, 'there should be a novelty and spontaneity about pop-ups but the term is already getting a bit staid. It's the new "must do" of marketing, and to succeed you have to offer something more than just a temporary shop'. Some manage it and can even be said to outlast their own rationale. Whyte says that 'when a pop-up becomes permanent it probably needs a new name. But whatever they are called, the question is, how do you maintain innovation and creativity?'


Among the more obviously transactional pop-ups at Westfield, Stratford City during the Olympics was Liberty's first satellite store, which operated from mid-August to the end of the Paralympics in September. Despite the low ceiling height, industrial pipe work and light wood flooring, the store's in-house visual identity team based the look and feel of the 160 sq m store on the same colour palette and surface textures as the ornate, dark wood-lined Regent Street store, using some of its vintage display pieces and curiosities. The 'Brilliantly British'-themed store included a Liberty Print photo-booth, hand-painted to resemble a retro seaside attraction that fed through to the store's Facebook page.


The Crocs-Up pop-up shoe store created in Old Spitalfields Market, London, was designed for the Crocs brand's 10th birthday. Avoiding the 'Jubilympics', it took as its theme a light-hearted 'come rain or shine' take on the British summer. Shop fitting and retail display firm Triplar teamed up with design consultancy Beyond to design and locate it within two months. The construction itself took just 10 days.

A rainbow invited customers into the entrance before continuing through the store. Large 3D signage was echoed instore with shoes displayed on pedestals rising from block 'Rain' and 'Shine' lettering. Furniture included a salvaged jukebox, vintage bar and mobile cash desk, and costs were pared throughout using printed vinyl to decorate the floor, walls and displays. At the same time, specially art-worked taxis and street teams advertised its presence. Crocs European marketing director Michael Marshall-Clarke said it enabled the brand 'to communicate our core values of lightness, colour and fun' and provided 'an engaging way to encourage consumers to take a fresh look at Crocs and join our evolution'.


Tim Howitt of Design4Retail says his client, Toms ethical footwear brand on Neal Street, London, took an existing retail outlet for a few weeks but stayed longer. 'We worked on the look and feel inside using fittings that were modular and low-cost, because it was only intended to be there for six weeks. It's still there five months later and still "temporary". If you have an existing retail unit and you install a white box you don't have to worry about structural things. It's all decorative.'


In Belfast, ReFound's director Jill O'Neill has set up seven pop-ups since 2010, starting by working with local creative designers and artists to upcycle old furniture and put it on display. She has now moved the business permanently into a late-Georgian terrace in the heart of the city and is setting up a separate pop-up company, Now You See Me, for another brands.

'You have to be flexible,' she advises. 'You're often dealing with landlords right up to two weeks before moving in. You usually start by ripping out what's there although sometimes you can reuse of it, for example making use of an old sign for a newsagents. We have used old pallets instead of wallpaper. Some premises lend themselves to being more quirky than others are.

'We might use a lot of white to create an exhibition or gallery feel or we might create a vintage industrial look using blackboard paint and brown paper. You always have to improvise.'

PoPuP Concept Events

Anna Samborska of PopUp Concept Events creates pop-ups for up-and-coming designers, giving them a retail presence that they might not otherwise be able to afford. Her role is to source the location and provide the interior design and visual merchandising. In mid-August, she opened a pop-up shop in East London, just off Brick Lane. It sells womenswear, menswear, footwear, leather accessories, jewellery, ceramics, lamps and books. 'It's a vibrant area with a mix of independent retailers and galleries offering products from vintage to the latest in fashion and design,' she says. 'The Truman Brewery is around the corner attracting a design-savvy crowd. My pop-ups are high-end; they look like established shops but the whole process has to be very quick. I began by setting up a pop-up for just seven days but the effort is huge so now I want to keep the location the same but keep changing the designers every month.'

National Theatre's Propstore

The National Theatre created its own in-joke pop-up in the summer of 2012 with Propstore, a working cafe-bar created by its designers from props and theatrical set materials. It popped up on London's South Bank between May and September as part of the theatre's Inside Out campaign, which aimed at giving a sense of the inside workings of the National Theatre and regulars a chance to spot the props from recent productions. 'There has been general wear and tear and a few things have gone missing but the practical design issues have more to do with working with natural light and having to put as much on display as possible because of the lack of shelf space,' says assistant design associate Emma Morris.

Box Park
Future Laboratory
Hot Pickle
Maxim Creative Group
Pop Store
PopUp Concept Events

This article was first published in fx Magazine.

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