What’s with this whole “pop-up” thing…and why does it matter?

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“Return” of the Pop-up

Pop-ups are taking over Richmond come the 2015 UCI Championships, and as we RVA’ers make our way into full-blown bike fever, hometown championing, tchotchke and souvenir instragramming, and high fidelity consumer enthusiast mode, it only makes sense we would put our happy local consumerist appetite to the test.

As you might have already heard, there are a couple of rather well-coordinated pop up events taking place around Richmond, and these events represent more than ancillary theater to a major economic development effort.  They are an opportunity to “activate” much of Richmond’s languishing commercial and retail storefronts and spaces, a chance to change the pace and feel of different neighborhoods, and — in part– an opportunity to take the City’s temperature and measure its disposition towards the whole pop-up movement over the long haul.  After all, this trend may be here to stay for awhile…

So what is a “pop-up”?

A pop-up is the opening of a store or business in a bricks and mortar or otherwise dedicated location with the intention of operating for a short period of time.  Typically, this will mean that a given enterprise is operating with scaled back resources, limited inventory or infrastructure, and is dynamic enough in scalability to transplant itself to another location with relative ease and within a compressed timeframe. This can include anything from a clothing store to a business consulting firm to a coffee shop to a theater.

The “pop-up” is not by any stretch a new concept, per se.  Not unlike the town fair or carnival, the food truck revival, or a flea market in an underutilized epically large parking lot, the function is to capture consumers or audiences at a specific time at a designated temporary location.  They are essentially the same thing, right?  Well, perhaps…with one key difference.

Test the product or test the space?

For the most part, the intention of the aforementioned examples is primarily to test the product.  In the real estate context, the function is to test the space. In fact, increasing the novelty of these two components is perhaps the best way to gain constructive market feedback on a building and/or location — whether it be positive or negative.

The two primary stakeholders of this arrangement, the owner/landlord and the tenant/business proprietor might proceed with skepticism given the temporality of such an agreement.  A landlord might think,  “But why do the pop-up thing?  Can’t we just lease the space already to a long-term tenant?”.  A prospective tenant might argue, “Why would I want to do a pop-up for a few weeks?  I really want a space to plant the flag for my business and grow.”  These are understandable responses, but when real estate is in need of some new life or you’re trying to get a business going without really knowing your market, getting creative can be the best solution.

Winning the Market: Why Pop-Up’s Are an Excellent Investment

For a landlord, a pop-up provides the opportunity to:

  • recapture some cash flow over a limited time, if even at a reduced rate
  • stage, reconfigure, or reconceptualize a space in market-tested environment
  • greater market exposure through visibility and concept marketing
  • gain access to a greater tenant population and new local industries
  • lease with limited financial obligation and reduced risk with minimal or no tenant fixtures/improvements
  • have flexibility to explore more than one tenant concept
  • create a platform for testing adaptive reuse or redevelopment projects
  • provide flexibility with a leasing agreement

For a tenant candidate, the pro’s are also many:

  • opportunity to test a product in a new market setting with limited financial obligation
  • opportunity to refine or experiment with business concept
  • allows a business to lease space at a discounted rate
  • discover new business synergies or complementary concepts
  • refine business operation to a identify more efficient real estate footprint
  • pioneer/lead a retail or commercial effort in a new market
  • re-brand
  • evaluate scalability of business
  • provides flexibility with a leasing agreement

As you can see, the results can have far-reaching and long-range impact for both a landlord and a potential pop-up tenant with a successful marketing strategy, logistics management, and operational framework.  Even more impressive is the opportunity to coordinate such efforts at scale, on say, a city block level.  Then you are not just testing a space or a building– you are testing a neighborhood.  

The first coordinated pop-up event has been scheduled to take place along Broad St. and is a joint venture handily planned by Richmond’s Storefront for Community Design, Downtown Neighborhood Association, Monument Construction, HandsOn Richmond, Douglas Development Co., and the City of Richmond and is an attempt to reactivate some primely located real estate on the 100 and 200 blocks of East Broad Street in a timely fashion, to coincide with the 2015 UCI championships from September 19th – September 27th.  You can learn more about this event at pop-up rva.  You will also see another version of this effort along Hull St. in Manchester at Plant Zero over the same time period, and you can learn more about that event at Pop-Up Revolution.

Let UCI fever commence.  Until post-popping-up…