Nov 3, 2008

Pop-Ups Aren’t Start-ups

What’s behind the move to so-called “pop-up” retailing? Pop-ups are small boutiques that sell a very specific and timely set of merchandise out of opportunistically procured retail spaces for a temporary period of time. They may surface and disappear in a matter of weeks. They're fast, and they're fashionable.

The latest blitz, into trendy parts of Manhattan, was just launched by Target Stores to merchandise John Derian for Target, a line of home furnishings by a name-brand designer. Target’s is backing the store with advertising bombardment that creates excitement, buzz, and walk-in traffic.

But when I said ‘what’s behind’ a pop-up like John Derian for Target, I meant that literally? How does a retailer do it? After all, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work involved: Getting fashion designers on board, connecting their new patterns to manufacturers, running the fabrication operation, QC-ing the output, coordinating all these retail route-to-market efforts so that the consumer-oriented activities fire at the right moment, not too long and not too short. It’s hard. And it’s not really something a retailer like Target normally does.

The answer is limited backward-integration. Target takes responsibility for orchestrating the work performed by varied players in its supply chain. Indeed, that’s very different than traditional retailing.

But let’s not confuse backward-integration with backward-ownership. Especially where pop-ups are concerned, you don’t want to own any more than you have to. That would be too slow, too risky, and too long-lasting. Get in, get out (if nobody comes). Pilot new customer experiences, or products. Limit your risk, maximize your impact. That’s the ticket.

And that’s what I like best about pop-ups. They decondition the management reflex to buy first, integrate later. With pop-ups, the reverse is far better. Even a product manufacturer can do it for awhile, then if you have to for expansion purposes, buy into retail later.

More than likely, the demonstrated results will provide real muscle in campaigns aimed at influencing key retail partners to move in a new direction. Real sell through data. Real sales per square foot data. And most importantly, real customer response and satisfaction data. The kind of information a product maker needs to create expertise - and consumer-experience influence.

Pop-ups. I love ‘em.

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