Pop-ups let luxury brands get a little funky

Many luxury brands communicate their heritage and the promise of an elevated shopping experience through store design: traditional colors, subtle lighting and deep carpets that create an upscale silence. But what about when a luxury retailer wants to have a little fun? Pop-ups give these brands an opportunity to let loose — and they can also help create an immediate climate of exclusivity and excitement on social media.

These benefits are just some of the reasons why “luxury retailers have been the biggest adopters of pop-ups” in recent years, according to Sterling Plenert, SVP at CallisonRTKL in an interview with Retail Touch Points. For any type of retailer, the inherently temporary nature of pop-ups allows them to function as “a laboratory to explore new ideas,” Plenert added: “If it fails, it’s only there for three months, then you move on to the next thing.”

Plenert discussed the happy convergence of luxury and pop-ups and shared his thoughts on design trends likely to remain strong in 2022.

Retail TouchPoints (RTP): What makes pop-ups a good fit for the luxury industry?

Sterling Plenert: Many luxury brands have been around for 100 or 150 years, so they have a very “locked in” brand DNA. When you walk into a store, there’s carved woodwork, recessed track lights, carpeting – but in a pop-up they can do it completely differently, with blue flowers or waterfalls lining up with the product. It can be a unique and engaging shopping experience that they cannot do in their main stores.

Also, because pop-ups are only around for a limited time – and I’ve seen them run for as little as 24 hours – by their nature they immediately become exclusive and unique. Another of their best features is that they are nimble and allow retailers to try out new locations. Traditionally, luxury brands have been pretty limited to big cities, but with a pop-up you can, with minimal investment, get to Boise, Idaho, or central Nebraska. Sometimes you don’t know how much money is available until you bring an expensive product to market. Thus, merchants can use pop-ups to validate a location, test a new concept or for the release of a new product. Essentially, it allows these brands to expand their customer base without a colossal investment – and it’s a way for some more established brands to stay relevant and alive.

RTP: You called pop-up labs for experimentation. What are some of the most important metrics retailers should collect from their pop-up trials?

Plenert: Foot traffic and sales are the two most obvious, but retailers can dig deeper into these numbers to learn more about the type of person who visited the space. Are they newbies unfamiliar with the brand, long-time brand loyalists, or novelty seekers? A key data point is where people relate to the brandand it’s important to look at newly gained customers or loyal ones who are more interested in the latest iteration of a brand.

Marketers should also consider social media: did the pop-up generate buzz? Is this a hot new space for influencers to see? In today’s retail environment, many pop-ups are made-to-order experiential spaces for Instagram photos — things like the Ice Cream Museum or interactive Van Gogh exhibits. Many luxury brands are vying for this visitor; after all, people used to see going to a high-end store as a day of fun.

The most important thing, however, is the experience customers have. Customers reacting in real time to [a retailer’s] a product or a brand can be informative, especially for a brand coming from an online presence only. They get critical feedback from these face-to-face interactions in a highly competitive retail world.

RTP: What are the most common challenges retailers face when creating pop-ups of all types?

Plenert: There are technical challenges that vary by location type. Even though it is a temporary structure, it must still meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and sprinkler coverage. So if it’s in a mall, a pop-up may not have a solid ceiling or you may need to add sprinklers. Another issue is licensing. Most municipalities don’t treat pop-ups any differently than any other store location, so going through the permitting process can take longer than the time the pop-up itself would work. And if the pop-up offers food or drink, it must meet all local health codes.

Our advice is that if you are taking over an empty storefront or other commercial space and you can make a space-transforming design using vinyl wraps, loose fixings, and various types of visual merchandising, you can often create a pop-up without needing a new permit.

There are a different set of challenges for brands using pop-ups to move from DTC to omnichannel. These brands often struggle to adapt to this environment in terms of training staff, packaging a product, managing inventory – things they didn’t have to do when selling online. line. It is particularly important to train staff; if the salesperson is inattentive, rude, or surly, it puts you off, no matter how good the rest is.

RTP: How are innovations like Callison’s? sidewalk pod expand pop-up possibilities?

Plenert: The development of the Sidewalk Pod was a reaction to COVID. Many municipalities in the United States and around the world have allowed restaurants to take over part of their streetscape to allow brands to meet social distancing and air circulation requirements while expanding opportunities for increase foot traffic and sellable areas.

A typical pop-up does not change the mall [it’s housed in]but at least here in New York they have changed the urban environment by allowing pedestrians to take over the streets from car traffic. And as they become larger structures than just things made out of shipping crates, they create another layer of the city that wasn’t there before. From being simply operated by restaurants, they are expanding to have retail businesses, bicycle parking and play areas.

The Sidewalk Pod, which Callison developed with the ASTOUND Group, is an adaptable kit of 8′ by 20′ pieces – the size of a parking space. Many owners/operators don’t have the skills, knowledge, or funds to design and take over a space like this, so the Pod allows them to fit whatever they need. It provides an infrastructure that could have different skins for, say, an Italian restaurant versus a lingerie store. It’s basically a much easier system for owners/operators to expand into the street.

RTP: What retail design trends do you think will be strong in 2022?

Plenert: We see, especially with luxury brands, many exclusive areas for customers, such as VIP rooms or entire floors. In addition, retailers selling, for example, sneakers or t-shirts create special rooms for customization processes, where customers can interact with sales staff or even designers. The retailers I’ve seen do well do things that make customers feel special and offer things you can’t get in an online interaction.

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