When Vancouver-based Indochino launched its first pop-up store in Gastown in 2014, the fashionable suit-seller logged about four months of sales in four days.
“I think it took us three weeks to enter all the orders manually into the system,” said Indochino’s e-commerce executive Michael Macintyre.
Indochino’s foray into pop-ups was part of its strategy to transition from an online-only business to having a bricks-and-mortar presence. The Vancouver-based retailer now plans to expand to nearly 60 permanent retail locations around North American by the end of the year.
However, Indochino and other industry insiders say pop-ups, a useful marketing and sales tool increasingly in favour with online retailers, must be handled strategically or they could backfire.
Indochino launched in 2007 as an online-only retailer but quickly realized customers were reluctant to spend money online on a luxury product that required specialized measuring and fitting. The firm launched its first pop-up in Vancouver and then spread the format to other key North American cities.
Less is probably more in pop-up strategy
“We probably did too many pop-ups,” said Drew Green, Indochino’s CEO. “In looking back, it was certainly a good testing ground as we discovered and moulded our strategy from a retail perspective, but I think it’s really important for online-only brands to make a full commitment and probably do less pop-ups.”
When they launched, 90 per cent of shopping in Canada was still done in-store and Indochino needed to tap into that market, Green told RENX in an interview.
Green said building a meaningful pop-up which represents the brand well can cost almost as much as setting up a permanent store.
“You (also) take the risk of damaging customer interactions or the brand by only being up for three months, or six months, in a certain location,” he said.
Indochino now has a target of opening 145 showrooms across North America in coming years. Many of the leases will extend 10 years or longer.
Pop-ups useful tool, but setup isn’t so easy
A well-planned, professionally designed pop-up remains a good way to test a market and create brand awareness, said Craig Patterson, a Canadian retail consultant and editor-in-chief of Retail Insider.
The International Council of Shopping Centers contends retailers with strong omni-channel strategies, backed by physical stores, generate the most online sales. “They called it the halo effect,” Patterson said.
Having a physical store also creates a sense of legitimacy for a brand, especially as people become more concerned with online fraud. However, finding landlords willing to lease for shorter periods, sometimes just days or weeks, remains difficult.
“If you’re renting something for two days, that cost to rent for two days would be quite a bit higher,” he said. “It could be a couple thousand dollars a day instead a couple hundred dollars a day if you’re there on a five-year lease.”
Staffing a temporary store can also be tough, Patterson said. “How do you get a person to come work at your store temporarily?”
Another challenge is standing out from the crowd.
Toronto is one of the world’s biggest pop-up cities, he said. “Every week I’m getting an email saying ‘we’ve got a new experience centre you need to go to’. I’m starting to get pop-up fatigue.”
Pop-up retail supports omni-channel program
Emily Salsbury-Deveaux has monitored Indochino’s omni-channel success. She launched her women’s clothing brand EMMYDEVEAUX in Edmonton in 2018. She started her online store simultaneously with a three-month pop-up at a 100-square-foot space at West Edmonton Mall.
She wanted to use the space to assess interest in her new brand. If it failed, she planned to take a full-time job with a national retailer.
“After about one month, I knew that we had a good business,” she told RENX. “By month three . . . we were about 92 per cent (sales) in the store and eight per cent online, which was great.”
By the third month, the sales split was closer to 50-50 online and in-store.
She said the price point for EMMYDEVEAUX requires people to feel the products at first. “But once we’ve gained their trust, they don’t want to come back to the store, which is an issue.”
After creating a second pop-up at a different location, EMMYDEVEAUX opened a permanent office and large showroom in November 2018 in a building at 6924 Calgary Trail in Edmonton.
Salsbury-Deveaux used her pop-ups as a “brand play”: “We went in, put up wall-to-wall, ceiling-to-floor decals of the brand. We focused a lot on educating customers.”
Cheap feel to mall pop-ups can backfire
She cautioned that developing a short-term pop-up in a mall which looks and feels temporary could backfire for a new or transitioning retailer expecting long-term growth.
“We were going to do a really impressive experience, but we needed to have a lot of money to market to get people into the mall,” she said.
“The ones who don’t survive are the ones who just roll in with rolling racks. It’s really about . . . an entire experience and the expectation of the brand.”
EMMYDEVEAUX is planning another pop-up in Toronto in May.
“Half of our customers are in Toronto, so when we go there, there’s an expectation of who we are,” she said. “They already follow us online. They know what our space looks like here. We can’t just show up with rolling racks . . . they have expectations.”