Pop-up stores give small businesses the gift of grab

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Posted: Sunday, November 24, 2013 12:00 am

Amy MacCabe has run the Savory Spice Shop in Charlotte, N.C., for two years. But she’s still got a long way to go in spreading the word about her “1,600-square-foot spice pantry,” and what it offers.

“We get great people in (our shop) every day who say, ‘I didn’t know you were here,’ ” MacCabe said.

That’s why she’s so excited about her latest endeavor: “hitting the mall pavement.”

Just in time for the holidays, MacCabe opened a 10-foot-by-11-foot walk-through gift shop in a bustling corridor in Charlotte’s SouthPark Mall, between Belk and Dillard’s.

It’s eye-catching; it’s packed with holiday gift boxes, ranging from $22 to $75, as well as individuals spices, starting at $3 a bottle. And most of all, the shop itself has an expiration date: less than two months.

Retail analysts call this temporary structure a “pop-up,” a business that sets up a temporary location, then leaves.

It could be a one-day market, a weeklong kiosk or a months-long stint in a storefront. The key to short-term retail is the strategy.

“It’s a way to grab (consumers’) attention,” said Christina Norsig, known as the “Queen of Pop-ups,” and author of “Pop-Up Retail: How You Can Master This Global Marketing Phenomenon.”

“It’s this whole notion of everything speeding up and consumers’ needing to be stopped in their tracks,” she said.

Norsig achieved notoriety in the “quick” retail scene during the height of the recession in 2009. She’d noticed all of the empty retail spaces around New York City and knew how expensive it was for landlords to maintain a space without a tenant. She also knew how wary small-business owners were of signing an expensive long-term lease in a tough economy.

So Norsig helped found PopUpInsider.com, a national online marketplace where merchants can connect with landlords and shop for temporary retail space.

Though some big-box retailers are testing the strategy, Norsig says it’s largely a movement among startups and mom-and-pop small businesses.

And, she adds, for a savvy entrepreneur, it can pay big dividends.

For Shelly Domenech, opening a pop-up store was critical during the biggest transition of her entrepreneurial career.

Domenech, whose lingerie and fine sleepwear boutique I.C. London celebrated 20 years of Charlotte success last year, oversaw two stores. But she grew weary of two rents, two inventories, two sets of employees and little time for her own two children. So over the summer, she decided to consolidate the two stores in one central location.

The only problem: Her two leases ran out before her new one started. So for five months, she rented a 500-square-foot space inside upscale women’s consignment store J.T. Posh.

Also sharing the space was another pop-up shop, Womb Maternity Consignment.

But it took strategic advertising to make sure customers even knew about her temporary spot. Domenech updated her website and continued posting updates to her more than 1,200 Facebook fans and nearly 2,000 Twitter followers.

“It wasn’t easy,” Domenech said, but “it kept me going during the summer and it gave my customers a sense of calm, like, ‘She’s still in town.’ I think it was reassuring that I didn’t close for five months.”

Sisters Courtney Sloan and Jill Pleune, who co-own Sloan Boutique in Charlotte, opened their doors to another brick-and-mortar retailer, Jeffre Scott Apothecary, this holiday season, to better market themselves as a one-stop shop for holiday wear.

Scott, a nationally recognized makeup artist, set up a makeup counter by the shoe displays on the second floor of Sloan Boutique in early November.

The shops had operated pop-ups before for trunk shows and other events, so they knew his offerings — from makeup to brow-shaping — were complementary. In lieu of rent, Scott is giving the sisters a percentage of his sales from the pop-up.

“Customers are loving it,” Pleune said. One customer came in to get shoes to go with a holiday dress. While she was trying them, Scott recommended a bright red lipstick and lip gloss.

“She was like, ‘Now I’m complete,’ ” Pleune said. “You can literally come to our store, dress from head to toe, and walk out the door and be ready to go.”

Sloan Boutique itself opened a pop-up inside boutique Luna’s at the Lake. The 15-year-old store had upscale clothing, but no shoes. Bringing Sloan in to cover that gap was a good way to begin offering more without the upfront investment in inventory.

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