Sunday, August 31, 2008

New Store Formats are 'Popping Up' All Over

It’s official – last month TNS’s Retail Forward Shopper Scape reported that we’re going to the mall less than we did just two years ago. Regional mall and lifestyle center traffic is down sharply since 2006. The upshot? There’s a lot of empty retail space available – between bankruptcy, cash-strapped consumers, and changing trends, malls have seen tremendous turnover in their tenants. Sharper Image, Bombay & Company, Crate and Barrel, Victoria’s Secret, Illuminations, and Footlocker moved out of our local malls in the past 6-12 months as retailers go under or seek a different type of real estate or consumer demographic. The same thing is happening across the country.

You might think that would be good news for anyone looking for a deal on retail space. Not necessarily. With mall traffic down, established retailers and newcomers are trying new store formats and site selection strategies to appeal more to consumers. Retailers from Staples to Best Buy to Wal-Mart are experimenting with new, smaller, Main Street formats.

One of my favorite new formats is Pop-Up retail. These temporary arrangements have a tendency to pop up unannounced, quickly draw in the crowds, and then disappear or morph into something else, adding an element of surprise and newness to their efforts. Charmin Ultra took over a 12,000-square-foot location and installed free luxury restrooms in Times Square during Christmas of 2006. Charmin’s pop-up Potty Palooza generated a lot of press…and goodwill for the company.

Up until now, most pop-up retail has been brought to us by consumer goods manufacturers who don’t have direct access to their customers. They are designed to generate trial and awareness. A few retailers have also embraced the format. Limited Brand is among the retail pioneers.

College campuses are a natural venue for pop-up retail because of their “Captive” audience. The WSJ reported last week that Victoria's Secret's Pink, a young women's clothing brand of Limited Brands Inc., this fall is opening its own pop-up stores at about 12 schools, up from 10 last spring. The stores open for a day, selling merchandise, handing out promotional items and collecting used clothing for charity. How much can a single location generate in a day on-campus? Last Spring, stores rang up sales of $20,000 in a single day on average.

That got me thinking about other promising pop-up venues. Will corporate campuses be next? Seems like a good bet.

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