Popped up, sold out

Pop-up stores are a golden marketing opportunity for brands and retailers says Richard Ash, chief executive and founder of retail design agency, Green Room Retail.

Richard Ash
Richard Ash

The news that HMV is to open a number of pop-up stores in former Woolworths and Zavvi stores this Christmas had me cheering over my cornflakes when I read it.

I absolutely love pop-up shops. Good ones are exciting, interesting, challenging, commercially astute and a breath of fresh air in any retail scheme.

Pop-up shops – literally stores that pop-up overnight and can disappear almost as quickly – are a growing trend in retail. But to date they’ve typically been the reserve of either innovative niche players or super-brands, seldom seen outside of uber-cool schemes like Carnaby Street, high-footfall retail outlets such as London’s Westfield or at high profile events like Wimbledon.

So the HMV move particularly excites me as it’s bringing the phenomena to the average British high street, helping to spread the word and providing those of us in the trade a living case study as to why pop-ups are manna from heaven for landlords, retailers and consumers alike.

Here is a brand that 18 months ago I was pretty sure would soon be no more.
In the face of such brutal price competition from the supermarkets and online retailers, and with music downloads going mainstream, not to mention the threat of piracy, I wasn’t convinced that HMV would be able to hold its own for much longer.

So when I saw the splash in the FT I let out a little whoop. Good for HMV!

Nipper the HMV dog has clearly had a bone in recent months. I suppose you should expect nothing less from the perky fox terrier; after all the breed is known for its tough and persistent temperament.

HMV is steadfastly resisting the downward spiral that has consumed peers including MVC, Tower Records and Zavvi, through a series inventive and inspiring ventures, not least a spin off into live music venues and a boutique cinema.

Both moves work because they remain close to HMV’s core values while enhancing the retail and brand experience: they give the music or film enthusiast something they can’t get from buying their CD or DVD from Asda, shifting the relationship from one that is simply transactional to a far more emotional level.

It’s surely this lateral thinking that led to this latest initiative.

By the time this article comes to press, HMV will have opened 10-15 such stores in towns across the UK, including Loughborough, Torquay and Welwyn Garden City, each of which share a common trait: since the demise of Woolworths and Zavvi, their residents have been deprived of any means of buying a CD or DVD on the high street.

The pop-up stores will, albeit temporarily, plug that gap. When you consider that something in the region of 60% of CD and DVD sales are impulse purchases, and that they remain a perennial Christmas gift favourite, these temporary stores will give HMV a potentially high return, low risk revenue stream during the busiest part of year.

But pop-up shops can, and should, offer so much more than a revenue stream. In fact, they are one of the most compelling experiential marketing tools for any consumer brand.

As well as providing a decent revenue stream, a well-executed pop-up store can deliver marketing value in spades. Look at them as a tool for delivering a brand experience and you’ll be rewarded with buzz, excitement, publicity and much, much more.

Nike Tennis in Wimbledon; Dr Marten in Spitalfields; Gap on Carnaby Street: all are pop-ups that have captured the public’s (and media’s) attention to create a marketing platform greater than any regular store can hope to achieve. Plus there’s a benefit borne by the idea that the store has a limited time frame: scarcity of time and product tends to install a sense of urgency in the purchase decision. So they’re good commercially too.

Where pop-ups miss a trick is when they simply take advantage of an empty unit and a low short-term rent to pile it high and sell it cheap, with no sense of adherence to brand values or creation of a compelling customer experience. These stores offer no value to the high street and landlords need to resist the temptation to use them as unit fillers.

I’ll be so disappointed if HMV’s foray into the exciting world of pop-up stores turns out to be no more than a temporary jumble sale. The brand – and the British high street – deserves better. Here’s hoping.

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