Pop Stars: The rise of pop-up shops

From Modelzone to Moshi Monsters and MakieLab dolls, toy brands and retailers are experimenting with temporary retail destinations. ToyNews asks industry members and retail experts whether pop-up shops can work in the toy space.
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With low footfall, rising rents and online competition, running a High Street store is more challenging than ever.

So, why not open one just for a month or a week? 

The toy industry has already dabbled in pop-up shops over the past few years, which offer brands and retailers the chance to showcase a new toy or range at a prime time.

In the past few months, Modelzone opened a gift-focused store for Christmas, MakieLab showed off its range of 3D printed dolls at retail (which can normally only be ordered online) and even toy/game start-ups like Linkee have got involved in temporary spaces to see customers reacting to their products. 

In 2011, Harrods opened a Harry Potter pop-up shop, and some Toymaster stores have tried variants in recent years.

But can pop-up shops really aid the toy industry in the long term?

Are they worth the time, effort and investment, or are they best left to boutique stores?

Dan Thompson (pictured right), retail expert and author of Pop Up Business for Dummies, told ToyNews: “The opportunity for the toy industry is around deepening markets and building loyalty through pop-ups – imagine how many more children would want a train set if Hornby started popping up on High Streets across the country, or how many more bricks could be sold if there was a pop-up LEGO play scheme on every High Street this summer.

“Pop-up stores are perfect when the economy's bumpy, as they let people try and test the market at low risk and build good sustainable businesses. They're also bringing people back to town centres which is good for existing shops, too.”

In a pickle

Opening a pop-up isn’t as simple as you might think. You need to find a location, come up with a theme and pull in customers. 

Hot Pickle is one firm that designs, builds and operates both pop-up and permanent retail concepts for clients. It helped launch the Marmite and Magnum pop-up outlets.

Hot Pickle’s planning and creative director Rupert Pick said: “Pop-ups are perfect for seasonal gifting and for brands that lend themselves to creating rich physical experiences. Imagine for example a Monopoly store. A store to retail limited edition ranges and supporting merchandise.”

But pop-ups aren’t for everyone. The Entertainer trialled them a few years ago, but has now decided it’s not right for them. 

“We’re not just a retailer that has a transactional relationship with the consumer, we want to make sure they get the full Entertainer experience, and the reality is you can’t have that in a temporary store,” added The Entertainer’s buying director Stuart Grant.

“All you can deliver is stock on a shelf and a till to pay. That’s not really the type of brand growth we want. I think pop-up stores are an easy win, but not a long-term strategy."

Why open a pop-up shop?

ToyNews asks those who have done it what the benefits were for them:

“The main thing for us was chatting with people and gathering impressions about our product. Challenges: designing an effective shop layout and displays and POS, especially if you normally sell online. We’re a small company, so putting two people in a shop for a week took resource away from the team.”
Jen Bolton, Comms Director, MakieLab

“We opened a pop-up store in Bath last Christmas and we’re looking to do more. We were very happy with the trial.”
Martin Carr, Chief Executive, Modelzone

“We took part in the PopUp Britain campaign. Our sales were not massive, but we more than covered the cost of the pitch and our time. Come Christmas 2013 we are going to look to do it again and are already on the lookout now for other new brands which could complement us.

"Here’s my top tips: Get help from online resources. Look to partner with like-minded brands to share the costs and time it takes to run the shop. And promote the shop locally – don’t just rock up and expect people to come.”
Dean Tempest, Joint Founder, Linkee

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