Five skywriting planes etched the phrase “Existence or Nonexistence” into the vivid blue skies above Brooklyn last Sunday. What did it all mean?
While deep thinkers may get all existential about the mantra, it was actually an art project riffing on the CIA’s statement that it neither confirms nor denies “the existence or nonexistence” of drones. As the word “existence” slowly evaporated however, my thoughts turned to what a retail colleague of mine calls “ephemeral,” or pop-up retail.
New York must be the epicenter of the ephemeral. Retail concepts pop-up and then pop-out on an incredibly frequent basis. It’s like chasing butterflies – be quick with your net or they will be gone.
Just this last weekend, I visited a pop-up studio, a pop-up showroom, and a pop-up shop in SoHo, and a whole series of pop-ups (or what we used to call market stalls!) at Brooklyn Flea.
As I observe regularly, there is nothing new in retail. The concept of pop-ups has been around for thousands of years. But in the last decade, the idea has been dusted off, re-badged and re-launched as “pop-up” (the phrase first appeared on trendwatching.com in January 2004).
The appeal is also based on a timeless retail pitch – it’s about marketing the idea of scarcity. This is here for a limited time only. As shoppers, we respond well to shortage rather than abundance. In a world saturated by stuff, we also crave experiences and a good pop-up delivers.
So, going in order from the fascinating to the fancy, here are the pop-ups I saw in just one weekend in New York:
- “Dan’s Parents’ House” and “American Butt” – both at Brooklyn Flea. The former is brilliantly named – it captures the odds and ends the eponymous Dan might have ransacked from his folks’ place. The latter is equally ingenious – it represents re-styled vintage clothing with a playful twist, such as using a silkscreened image of Bart Simpson’s bright yellow butt.
- “Fab Happy Modern” is a pop-up furniture studio in SoHo from the creators of fab.com, the online home of daily design inspiration and sales. Fab has now developed its own private label line of furniture and this temporary showroom launches the collection. Shop in store and then jump on the bank of iMacs and buy. It’s all well designed, well priced and well curated. And like many of the online-goes-offline stores, it’s fun – free water, free Wi-Fi, free yo-yos, free candy, and even a “pop-up within a pop-up” stocking some other fab designs.
- “Samsung Galaxy Studio,” also in SoHo, is planned to be an EXPERIENCE with a capital “E”. As you enter, you get a plastic smartcard, and the goal is to circulate through the store, interacting with Samsung electronics product in different ways and gathering points along the path. Do your job, and you get rewarded with goodies at the end. When I was there, you could 3-D print key-tags, design your own t-shirt on a Samsung tablet, order a complimentary cappuccino and a pastry on a Samsung phone at the cafe, and pretend to be a rock star and get your photo snapped in front of a wall of screaming fans.
As I exited the Samsung EXPERIENCE (which was well-done if not a little self-conscious) I stumbled across a hole-in-the-wall “Baked By Melissa” pop-up shop. Teeny-tiny cupcakes in an itsy-bitsy store, packed with people.
It was then that I thought back to Brooklyn Flea, and a display constructed out of old metal letters (for sale, of course) next to “Dan’s Parents’ House.” It read “Brooklyn Play,” I think the notion of “play” is really at the heart of the pop-up. Whether it’s a market stall, or a mass-market corporation doing something different, let’s have some fun people. Happy shoppers open their wallets.