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Business Advice

Surprise element

Pop-up spaces are leveraging the novelty factor in shopping to grow their businesses with canny collaborations
The Business Times - June 7, 2014
By: Tay Suan Chiang
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Surprise element Shophouse & Co’s Stella Gwee and Adib Jalal formed Transitional___by Shophouse & Co – a site-specific temporal setup to optimise under-utilised sites around Singapore to get merchants together in one space for retail as well as workshops (above).

WHAT'S popping up even more than the never-ending stream of new cafes that seem to open almost every week? Pop-up spaces that is - one-off, temporary stores or events selling fashion, food, handicraft and a myriad lifestyle options.

But in a growing scene where there are more pop-up ideas than venues to hold them in, one player is putting a new spin on the concept.

Shophouse & Co - a curatorial and consultancy firm - works closely with the creative community and saw how many of their bright ideas were diminished by not having the space to hold their events, be it an exhibition, retail or workshop space.

"A major hurdle they face is high rental and startup costs when starting their projects," says Stella Gwee, director of Shophouse & Co.

Teaming up with the firm's creative director, Adib Jalal, the duo started Transitional___by Shophouse & Co, a site-specific temporal setup, to overcome this problem.

Ms Gwee sees many under-utilised sites around Singapore, so "we contacted these landlords to pitch the idea of activating the sites for the creative community to make use of. By doing so, the idea is that both the landlord and the creatives become partners in building a vibrant community in these spaces."

Transitional ___ will mark its debut at 115 King George's Avenue. The loft-like space takes up the ground level of a six-storey building owned by The Bamboo Group, a property group that supports the community through their developments.

"Rather than leave the space empty, they're letting us use the space for free," says Ms Gwee. Transitional___ at 115 KG began on May 24 and will run till June 22. While it joins the likes of other pop-up stores such as Temporium and Nong, Ms Gwee is quick to point out that they are not a retail store.

"We do not sell anything. Rather, we provide the platform for other parties to use the space."

Curated experience

Hence, Shophouse & Co has collaborated with Naiise. The online retailer for well-designed products has set up a temporary shop at the King George's premises, selling locally designed goods and food items. Another creative group that Shophouse & Co is collaborating with is Tyrwhitt General Company to organise crafting workshops.

Shophouse & Co collects a fee from vendors who retail or sell a service, "but otherwise, we keep things free," she says. "For example, an artist who wants a place to show but not sell his paintings can do so here without having to pay a cent."

She adds that the pop-up space works well for "vendors who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford rent, or start-ups who want to have a feel of the surroundings."

Ms Gwee goes on to say that "the possibilities for use of a Transitional___ space are endless, such as creating a performance space for a theatre group". She declines to reveal more for now, but says the next site could be in the Duxton Road area.

Already, Transitional___ is a win-win situation for both Shophouse & Co and The Bamboo Group. The pop-up space has brought more crowds to the area over the weekends, and a tenant has already been confirmed to take up the space when Transitional___ vacates.

This is the second pop-up store for Naiise, after a successful one at Nong at People's Park Complex earlier this year.

Naiise founder Dennis Tay says that rather than a permanent shop, pop-ups work for him because, "I can create different concepts for each shop." At Transitional___ at 115 KG, the Naiise pop-up store takes on a more industrial look, as Mr Tay took decor inspiration from the many hardware stores in the area.

Having a pop-up store, "allows customers to touch and feel the products, which they can't do when shopping online," he says.

Another online retailer that is jumping onto the pop-up store concept is local fashion label, Matter.

Rather than set up a full-fledged pop-up retail space, the newly launched brand works with just a small cart. Matter's Nomad Cart first showed up last month at Wanderlust hotel. Unlike other brands which pop up then disappear, the Nomad Cart is going places. The cart is now at Pact at Orchard Central, and will show up at another three more locations till next month. Matter doesn't pay to place its cart at these spots.

Matter's co-founder Renyung Ho says that the "travelling Nomad Cart was conceptualised in lieu of a launch party to develop initial brand awareness and complement the online experience. We have a separate showroom but viewings are by appointment only so the travelling pop-up gives us room to have a bit of fun with a physical showcase."

Besides a small selection of items for sale, customers can browse books on India's textile history, handle handcarved block prints, and see up-close the dyes used for Matter's inaugural edition of trousers.

"Online sales still make up the bulk of our business as the cart is more of a travelling brand showcase than a retail point but the cart has generated interest and awareness for the brand and is a great way for people to meet Matter for the first time besides building word-of-mouth," says Ms Ho.

While pop-up stores are popular with online retailers, even physical stores are doing pop-ups.

Hipster store The Redundant Shop has its home at Everton Park, but has a pop-up store at the lobby of the Wanderlust Hotel till June 22, and is planning to do more.

Pauline Chung, its partnership manager, says, "it is not possible to reach out to everyone through the Everton Park shop, so we toyed with the idea of a temporary space to help us bring our Redundant brand out in another way."

The pop-up shop carries an exclusive range of Redundant merchandise and stationery that are not yet available at the Everton Park store - to attract new customers. In turn, home appliances distributor APS Lifestyle has also turned its gallery into a pop-up shop, with its second edition of 9 Muthuraman Chetty Market - named after its address - or 9MCM.

Invited merchants

This year, it invited merchants such as Rokeby Bistro, Habitat Coffee and A.muse Projects to sell food, alongside lifestyle brands such as MandyT Skincare and Four and Twenty. Elaine Ong, spokesman of 9MCM, sees pop-ups as a new form of advertising. She isn't worried if customers come to the gallery but leave without buying any SMEG or Whirlpool appliances which APS carries.

"What APS wants is not the 'in-your-face' kind of marketing. 9MCM is a subtle way to let customers know about our gallery and the brands we carry," she says. "As long as customers leave knowing that our gallery exists and APS Lifestyle carries kitchen appliances, that is good enough."

She adds that by supporting local merchants through 9MCM, "the merchants that we bring in indirectly represent us as well, so it is good that we are associated with these hip bistros and brands."

Louis Tan, spokesman for pop-up bar Mixes from Mars at Duxton Hotel says that setting up a pop-up bar is "usually cheaper" and it was an opportunity for average folks such as him and his partners to get into the business.

Mixes from Mars opened last December and will close this December when the hotel undergoes renovations. Despite the bar doing brisk business on weekends, Mr Tan says the team has no fixed plans to re-open. "It depends on the market and whether we can get a good deal on a location."

For now, Ms Chung believes that the pop up is still going strong.

"The ability to 'pop up' unannounced, quickly draw in the crowds, and then disappear or morph into something else, adds to the fresh feel, exclusivity and surprise that commercial shops or malls cannot provide," she says. "From the business perspective, it allows small companies to tap into a new market at low cost and to reduce inventory. From the consumers' perspective, it is an alternative to aggressive commercialism."


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