The Rise of Pop-Up Culture

Beyond the introduction of new products and rebranding, pop-up spaces inject a welcome shot of adrenaline into the once-static retail shopping experience.

The beauty retail industry is in the midst of a continual metamorphosis that took root a few years ago. More interactive merchandising and buying practices, often taking the form of pop-ups, have shaken things up to create an entirely new marketing and shopping trend. As a result, any avid beauty consumer worth her weight in lipstick has her inbox full of invites to pop-ups within beauty stores or gets word of them via Instagram posts about the latest trends and techniques.

From indie start-ups to established brand names, pop-ups are evolving into a dynamic facet of the beauty buyer experience. The recent Byrdie Beauty Lab pop-up partnership with Nordstrom was so successful that virtual sessions were made available to those unable to attend in person–and those sessions continue to drive traffic to websites and future events.

No doubt the temporary store-within- a-store, stand-alone or marketplace is what’s propelling many start-up brands to thrive and reach consumers beyond the e-commerce format. In particular, emerging brands have embraced the concept, seeking out equally enthusiastic and creative retailers to reach a wider audience and drive sales.

POP GOES THE RETAIL
Retail is far from dead–pop-ups have brought new life into once stagnant and predictable stores. Experts like Indie Beauty Expo cofounder Jillian Wright and Aptos marketing director David Bruno consider pop-ups to be the breath of fresh air consumers crave–and a way for retailers to generate buzz around new products and give shoppers a feeling of discovery and exploration.

“Pop-ups and events can evoke feelings of excitement or even nostalgia, making the experience so much more than just a trip to the beauty counter.”

–Jillian Wright, cofounder, Indie Beauty Expo

“With the rise of digital, we all know that brick and mortar has been a tough area for retailers to win. It’s crucial that retailers make the in-store experience feel special, giving customers a reason to come into the store,” Wright explains. “Pop-ups and events can evoke feelings of excitement or even nostalgia, making the experience so much more than just a trip to the beauty counter. Plus, the limited availability provides a sense of urgency.”

Bruno adds, “It’s an exciting time to be in beauty retail, and pop-ups play a big part in sustaining that enthusiasm and excitement with both the buying public and the retailers and brands looking to capitalize on that excitement.”

Beauty fans love to be the first to know about new trends, and pop-ups provide an exclusive preview while giving the retailer an opportunity to stimulate new business and motivate their existing clients to return to the store. “Cultivating special ‘snapshot’ moments for consumers will keep them coming back for more and encourage their friends to do the same,” Wright explains. These limited- time pop-ups do not merely keep customers entertained; they spawn a lively dialogue as well as interest from the media.

I’M WITH THE BRAND
If anyone is familiar with the quandary of how to get your product out there without the expenditure of permanent retail space, it’s the founder and owner of Liquid Courage Cosmetics, Roshell Rinkins. A self-proclaimed “serial entrepreneur,” Rinkins appreciates the flexibility of the pop-up format. She believes a brick-and-mortar storefront would not only be too costly for a smaller brand but impractical as well.

“Someone who lives in San Francisco is not going to drive two hours to San Jose to buy makeup,” she states. “The ability to move around venues not only in the Bay Area but around the country has been a real advantage for Liquid Courage and other brands trying to reach consumers.”

Face-to-face interaction is a recurring theme in any discussion about the efficacy of pop-ups. “No one knows a brand like the brand itself,” says Marla Russo, CEO of Bella PR in New York. She explains that, without the burden of retailers having to hire and train extra staff, the pop-up becomes a win-win for both parties.

Rinkins says, “When Liquid Courage is a featured brand at a pop-up, I am right there with the shoppers who are thrilled to interact with the owner of the company. In fact, that is one of the biggest advantages of a pop-up for a retailer ... a ready-made staff of brand ambassadors.”

“We’re always mindful of making sure we’re giving each customer a one-on-one experience that feels intimate for them.”

–David Olsen, CEO, Cos Bar

Alicia Yoon, founder and CEO of Peach & Lily, couldn’t agree more. After her successful pop-up at Bergdorf Goodman, Yoon can attest to the power of client interaction. Not only can she and her staff gauge a customer’s excitement and curiosity, “but you see what they’re purchasing; you get a whole different qualitative layer to understanding your customer–and vice versa.” Yoon was surprised that a micro needle device sold particularly well– which she feels was due to the personal attention from a brand adviser, who eased uncertainty about the product and aided in customers’ understanding of its safety and efficacy.

With storefront locations in Hong Kong and Singapore, Ceramiracle founder Eugene He also believes pop-ups offer an innovative means for educating customers around the globe. “As our [skincare] products can be quite technical due to the clinical studies behind them,” he states, “pop-ups give us the opportunity to educate our customers, which often drives loyalty.” He also emphasizes that “the focus of a pop-up should always be on sharing the brand experience and not putting pressure on customers to purchase.”

For retailers and brands, achieving customer loyalty is a long-term investment rather than a short-term sales measure. Sales and ROI are always a consideration, but building client relationships and brand trust is at the heart of a successful pop-up. Social media outreach and marketing are also critical components to a pop-up’s success. Bruno says that proper planning can almost guarantee a gratifying outcome. He says, “Marketing and promotion of beauty pop-ups have a well-established pattern. The beauty segments of social media are full of mega-influencers who can be enticed to appear or promote the pop-ups–and often play a role in driving awareness and engagement in these short-term investments.” For brand owners, establishing and fostering relationships with retailers to generate buzz and awareness is also crucial so that everyone involved benefits from the pop-up shop.

MARKETING LIKE A PRO
For PR firms organizing pop-ups, comprehensive planning is involved before, during and after an event. Lynn Tesoro, founding partner at New York’s HL Group, stresses that creating anticipation and excitement about an upcoming pop-up via social media is a must. Pre-event media previews can reach millions of beauty devotees on Instagram and generate excitement about a pop-up before it has opened to the public.

“No matter what market we went into,” Tesoro says, “we created a moment; a connection. [The brands] are putting that moment out there so that the consumer sees it. It’s going directly to the consumer and it’s instantaneous, and it’s then shared.” Thus, the merger of pop-ups and social media has allowed beauty brands to transform a once static user experience of browsing shelves in a store or scrolling online into a shared event where the consumer is discovering products in a fresh environment.

STATUS SYMBOL
While so much focus of the pop-up conversation has been on indie brands competing for that coveted shelf space, the prestige market is becoming increasingly involved too. Indeed, many luxury brands are embracing experiential formats. This affords retailers the opportunity to curate a pop-up by utilizing the expertise of a brand with an established track record. Luxury retailer Cos Bar has experienced tremendous success with pop-up formats. CEO David Olsen credits much of its popularity to personalization and client interaction.

“As our products can be quite technical due to the clinical studies behind them, pop-ups give us the opportunity to educate our customers, which often drives loyalty.”

–Eugene He, founder, Ceramiracle Skincare

Many of Cos Bar’s most popular events involve personalities and brand founders like Tata Harper visiting a Cos Bar store for workshops, classes or seminars–and plenty of Tata Harper skincare products to sell. Olsen reiterates that these events have generated tremendous buzz and interest from the public, attracting many new, loyal customers. “We’re always mindful of making sure we’re giving each customer a one-on-one experience that feels intimate for them," Olsen says.

WORTH YOUR WHILE
Retailers can determine the success of a pop-up by how frequently customers return to the store. By rotating indie brands, retailers can also use pop-ups as a “trial period” to figure out if a particular brand is a good fit for the store long-term. “Based on the performance at the event, the retailer can make quick adjustments or changes in the merchandising strategy,” Wright says. Conversely, a retailer can determine if a brand isn’t performing well and move on.

For Yoon, the combined financial yield and customer feedback were worth the time and investment. “For brand owners, activating a pop-up is a really great way to learn. So instead of thinking of it as, ‘What is the ROI on this,’ I would say ... make sure you’re not only looking at the qualitative benefit. There’s another element to consider, because the learning you get out of it that you can implement online is pretty robust.”

What does the future hold for pop-ups? Is it an ephemeral trend or a peek into the future of retail? Most experts seem to agree that pop-ups are not in danger of extinction anytime soon. In fact, the concept is as infinite as the imaginations of the people who create them. However, all of our experts agree on one thing: A pop-up should never be viewed as a cheap and fast substitute for authentic buyer engagement. Consumers want to touch, feel and get to know a brand through genuine connections. Guests want memories and something positive to share and enjoy–which makes pop-ups beneficial to you, your customers and the brands you choose to partner with.