RALEIGH, N.C. — Pop-up markets. Pop-up restaurants. Pop-up shops.
The phenomenon takes many shapes as entrepreneurs use the markets as a tool to test their products and services, hone their business model, collaborate — and most importantly — create a buzz and capture the attention of consumers.
For Christina Norsig, a pop-up venture is defined as going into a location, setting up a temporary store and then leaving. Some pop-ups are markets with vendors under tents; others are held in empty retail spaces at malls or existing businesses.
“It is for a limited time,” said Norsig, who opened her first pop-up store in New York City in 2003 and later founded PopUpInsider, a national online exchange that connects potential pop-up retailers with landlords. Norsig also authored “Pop-Up Retail: How You Can Master This Global Marketing Phenomenon.”
The temporary nature, Norsig said, is one of the aspects that makes the concept so compelling.
“I think it is a wonderful vehicle for small businesses to use to build their business and sample their business, meet consumers that want to be long-term customers,” she said.
The pop-up vehicle, Norsig said, gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to answer questions about their product, a location or their market. Norsig recommends that owners of property that has the potential to make a good pop-up location should create an agreement that outlines compensation, expectations and legal protection.
Pop-up ventures take many forms, including seasonal holiday superstores, thrift and charity ventures, monthly markets and restaurants.
The Cookery, a Durham, N.C., event space and commercial kitchen business incubator, took advantage of the temporary format by creating a successful pop-up restaurant called Hakanai, which lasted for three days in February.
Nick Hawthorne-Johnson and Rochelle Johnson, the husband-and-wife team that owns The Cookery, collaborated with Billy and Kelli Cotter, owners of Toast, an Italian sandwich shop in Durham, to create the restaurant.
The project took months of planning and required a Herculean effort from chefs, waiters and others, Hawthorne-Johnson said. But in the end, it created a unique experience.
“It was absolutely … logistically and physically one of the most difficult things I have ever done,” Hawthorne-Johnson said.
Hawthorne-Johnson’s goal in the next year, he said, is to bring chefs from across the nation to The Cookery to do more pop-up restaurants. Hakanai’s concept centered on providing quality ingredients, an approachable price point and paying staff well, Hawthorne-Johnson said. Future pop-ups will probably not yield big profits, but will need to be sustainable, he said.
“All in all, I think that people doing what I would call a ‘real’ pop-up restaurant for the money will be disappointed in the financial outcome, or will have to disappoint their diners by cutting corners to make it more profitable,” Hawthorne-Johnson said.
Raleigh Denim rolled out its first pop-up venture — Raleigh x Vetted Pop-Up — in its New York City shop in March. The high-end Raleigh, N.C.-based denim brand worked with Vetted, an online store that sells high-quality products with a great story — including Raleigh Denim — to create the market.
“It is technically a way to collaborate with another boutique that we like,” and connect with new customers that might not come into the store otherwise, said Victor Lytvinenko, who founded Raleigh Denim with his wife, Sarah. “We are just trying to keep it fresh, and see how things go.”
Some shops use the pop-up format as an opportunity for businesses to band together, test products or create a buzz by holding regular events.
In March, Tracey Johnson and others started “Pop-Up Sunday at Ornamentea,” a monthly pop-up market that includes food trucks, vendors and a charity that benefits from donations in exchange for beer and other items.
“We just wanted to do a pop-up shop that was very community-oriented,” said Johnson, purchasing manager at Ornamentea, a Raleigh craft materials store, and owner of Patina South, a collection of vintage and handmade jewelry and art.
Johnson has taken Patina South to various pop-up shops in and out of the state. The shows have yielded from $200 to $1,000 in profits for the business, Johnson said.
“It’s everywhere,” Johnson said. “People really like that mix.”
Pop-Up Sunday gives new vendors an opportunity to get their feet wet, Johnson said, as it may be difficult for them to get into or afford to set up a booth at an established market.
“It’s kind of like the one step after having a website,” Johnson said.
Whitney Robinson started Freshly Given in 2012 after deciding to build a business centered on transforming excess leather from local manufacturers into women’s accessories.
In July, Robinson tested her idea by opening a one-day pop-up shop in a Raleigh building.
“I wanted to know if I actually had a product that people were interested in,” Robinson said. “And I felt the best way to do that was just to get out there.”
Robinson said the experience, along with the second pop-up shop she did in September while visiting her sister in Brooklyn, N.Y., helped her to edit her products and focus on creating a cohesive collection of minimalist purses and clutches to serve as classic wardrobe pieces.
“A pop-up shop gets you outside of your own little world into reality,” Robinson said. “Just to see if you are marketable, or where you should be. And it’s good to have fun. It’s good to have interaction with real people. I would highly recommend it.”