Lion'esque Group, pop-up architects

Learn the Pop-Up Shop Secrets of the Big Brands from an Insider

by Jenna Compton
July 21, 2015


If you’ve ever researched pop-up shops, you’ve probably seen some really elaborate concepts and spaces. Why do brands create these pop-ups?

Having a well-designed, well thought-out, interactive experience is an investment brands can make to do much more than create something fun for their audience. Investing in a pop-up can be more than just experiential.

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk with Melissa Gonzalez, founder of the Lion’esque Group, a group of pop-up architects who help retail brands craft engaging experiences for their customers. She’s worked with multiple big-name retailers and even authored a book about pop-ups, The Pop-up Paradigm. Melissa gave us some great insight into the world of pop-up shops and how they can be a smart investment for brands looking to branch out in a different omnichannel marketing initiative.

This post is based off my interview with Melissa. Let’s get into it!

The Evolving Pop-up Perspective

Melissa got into pop-ups after she burned out working on Wall Street. In fact, the opportunity kind of just happened by accident. Originally wanting to pursue acting and with a background in entertainment (host of BET’s Latin Beat for three seasons), Melissa felt that being a pop-up architect balanced her talents nicely: business focus from her Wall Street experience and knowledge of interacting with and managing brands from her experience as a VJ on BET. It all blended together to make her into a leading pop-up strategist in NYC.

Melissa first began in this industry in 2009. Since then, she’s seen a shift in pop-ups in terms of the brand goals. “Popups were different then,” Gonzales says, “the number one goal was to get more sales.” Now the goal is more about meaningful engagement versus generating immediate sales.

Does Digital Make a Difference?

Oftentimes, pop-up experiences allow brands to excel because they offer the customers a tactile experience with the product. Being able to touch and feel a product influences purchasing. In a Harvard Business article about pop-ups, Gonzales states: “We’ve encountered customers who double their purchasing when they get in a space where they can touch and feel the brand itself”. (source) So, does having a digital element really make a difference in the customer’s overall experience?

Gonzales says it completely depends on the target demographic and how they respond to technology. If your brand is already an interactive brand and your target demo “gets tech”, then implementing a digital solution can be a smart play for your pop-up strategy. The brands doing tweet shops succeed because their audience gets it.

A previous collaboration the Lion’esque group had with, a UK-based ecommerce brand, was a very digital experience. The customer was able to try on outfits in a Stylinity “digital mirror” which captured their images into a digital catalog, allowing them to save it for later, share it socially, and have it emailed to them later to shop each item.

Gonzalez said the experience had a bit of a learning curve for the customer when it came to using the digital display, circling back to her point about the target demo “getting” the technology. “They’re used to instant gratification,” says Melissa, “if it’s not easy they won’t try that hard.”

Pop-up ROI

When I asked Melissa about the ROI of a pop-up for a brand, she was very clear that it is 100% necessary that the brand have a clear idea of what their goal of this initiative is so that the return can be measured. For example, Gonzalez said that many “newer” brands who’ve come into this type of marketing initiative don’t have much data around their current customer base. So, at the end of their pop-up, they may not see a change in their growth until 2 or 3 quarters afterward when their previous data can then be compared to data collected after the pop-up finished.

Other more established brands are using pop-ups to collect more data about their current customer base, making the ROI of their popup visible in customer insight. Gonzales told me that many larger brands are now using pop-up shops to conduct customer research in a way that lets them gather more nuances than hiring a research firm, which makes sense. In a pop-up you can actually see and track the way people are behaving in real-time versus gathering information through a survey or study held in a controlled environment.

Should You Delegate Budget to a Pop-up?

Regardless of your brand’s size, Gonzalez says you shouldn’t do a pop-up unless it’s right for your demographic and well thought-out. Telling a good story and having a marketing budget to devote to this initiative are necessary in order for it to do well. And, no matter what others may say: location IS important. So if you’re not sure you have the money to devote to a pop-up shop just yet, Gonzalez suggests collaborating with another brand in order to not waste money. As the nature of pop-ups has changed over the years, you shouldn’t see doing one as being an immediate boost to sales and driver for immediate revenue. Which, according to Melissa, “can happen, but isn’t very likely.”

For any ecommerce company wanting to create a successful pop-up experience, Gonzalez says there are 3 musts:

  1. Be 100% clear on goals.
    Are you looking to launch a new concept? Are you looking to educate your customer? Are you trying a collaboration to see if the relationship works? Are you opening a seasonal channel?
  2. Claim your spot.
    As best as you can, use your current data to map out the best possible location to serve your current customer base. Will people commute a long way to visit? Take this thought into account.
  3. Don’t skimp on marketing.
    Last but not least, don’t forget your marketing strategy. Even if it’s grass-roots or guerilla strategy, make sure you’re doing something. Just because you pop up doesn’t mean customers will know.

The Future Of Retail?

When I asked Melissa if she thought pop-ups were the future of retail, she responded that she thinks “the way in which people utilize physical spaces is the future of retail”, so not necessarily pop-ups. Though she definitely thinks that immersive elements and the integration of physical and digital are the future, it doesn’t mean that a pop-up shop is the end-all, be-all. Melissa sees technologies like 3D printing and augmented reality as being the future of retail and has already seen a bit of virtual reality done in omnichannel projects.

To learn if The Lion’esque group is the right consulting group for your brand, visit their website to learn more about their services.

A special thanks to Melissa for doing this interview with me. You can keep up with The Lion’esque group here on Twitter and with Melissa via Twitter, too.

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Jenna Compton Jenna is our Director of Marketing and provides regular contributions to the blog. When she's not reading about business, she can be found running, drinking good coffee, and fiddling with projects.