05/09/2014 05:10 EDT | Updated 07/09/2014 05:59 EDT

Blink and you'll miss them: Pop-up shops feed appetite for limited-time buys

TORONTO - Gwyneth Paltrow has carved out a following and digital presence with her lifestyles brand Goop — interest the Oscar winner is seeking to translate offline with a short-term storefront.

Paltrow recently celebrated the launch of the Goop pop-up shop in Los Angeles. The endeavour follows the well-trodden path of top-name brands, emerging designers and small-scale companies looking to generate attention and boost their profiles with limited-time showcases.

While pop-ups can be used for a variety of reasons, its primary purpose has been promotional, said Ken Wong, faculty member in the school of business at Queen's University. He pointed to U.S. discount retailer Target which operated a pop-up north of the border ahead of its Canadian launch last year, a move he said was "extremely successful" in generating buzz.

Longtime Canadian designer Linda Lundstrom has opted for an alternative approach to the conventional pop-up format. Rather than occupying a vacant space, she has been hitting the road for more than a year showcasing her goods to prospective customers in existing storefronts.

Currently showcasing her Linen, Leather and Lace line, Lundstrom said she is "absolutely loving" the opportunity to feature her creations in pop-ups. There's a benefit for the retailer as well, who has no purchase order or inventory to worry about, in addition to receiving a percentage of her sales from the event, she noted.

"I just come in with my product, set it up like a little boutique within a store, and all they have to do is invite all of their customers," said Lundstrom.

The designer does her part to promote the pop-ups on social media and to individuals on her contact list, as well as supplying invitations for retailers to send to their own customers prior to the event.

Lundstrom said she's also relished the chance to forge personal connections with her customers in meeting them at the events, many of whom recount special occasions where they've worn her creations.

"They've got these stories to tell for the garments that they've bought of mine in the past, and now I'm getting to hear the stories."

Shepherd’s Fashions in Ottawa recently played host to one of Lundstrom's pop-up shops. Founder and president Marlene Shepherd has been buying Lundstrom's products over the years and jumped at the chance to host when asked.

"I think it just brings an exciting atmosphere to the store," she said.

A Toronto community organization has also embraced the pop-up concept as part of a strategy to revitalize the area's main commercial strip.

The Danforth East Community Association (DECA) has hosted 23 pop-up shops since launching its project in October 2012. Spaces start at $750 plus HST, with most landlords charging an additional fee to cover utilities.

Since the project began, the vacancy rate has dropped from 17 per cent to nine per cent on the commercial strip, said DECA board member Amanda Olson. In fixing up shops, Olson said it has created new opportunities to entice potential tenants and bring new business to the area.

"The community wins; we get a shop. The storefront looks better so there's more chance that it will be rented out, there's better exposure and it was a really great project for the community."

Olson said the initiative also allows businesses to test if they want to translate their online businesses into bricks-and-mortar shops, and they've also had several of the shops turn into long-term leases.

Lauren Wise is heading behind the wheel with her own novel twist on the pop-up concept: a mobile fashion store. The owner of Toronto-based Mala Boutique is expanding beyond her bricks-and-mortar operation with the Mala Go-tique set to officially launch May 23-24.

Wise said a mobile store was a much more cost-effective and convenient option than opening another stand-alone boutique.

"When you have a location, you're tied to that location, that space. If I'm not happy with the turnout in a specific location, I go somewhere else the next day."

Wise said she plans to carry more grab-and-go items at her Go-tique that will be a bit easier for spontaneous purchases including sunglasses, jewelry and handbags. The transformed truck will also feature a change of inventory each week, wardrobe racks, pullout drawers and accessory shelves in addition to a private dressing room where customers can try on items.

"I think nowadays people want a differentiator, and in retail, a lot of the stores are sort of the same is the same is the same," she said. "I differentiate myself by having fashions you're not going to find everywhere, coupled with the convenience."

Wong said for companies seeking to maximize the benefit of the pop-up shop, they must conceive of a significant reason for consumers to pay attention to it.

"If you're going to have a pop-up store and just sell your regular merchandise at regular prices, I don't think there's a whole lot of motivation for the consumer to get excited and sort of (say): 'Watch this space.'"

Owners could consider offering some liquidation merchandise at clear-out pricing, or to bring in designer offerings consumers couldn't find otherwise, like when Target sold items in its collaborative line with designer Jason Wu at its Canadian pop-up, he noted.

"Now you're creating an event, and it's the event that draws attention."

Wong said businesses could consider taking funds saved from operating a pop-up to invest in generating something that can't be found in a bricks-and-mortar store.

"There has to be a motivation for looking out for it. Otherwise, there's no convenience."

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