21 September 2019
Pop-up stores can take many creative forms. This tricycle store is one approach to attracting buzz and promoting brand awareness. Photo: Popscout
Pop-up stores can take many creative forms. This tricycle store is one approach to attracting buzz and promoting brand awareness. Photo: Popscout

Startup aims to energize HK retail scene with pop-up stores

Eager for some changes, Frenchman Romain Aubert came to Hong Kong at the beginning of this year.

Previously a finance professional, Aubert wanted to look for a similar job, but then he came up with a business idea and decided to go for it instead.

His company Popscout is an online platform that helps landlords and pop-up store operators find each other.

“The UK is the most mature market for pop-up stores, contributing 2.3 billion pounds (US$3.55 billion) of retail turnover in 2013-2014. The number of pop-up events exceeded 10,000 over the period,” Aubert said as he pulled out a few slides from his presentation kit for landlords.

A pop-up store is a shop that operates for anything from one day to six months. The concept is quite popular in North America and Europe.

In Britain, these stores have been growing three times faster than traditional retailers. That’s why Aubert has a lot of confidence his venture might work in Hong Kong.

He seems to be coming to the marketplace at the right time.

The retail sector is in a slump. And precisely because of that, landlords no longer have a long queue of companies competing to lease their properties.

During good times, there is little need to change the status quo. But during tough times, landlords are more open to fresh ideas.

Meanwhile, the rise of e-commerce is also pushing brick-and-mortar companies to offer more.

In addition to just selling a product, retailers now see the need to bring in an element of fun, or offer a unique experience to attract shoppers.

Aubert cited an Uniqlo pop-up store project to illustrate the point.

Rather than just selling jeans, Uniqlo set up a pop-up store in Causeway Bay that combined retailing with a workshop.

Shoppers can customize their jeans to their liking, making the experience a whole lot different from just buying something off the rack.

For this sort of interactive activities, the pop-up store is an ideal format. It is also good for activating a brand, testing out a new location before committing to a long-term lease, or promoting a new brand.

In another case, Hong Kong-based Grana used its pop-up store in Sheung Wan to host a lunch party. Through the event, the online retailer of luxury garments was able to attract 10,000 participants.

Many online ventures need to go offline to market themselves and acquire customers, Aubert said.

Because of the short lease, such tenants usually do heavy marketing in order to attract as much traffic as possible within the brief period.

The landlord was happy too. The street used to be quite empty and the traffic brought by Grana’s shop revived the place. The shop eventually attracted a long-term tenant.

“Visitors may also stop by shops nearby, that’s how the entire area will benefit.”

Asked what is his biggest mission at this stage, Aubert replied: “Get more landlords on board.”

“It’s still a new concept here, we need to reach out to landlords to tell them about such opportunities.”

Many landlords don’t even know that such a lease arrangement exists, he said.

Aubert is now busy talking to landlords, property agents and property management firms.

He also hopes to enlist more advisors. By advisors he meant real estate professionals with strong contacts with property owners. In return for tapping their connections, he is willing to offer a small stake in Popscout.

What would he do if he had more funds?

“I will hire more people to do business development and find more landlords to list their vacant space on our site,” Aubert said.

He is also going to hire additional staff for digital marketing.

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EJ Insight writer