Pop-up shops are licking the high street blues

Helped by the Rolling Stones, temporary shops are rocking. James Thompson reports

Despite the eye-wateringly expensive ticket prices of nearly £1,000 a pop, the O2 Arena in London's Docklands was crammed to the rafters with adoring Rolling Stones fans for two concerts this month.

Jumpin' Jack Flash fans who couldn't get seats were at least able to buy CDs and T-shirts at the band's temporary shop across the capital in Carnaby Street. This is the most high-profile example of the latest high-street revolution: pop-up shops.

Whether it is retailers seeking to maximise sales ahead of Christmas or seeing if their wares will sell before launching, pop-up shops are literally popping up everywhere in "Austerity" Britain at a time when one in seven town-centre shops are empty.

The transient nature of these stores means that there is a lack of hard evidence over this trend. But Matthew Hopkinson, director at the retail research specialist Local Data Company (LDC), says: "I definitely think the number of pop-up shops has increased over the last year, as it has over recent years."

Also, retailers and their landlords are coming up with new ideas on how to market pop-up shops. For instance, the struggling entertainment retailer HMV has opened 15 of them before Christmas, but, for the first time has put its name on the fascia.

Companies as diverse as the love it-or-hate it toast spread specialist Marmite, the online auctioneer eBay and the department store chain Liberty have popped-up this year.

They are also starting to tie the opening of a temporary shop to social media. Nothing illustrates this better than the fact that Shaftesbury, the property company, struck an exclusive deal to display the huge lips logo for the Rolling Stones' GRRR! 50th anniversary above Carnaby Street as part of its Christmas lights from late November.

Shaftesbury director Simon Quayle says the lights and pop-up has generated "lots of excitement" over the internet. He smiles: "The Rolling Stones have about 10 million followers on Facebook, which is not a bad marketing tool."

In fact, retailers typically open pop-ups for a few months on the high street, or as concessions in department stores, ahead of the Christmas trading period or in the summer when the warmer weather brings out shoppers.

Christine Cross, chief retail adviser at the Big Four accountant PricewaterhouseCoopers, says: "Pop-ups provide a good way to give high-profile leverage to a brand, or to test out a concession opportunity without longevity of commitment. [They provide] a low-risk strategy to test and learn in new domestic or international locations".

Importantly for retailers, pop-ups don't hold the same financial fears in terms of signing up to a long-term lease and the associated pain of sky-high business rates. They also mean that landlords, who have seen so many chains fold or cut back in the past few years, will be able to garner some rent for their empty units.

Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation,argues: "Landlords don't want to see their shop sitting empty for any period of time.

"The benefits to a landlord of having a property occupied, even on a temporary basis, are also much broader than just the rental income. An occupied shop is less likely to attract antisocial behaviour, and contributes to the overall health of the high street it sits on."

In an industry where tenants are always changing, even in central London, Quayle stresses that Shaftesbury signs up the temporary operators, including charity shops, not because it cannot fill the stores, but because it likes to have them. He said: "Pop-up shops generate footfall and excitement for the area."

That's the sort of satisfaction that the Stones can bring.

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