Small Storefront, Big Impact: Distinguish Your Brand with a Pop-Up Store at Expos

Pop-up stores at expos | Shopify Retail blog

Ever thought of running a pop-up store in your business? This “here today, gone tomorrow” type of retail storefront can help generate buzz with consumers and increase your sales.

You immediately provoke a sense of urgency, since a pop-up store isn’t a permanent installation. You can also create an immersive experience by bringing select items directly to customers so they can touch, see, and interact with a product before buying (an especially useful benefit for stores that mostly operate online).

The pop-up store concept offers a unique buying experience and the novelty alone can be enough to attract buyers. And when it comes to competing for attention at giant expos where retailers are set up shoulder-to-shoulder, many forgo the crowded expo hall floor and focus just on temporary storefronts.

Ahead of the 2017 Boston Marathon, smaller retailers are opting for the pop-up shop over the hassle of displaying their wares at a cramped booth during the expo before the race.

They rent small storefronts just blocks from the marathon’s finish line and in the midst of Boston’s most popular shopping destinations. It’s a location the brands couldn’t afford year-round, and allows them to get in front of shoppers for months instead of days.

Pop-up stores at expos, Tracksmith | Shopify Retail blog

Tracksmith opened a 2,000-square-foot storefront directly across the street from the Boston Marathon expo on Boylston. Image Credit: Tracksmith

Running the pop-up store instead of attending the expo also means less elbowing for shoppers’ attention, and potentially capturing more foot traffic from all the other, non-marathoners (but still serious shoppers) who prowl Newbury and Boylston Streets every day.

Use a Pop-Up Store to Stand Out

While the pop-up shop provides an interesting alternative to the traditional expo, not all retailers can opt out of major events entirely. Many businesses rely on expos to increase brand awareness, boost sales, and form new partnerships and connections.

But those retailers still deal with the drawbacks of a crowded hall. How do you increase visibility and compel passersby to stop and shop? How do you compete with the other retailers selling similar products?

You may not be able to skip expos entirely. But you can make them more successful if you bring the pop-up store experience to the event and make your business stand out.

Here are a few ways you can learn from pop-up stores to bring that same experience, so popular with consumers right now, to expo-sized events.

Get the Pop-Up Store Basics Right

Sierra Rothberg has been working with pop-up stores for 15 years, long before the trend became mainstream. Today, she runs Lusterity, an events company that specializes in socially conscious celebrations.

She notes that getting the basics of your booth space is important for success at expos, just as those fundamentals are critical for pop-up stores to function well.

Booths that catch her eye at events are those that mindfully choose every single piece of the display evokes the feeling and aesthetic of the brand, and those that use excellent lighting and furniture within the space.

“Many of the vendors [that catch my attention] have everything custom-made,” Rothberg explains. “There was a vision and the vision was executed to a T.”

Creating something visually appealing is important, but so are finding ways to engage passersby.

Rothberg recalls a booth where the artist created a clean and simple space, but hung a map of the U.S. on the wall. “People put pins where they came from. We all couldn't help ourselves,” she admits.

“Her booth was simple, not overly complicated, and this simplicity in interaction and engagement gave a fun, low-pressure reason to come in and join the party,” Rothberg says.

She also notes it gave the artist valuable information on how she could target prospective areas around the country in the future.

Pop-Up Shop Quickstart Guide

Thinking about hosting a Pop-Up Shop? This free guide includes 3 checklists that help frame what you're looking to accomplish through your Pop-Up Shop, different types of Pop-Up Shops, and design ideas to help get you started.

Create the Right Vibe with Both Products and People

The first thing you need to do for success at a large expo? Draw the eye of the crowd.

That doesn’t mean putting up flashy (and potentially gaudy) signage or hustling people into your booth. It’s more about creating a vibe that reflects what your brand is about, why you sell what you do, and who you want to provide products for.

“For pop-ups and events, we usually offer a more visual experience of what the brand stands for,” says Brennah Rosenthal of Mountain Standard.

The company, based out of Colorado, provides outdoor clothing and equipment to people who value quality but want to spend the bulk of their funds on their adventures — not the gear they take with them.

She says part of what goes into the experience is the people themselves who run the booth. “It’s important to bring the right team to the events, who can speak to the brand and the product in a way that encourages people to come back to us online,” Rosenthal explains.

That team also tries to bring the van that inspired the design behind one of their T-shirts. They set out equipment and other products the way they’re intended to be used, too. Even regular canine companions make an appearance at their pop-up stores.

Pop-up store at expos, Mountain Standard | Shopify Retail blog

Image Credit: Mountain Standard

Rosenthal notes that they also offer a special discount to shoppers at expos and events. These discounts are exclusive to the event itself, which encourages people merely browsing to convert into paying customers.

Of course, this option won’t be available at all expos. But during summertime events and festivals, turning your space into more of an experience will help draw in the crowds and engage customers. 

Make Use of Your Small Shopping Space

Pop-up stores can, well, pop up anywhere. You can find these little shops on popular sidewalks in the summertime, in a corner of another store, in a private room at a swanky restaurant, and, as Mountain Standard shows, even at markets inside converted vans and trucks.

They’re not the only ones hitting the road, either.

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That’s how Laura Sylvester typically operates her brand, Wander. She owns and drives The Wander Truck, a mobile boutique that was a FedEx truck in a past life.

“Customers can step right in and shop like they would at a traditional brick and mortar store,” says Sylvester. “The beauty of the mobile boutique is that I can bring the shopping experience almost anywhere.”

Sylvester doesn’t limit herself to outdoor events. She also participates in expos, and knows how to make use of the small space to create a big impact.

“At indoor events I try to make the shopping experience as similar to shopping in my mobile boutique as possible,” she explains. “I bring wooden walls and unique, rolling display carts that mimic the style and aesthetic of The Wander Truck. These pieces also help me utilize vertical space to display more products than if I just had a table or rolling rack.”

Sylvester makes smart use of vertical space to increase not only the square footage of her assigned booth, but also her visibility at the event.

Observe local pop-up stores in your area, and note how they maximize the use of small spaces. You can get efficient display ideas from looking at what these mobile, on-the-go retailers create and replicate that for a similar experience at an expo.

Channel the Novelty of a Pop-Up Store to Provide a Tangible Experience

Pop-up stores are fun, quirky, and a little unexpected. You can channel that and replicate the pop-up store experience to distinguish yourself at an expo by offering an actual experience.

Gianne Doherty runs Organic Bath Co., and says she loves big events for the opportunity to find other like-minded retailers. “We enjoy creating sensory pop ups where people can try, test and feel all of our products,” she explains.

She also likes the challenge of reaching a new audience in a fun, memorable way, and combines that with her passion for partnering with other retailers. “A favorite pop up we've done is with Taza Chocolate at their Valentine's Day Open House. We offer hand massages with our 100% organic body scrubs followed by our body butters.”

Kristina Tspiouras is the founder of Moroccan Magic, and like Doherty, feels inspired to do more than just offer samples at expos. She distinguishes her brand by transforming the company’s booths into lounges where passersby can escape the hustle and bustle of the event.

Pop-up store at expos, Moroccan Magic | Shopify Retail blog

Image Credit: Moroccan Magic

“We use organic and argan oil based from Morocco in our lip balm,” she Tspiouras explains, “so we want to have fun and create Moroccan-themed experiences with dancers and relaxation lounges for expo goers to join us and relax.”

Tspiouras adds that Moroccan Magic might even provide gurus that lead guided meditations right in the booth. “We are heading to Expo East and The Indie Beauty show for the first time ever this year,” she says, “So we want to announce ourselves to the industry with a memorable bang!”

Think about what your own brand stands for and how you can bring some of your products to life for your customers. How can you go beyond simply giving out samples and give shoppers a truly immersive retail experience?

Let Customers Try Before They Buy to Maintain Your Quality Standards

Pop-up stores don’t hustle customers in and out of their tiny spaces. They invite shoppers to jump into a wonderful little hidden world where their products become delights to enjoy.

You can mimic this experience and distinguish your brand at busy expos, even if you’re a retailer who sells a custom, speciality-made product that needs to fit or work just right.

Just take a leaf out of Trish Carey’s book.

Carey is a senior partner at peach, a company that provides custom-fitted bras. Instead of just explaining the process or having a few products out to try in hopes that a customer happens to fit one, peach sets up a small changing booth where customers can get fitted on the spot with the help of a trained stylist.

“We offer the experience and service right there — no making an appointment or trying to find a stylist to meet with later,” says Carey.

“We use pop-up tents or screens for privacy and have a bra fitter at the booth,” she explains. “They take 10 custom measurements, and the client can even leave a tight tank or Cami on during the fitting. We create the bra at our location, then send the correct size to the client to try.”

Pop-up stores at expos, peach | Shopify Retail blog

Image Credit: peach

Carey says the experience is unique because it provides instant gratification for the shopper, while still allowing peach to deliver a superior quality product.

Mimic the Pop-Up to Distinguish Your Brand at Your Next Event

Pop-up stores are fun, different, and carefully crafted. Because of the limited amount of space — and time — these displays have to make an impression, with every detail reflecting a feeling and evoking a particular emotion.

That does a lot to create an experience for shoppers and people simply browsing who get pulled into the unique, fast-paced atmosphere.

You can take these lessons and ideas with your to your next expo so you’re not just setting up the same old booth space. Create a pop-up store experience with something highly representative of your brand and what you stand for as a retailer, and find ways to go beyond displaying your products so you can completely immerse event attendees into your company’s world.