How These 4 Pop-Up Shops Went Viral (And How Yours Can Too)

How These 4 Pop-Up Shops Went Viral (And How Yours Can Too)
Museum of Ice Cream | Shopify Retail blog
Image: Museum of Ice Cream, Griffin Lipson

From pop-up stores and activations to “museums” of beloved foods, the current retail landscape is peppered with “here for a limited time” physical spaces and more importantly, exciting ways to connect with a brand.

An important factor at play in this phenomenon? The thrill of “the drop” when it comes to highly-anticipated products. One only needs to look at the buzz created by sneaker releases to get a sense of what we’re referring to. From Nike’s Virgil Abloh and Sean Wotherspoon collaborations to Yeezy x Adidas, it’s the limited-edition sneaker culture that has helped the thrill of drops reach a fever pitch.

So, combine the rush of the drop with the limited-time run of a physical activation, and your pop-up could be the stuff that retail dreams are made of.

FURTHER READING: Learn how retailers use drops and hype to move products fast.

According to an article in The Atlantic, “Pop-ups...as ad people assure clients, can help more-traditional retailers ‘tap into massclusivity’: giving even large numbers of customers the feeling that what they’re getting is a distinct, limited-time-only experience that can’t be replicated. As one 2010 consumer-psychology paper noted, pop-up retail tickles the parts of one’s brain that likes new things. The tighter the timeframe, the reasoning goes, the longer the lines.”

Which certainly helps explain the excitement created by several recent pop-ups, making a strong case for other retailers wanting to cash in on the hype.

So, we turned the spotlight on four pop-ups that have garnered serious buzz and will make you believe the hype too: The Museum of Ice Cream, “Glossier You”, Louis Vuitton x Supreme, and U by Kotex’s “The Period Shop.”

Let’s take a look at their secrets to success and how you can apply these takeaways for your potential pop-up.

The Museum Of Ice Cream: The Disrupter

Museum of Ice Cream | Shopify Retail blog

Image: Museum of Ice Cream, Griffin Lipson

This buzzy experience was the OG of the “museum” pop-up trend and first launched as a limited engagement run in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District in 2016. Founder Maryellis Bunn teamed up with Manish Vora, owner of Lightbox, to make the magical Museum of Ice Cream (a.k.a. MoIC).

Bunn and Vora never could’ve predicted the level of sweet success it experienced as a cultural phenomenon. Brands are now looking to the Museum of Ice Cream as inspiration, with goals of creating “the next museum of [fill in the blank].” From a retail perspective, it also paved the way for product creation opportunities with the launch of its ice cream brand.

When Museum of Ice Cream opened its doors in Manhattan in 2016, tickets sold out: according to a CNBC article, this translated to 30,000 tickets, and left 200,000 people waitlisted.

The success and hype of the original MoIC took the team on a multi-city tour, opening up in Los Angeles next (where Beyonce, Katy Perry, and Gwyneth Paltrow visited), followed by Miami Beach, and back to New York City this past summer with the opening of The Pint Shop. (Its most recent opening is in San Francisco, also as The Pint Shop.)

FURTHER READING: Want an in-depth look at the Museum of Ice Cream’s success? Read our interview with Maryellis Bunn, the founder and CEO of the Museum of Ice Cream.

The Takeaways

Several factors contributed to the success of the Museum of Ice Cream: for starters, Bunn designed it as an experience rather than as an activation.

Doug Stephens, founder of The Retail Prophet, focused on the importance of experiences and stories at VOICES, the trailblazing fashion industry conference held by The Business of Fashion.

Stores can’t be just about distributing products. They need to be about distributing experiences: fewer stores, more stories.

Another critical factor? The human connection between the Museum of Ice Cream staff and guests. This is MoIC’s mission: for guests to have meaningful and impactful human connections with other guests and the #TEAMMOIC team.

Louis Vuitton x Supreme: The Hype Builder

When the most famous luxury label in the world, Louis Vuitton, and cult streetwear brand Supreme confirmed the rumors of their collaboration in January 2017, it shook the fashion world. Along with the partnership came news of a pop-up tour, scheduled to hit a limited list of cities in June 2017.

Fun fact: According to Highsnobiety, the collaboration earned both Louis Vuitton and Supreme second and third place in Google’s “Top 10 Most Searched Fashion Brands of the Year.”

So, here’s what went down the first day of the pop-up, at its London location: as expected, a line of about 600 people stretched down the Strand and then around the block down Surrey Street.

Despite the sudden and mysterious news that the pop-ups in France and the U.S. were closing their doors before ever opening, Hypebeast reported that LVMH amassed approximately $23 billion U.S. in earnings for the first half of the year. (The luxury empire’s 23% profit increase is partially due to the Supreme x Louis Vuitton collaboration, which dropped at the end of the sales period and was cited as a “highlight” in the company’s recovery.)

The Takeaways

The use of hype isn’t new to Supreme, which has leveraged this tactic since its launch in 1994. Supreme’s merchandise is always limited-edition and is sold through staggered and discretionary store “drops” built around hype.

And basically, its formula for success used “hype” as an essential ingredient: Hype + limited-edition releases = sold out collections.

“Glossier You” Pop-Up Store: The Offline Experience


Glossier, the online skincare and beauty brand, opened the “Glossier You” pop-up in conjunction with the launch of its debut fragrance of the same name. The highly Instagrammable space that was hailed as an “offline experience” rather than a store, was designed as an extension of Glossier’s online and millennial pink heavy brand. Decorated with lush pink carpets and magenta furniture (the same shades as the “Glossier You”’ fragrance bottle), it also boasted interactive moments, especially with mirror displays that gave the pop-up funhouse vibes. (For example, a hand wearing a red patent leather glove holding a jar of perfume emerged from a mirrored closet and sprayed the “Glossier You” scent.)

The Takeaways

Since Glossier’s launch as a pure-play e-tailer in 2014, it has aimed to create a strong brand aesthetic consisting of millennial pink, images of fresh-faced dewy models, and a mischievous “wink” here and there. So its November 2017 pop-up to underscore the launch of its first foray into fragrance was perfectly conceived with the same branding in mind.

FURTHER READING: Want to make our own store picture perfect? Take a look at these tactics to make your store Instagram worthy.

U by Kotex’s “The Period Shop:” The Taboo Takeover

The Period Shop was inspired by a Tumblr post from FIT student Sarah Michelson who took to the blogging platform to describe her vision of a period shop: a space where women can feel comfortable and connected while shopping for their periods.

U by Kotex partnered with Michelson to make her dream of a “period space” a reality. And so, the world’s first pop-up period shop was born on Fifth Avenue in May 2016, where it brought women together for a highly-buzzed about weekend.

The brick-and-mortar location sold “period comforting” merchandise like comfortable clothing (i.e. sweatpants and loungewear), beauty products, housewares, all the food and snacks associated with that time of the month, and of course, U by Kotex products.

Most of the products sold at the space were from women-led companies and all proceeds from the shop went to the New York women’s shelter, Susan’s Place.

The Takeaways

This initiative was part of U by Kotex’s campaign, “The Period Projects,” which aimed to improve women’s experiences with their periods. At the same time, it was also a way for U by Kotex to connect with its target demographic on an emotional level by taking on an otherwise taboo topic. This is especially relevant in an era where there are new women’s hygiene products flipping the script on the market and changing the way people think and speak about periods.

Pop-Up Update: What This Means To You

We spoke with Melissa Gonzalez, Chief Pop-Up Architect™ of The Lionesque Group about the most critical elements to consider when building a pop-up store or activation:

  • Ensure your store or activation has a clear point of view. Ask yourself, “What is the one-liner I want my customers to walk away with?”
  • Incorporate interactive and educational moments that capture mindshare. The aim of capturing mindshare through experiential retail is to establish an emotional connection with a brand and a consumer, solidifying it as one of the best kinds (and even have the brand name become a synonym for the product or service offered).
  • Invest in well-trained brand ambassadors/staff, as they are one of the most important touch points.
  • Create shareable moments. According to Gonzalez, “People want to be inspired and share their discoveries, and experience is today's social currency, so be sure you incorporate purposeful Instagrammable moments that others want to share. And, have a clear call to action for your shareable moments.”

Whatever type of pop-up you decide to open, consider your mission and goal, and get inspired by these four spaces that have captured the attention of consumers — and the industry as a whole.

About the Author

Karin Eldor’s experience in online publishing has led to a fascination with the digital world and retail. When she’s not scrolling through her Instagram and Snapchat feeds, she can be found poring over fashion magazines (she still loves print — shhh, it’s our secret).

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