Pop-up goes the shop

Major retailers are embracing what used to be a guerrilla marketing move by the small guys

Pop-up goes the shop

Chris Young/CP

Maybe it’s a sign of our disposable culture that the temporary storefront has become a permanent fixture of the retail landscape. Pop-up shops, stores that set up at kiosks or in vacant storefronts for anywhere from a few hours to several months, have flourished across Canada.

In February, ahead of its Canadian debut next year, U.S. retailer Target offered an exclusive Jason Wu collection in downtown Toronto for just six hours, generating a frenzy among the city’s fashionistas and garnering national attention. launched a virtual QR-code pop-up shop in Toronto’s Union Station in April. Skincare company Nivea opened “Nivea Haus” in Toronto and Montreal in March. Even the Food Network ran “pop-up restaurants” in Toronto and Vancouver to promote a show.

Pop-up shops have been around for nearly a decade, inspired by the guerilla marketing tactics of small designers who would temporarily inhabit storefronts, warehouses and alleyways because they couldn’t afford their own retail shops. Target was among the first major retailer to try the pop-up concept when it set up on a barge outside Mahattan in 2002. But while such events were once dismissed as passing fads, the pop-up shop has endured as retailers realize the no-commitment storefront is a cheap way to test new products. They also generate buzz with the novelty of get-it-before-it’s-gone commerce. “It’s a great way to create interest,” says Vancouver retail consultant David Gray of Dig360, who argues the concept isn’t used enough. “What’s going to get harder and harder is for it to remain novel. But it’s still so rare, I think it’s a long way from becoming truly mundane.”

Still, the growing popularity of the pop-up shop has inspired some resistance from independent designers. Muttonhead, a Toronto clothing designer that has run “travelling markets” around the city, specifically avoids calling its temporary stores “pop-up shops.” “It’s become a trend,” says Muttonhead designer Meg Sinclair. “It’s such a good way to get your name out there and get some press and make some sales that everyone’s kind of doing it now. We’re just not down with ‘pop-up shop.’ ”

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