Popping up in Covington: Conference will introduce a growing trend in urban retailing

COVINGTON, Ky. - Entrepreneurs seeking a low-risk way to experiment with retail can attend the free symposium about pop-up retailing on Thursday at the Artisans Enterprise Center (AEC) in Covington. 

Three of the country's leading experts in the business niche will explain how pop-up stores can benefit Covington property owners, residents, Tri-State artisans and online entrepreneurs.

The event is part of the Covington Pops urban retail initiative of Renaissance Covington, which is seeking to revitalize downtown Covington by filling vacant storefronts. The official title of the symposium is "Big Talk/Small Talk: A Symposium on Pop-Up Shops and Urban Vitality."

What is pop-up retail?

The trend started about ten years ago, when well-known brands and retailers began erecting temporary, makeshift displays in vacant mall spaces and abandoned storefronts. It gained popularity as landlords became more willing to negotiate short-term leases. Pop-up stores can operate for a single day, several days, or a few weeks.

In recent years, pop-up retailing has caught on. All types and sizes of companies now use pop-up shops to test products, educate consumers, generate buzz, clear out inventory, build brand awareness, and re-activate vacant storefronts. 

The growth of WiFi and mobile payment apps has made pop-up retailing more feasible by eliminating the need for elaborate point-of-sale and on-site IT systems. Permanent signage isn't essential either, because pop-up store owners use social media to spread the word about the location, merchandise, promotions, and events.

Today, pop-up stores can be found wherever people congregate: at sporting events, farmer's markets, fitness expos, and music and arts festivals.

Goodwill Industries hosted a pop-up store at the 2013 SXSW Festival in Austin, TX.  Polaroid has opened pop-up "Fotobars" in Florida and Washington, DC to show consumers how they can make prints on canvas, metal, and bamboo panels from the images captured on their smartphones. 

Pop-up retailing is popular with e-commerce sites because the temporary stores allow consumers to touch or try on the products.

Speakers to share experiences

During the Covington Pops symposium, speakers will talk about how pop-up stores can generate a sense of excitement and attract new pedestrians to urban areas with vacant storefronts. The program is designed for property owners with available space, as well as entrepreneurs and producers who want to sample the retail lifestyle.

Before the symposium, attendees can grab lunch from one of the food trucks parked in the lot at Washington and West Seventh Street from 11 am to 1 pm.

From 1:00 to 2:30 pm, three national leaders in the pop-up movement with speak:

  • Lisa Frisch of the Portland Business Alliance
  • Griffin Van Meter of Kentucky for Kentucky
  • Michael Forsyth of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation

Frisch, who worked at Saks Fifth Avenue for nearly 10 years, says the Portland, Ore. PDX Pop-Up Shops program began in 2009 as a temporary way to fill storefront vacancies and bolster the retail economy downtown. Now, the challenge is finding enough vacant spaces to continue the program.

Booming business model

Because the Portland community has become so enthusiastic about pop-up retailing, Frisch said, "It has grown to become a signature program downtown during the holidays."

Some entrepreneurs who experimented with pop-up stores in Portland have opened year-round stores.

At the conference, Frisch will explain why Portland chose to brand its pop-up shop program and why it established standards, guidelines, and a review board to select participants. 

She believes communities across the country can benefit from pop-up retailing.

"You get active storefronts and a thriving downtown while reminding local entrepreneurs that there is a place for them in the community." 

Next page: Local success story

Local success story

Frisch said many online entrepreneurs start out thinking the barriers to opening a brick and mortar store are too high: expensive rent, lack of customers, or logistical challenges. Pop-up retail can be a solution.

"They are amazed to see how it benefits them and the community."

During the symposium, attendees will visit four spaces on Pike Street and meet local property owners and entrepreneurs who know what's involved in setting up pop-up retail sites in Covington.

One entrepreneur who will be sharing her story is Erikka Gray of the District 78 boutique, at 33 W. Pike Street. The store sells new and vintage men's and women's clothing, accessories, art, and small furniture and household goods.

Before opening on June 1, Gray operated a vintage good pop-up store for five weeks last winter inside flow: a shop for men, on Scott Boulevard in Covington. Before that, she ran her business online, with monthly displays at The City Flea in Washington Park.

"I had always wanted to have my own store, so the pop-up gave me a taste of the retail experience," said Gray. The pop-up experience opened her eyes to things she hadn't considered, such as maintaining an inventory and displaying merchandise.

One downside of running the pop-up store for five weeks, said Gray, was the inability to establish a base of repeat customers in such a short time. Plus, the amount of paperwork seemed disproportionate to the length of time the pop-up store was in operation.

But, she said having a retail presence helped her online business and ultimately led to her decision to open a permanent location on Pike Street. Today, customers can find her online at www.district78cov.com, at The City Flea, and in her Covington store.

"I have always loved clothing. And I have always loved things that have a history." said Gray. With District 78, she is combining her business background with her passion for fashion and nostalgia.

"We're looking for creative ways to use the space and draw people into the store." 

Gray is excited about the opportunity to talk to symposium participants about her experiences with pop-up retail. Gray said entrepreneurs should start with a clear plan of what they want to accomplish in the short time the pop-up store will be open:

"Have a concrete plan about how you're going to display and how you're going to advertise. The timing and planning is everything."

If you go:

  • "Big Talk/Small Talk: A Symposium on Pop-Up Shops and Urban Vitality," is free and open to the public.
  • Runs from 1 - 5 p.m. Thursday, July 11
  • Artisans Enterprise Center, 27 W. Seventh St. in Covington, KY. (see map)
  • To register, visit: http://bigtalksmalltalk.eventbrite.com

To learn about future events and pop-up retailing opportunities in Covington, visit:  http://www.facebook.com/MakeCovingtonPop

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