Vancouver nutritional supplement manufacturer Vega was featured in our 2014 PROFIT 500 as its sales surged—in part due to its successful program of running pop-up shops. Pop-ups can be a great way for a retailer or consumer brand to build some buzz and reach new customers, but setting up an entire retail operation and then tearing it down again after just a few days is a daunting prospect.
Ashley Meston is Vega’s director of trade marketing, and has been in charge of the company’s pop-up strategy since it did its first temporary retail installation in Vancouver in August 2013. Today the company has teams criss-crossing Canada and the U.S. to coordinate brief store appearances. Here are the best lessons that Vega has learned to fuel its pop-up successes today.
1. Put someone in charge of it
“It’s really important to have a clear project owner—this isn’t something you can do off the side of your desk,” says Meston. “You have to have someone working on this full-time. One of the things we learned was you need to have a great team on board to manage everything. You need somebody full-time who knows how to manage events, who knows how to look at coordinating people, and shipments, and planning.”
2. Know that you’ll need more staff than you think
Vega’s first pop-up was a 10-day installation inside a Whole Foods store in Vancouver in which shoppers could sample products. “We were there from 10:00am until 7:00pm every day,” says Meston. “I was working at the store, we had our salespeople working at the store, we had our nutritional educators working at the store. We had staff stopping by every single day; we weren’t expecting the time commitment it would take. But everything went really well.”
3. Make sure your staff know their stuff
For companies like Vega, which don’t have a permanent bricks-and-mortar storefront, it can be easy to overlook the importance of front-line retail salesmanship. For Vega, that means making sure those staffing the pop-up know the product inside and out—something the discerning customers in its target demographic demand. “It’s very important that you have a strong and engaging staff,” says Meston. “We have an exceptional team running our pop-ups, but we bring on our own team members to work our events instead of hiring a promotional agency. That means everyone interacting with customers are trained Vega employees; they’ve gone through extensive product training and coaching, they know our standards and expectations. It is a labour of love, but it gives us the advantage of having true ‘Vegatopians’ working the event and connecting with people.”
4. Be a good neighbour
If the pop-up is being hosted inside another store—a common tactic employed to great fanfare recently by ultra-popular U.S. fast-food joint In-N-Out Burger at Toronto’s Ganzi restaurant—the regular retail staff need to be in the loop. “You really need to be partners with the retailer for these events. We need to have their buy-in from the get-go,” says Meston. “We want to have a chance to engage with all of their staff and make sure they’re happy, because we take over a fairly good footprint in their stores, so it’s really important for people to understand who we are, why we’re doing this, and that it’s something the retailers can get excited about.”
5. It’s an event, so make it special
A successful pop-up retail space is way more than just some free samples. “We brought in something fun called a blender bike, where you can actually make a smoothie on a bike that you power yourself,” Meston explains. “We brought in lots of great prizes and a bag of swag and apparel, and also brought in a team of educators so that we could have them on-site connecting with consumers and giving one-on-one nutritional coaching and advice.” Details like this turn a forgettable interaction to something memorable and fun.