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Pop-Up Firm Storefront Looks To Crack The U.K. With Service And Predictive Data

M.C.Overalls on Carnaby Street

Space as a service (involving flexible/short-term use) is a hot topic right now, and while it has had a huge impact on the hotel and office sectors — think Airbnb and WeWork — the effect has been more muted in retail.

Pop-up retail firms have a mixed record in the U.K. One of the early trailblazers, We Are Pop Up, went into administration in 2016, leaving the field almost entirely free for Appear Here, the market leader that is now expanding abroad.

But Appear Here is now facing competition from the largest global company in the sector, Storefront. The U.S.-based company launched in the U.K. in March, and in September poached Deliveroo property acquisitions manager Charlie Farr as head of U.K. business development to lead the company’s expansion.

The way it is looking to crack the U.K. market highlights how pop-up retail is borrowing from the worlds of both tech companies like Deliveroo and traditional agency.

Farr told Bisnow Storefront would look to differentiate itself through service, fees, international scale and data.

“We know that in the more competitive areas of London, some of the institutional landlords may feel reluctant to work with us straight away given the way the London property market works in comparison to other international markets. We are very focused on delivering a high level of service through our international marketplace and concierge team to match their spaces with the right types of brands,” he said.

Storefront head of U.K. business development Charlie Farr

Storefront has set up a concierge team to liaise with landlords and retailers and provide advice on execution and strategy, alongside the online marketplace for space.

“People say to me that we’re just doing what a traditional retail agent does, which is not the case, we do not charge landlords fees and are focused on filling different types of temporary spaces quickly through a market platform. We understand that every landlord is different and has different priorities,” he said. “Some might be more selective on brands, some might have more of a focus on income, we listen and understand their needs to offer them a more personalised service."

Storefront also charges fees to retailers, not landlords, to encourage the latter to use its platform, and incentivise it to find sites for retailers.

Farr said pop-up stores are a part of the retail ecosystem that can help brands expand by essentially allowing them to try before they buy.

“Smaller independent or international brands looking to come to London might not want to commit to a 10-year lease and spend £500,000 fitting out a store, so taking a temporary space allows the brand to test a new area with maximum flexibility and minimal risk, before considering making a larger investment," he said.

Happy Socks is a brand that has used pop-up stores to expand.

Examples of deals Storefront has undertaken include two with Shaftesbury, the owner of Carnaby Street and much of Chinatown, including finding a store for expanding British retailer M.C. Overalls; and finding space for brands like Happy Socks and Kodak, which created an immersive dark room experience on Berwick Street, Soho, in a Storefront pop-up.

Storefront is also looking to use data to supplement the decision-making process for landlords and tenants. It takes data from historic deals, such as rent paid, footfall and demographics, and feeds it into an algorithm that can help predict which areas would best suit which brands.

The company is looking to use its international presence to help brands expand overseas, and intends to expand further into Europe, with Berlin next on the list.

It is inherently difficult for any pop-up retail company to match the scale of a company like Airbnb or WeWork — renting out a shop is not as simple as renting out a flat or a desk. But it is an important part of the retail system now, and the U.K. has some real competition in the field.