HONG KONG — Pop-up stores are all the rage. It’s made off-line retail a far more accessible channel for brands without big budgets. But as a favored format among young brands, it’s also made retail more accessible to burglaries and theft.
The point is something that Yen Kuok, founder of Guiltless, a Hong Kong-based second-hand luxury goods marketplace, was rudely awakened to when her brand’s first pop-up was targeted by thieves in a smash-and-grab attack on Monday. According to a police account, a team of four plundered 15 Hermès bags and one Yves Saint Laurent purse, valued at 1.44 million Hong Kong dollars, or $184,000, in under a minute.
The store, which is scheduled to operate until Dec. 26, was located inside a shopping center, Man Yee Building, on Queen’s Road Central. The gang used a sledgehammer to break the glass where luxury purses were displayed in the windows at about 6:30 a.m., according to police. The break-in took the mall security guard an hour to discover.
While an established retailer with a permanent presence may invest in measures such as reinforced glass, CCTV surveillance cameras and alarm systems, those safeguards can — and often do — get lost in the mix when it comes to pop-ups.
“We’re still in a bit of shock that something like this would happen to Guiltless,” said Kuok, the youngest offspring of Malaysian billionaire businessman Robert Kuok. “But we’re working closely with the police and want to assure our consignors that they need not worry. All items entrusted to Guiltless are safely insured, and all damages or losses will be compensated for accordingly.”
Storefront, a leading pop-up store marketplace that brokered the space for Guiltless, seemed equally caught off guard by the incident.
“For us, it’s the first time ever over the world we had this issue,” said Benoît Clément-Bollée, Storefront’s Hong Kong director. The company, which began in 2012 and describes itself as an “Airbnb of retail spaces,” connects more than 20,000 listings worldwide and has been seeing “huge” growth every month, according to Clément-Bollée.
“To be honest, it was in a shopping mall and the shopping mall has significant security measures,” Clément-Bollée said. “It’s just a matter of bad luck. This brand had made a lot of noise and captured the attention of many people. It’s super sad.”
Storefront does provide insurance options for its customers, but security features, if any, vary widely on the space booked. A space can be as modest as an open booth and venue listings, which are created by users, often do not mention security features at all.
“We are thinking how we can better help our clients but this happened just a few days ago,” Clément-Bollée said.
Alice Ratcliffe, head of brand for another pop-up space booking platform, Appear Here, which has been used by brands such as Net-a-porter and Chanel, said the level of security “completely depends on the space.” A form of insurance is compulsory for every booking the site handles, but the responsibility for security is ultimately the tenant’s.
“It is down to the brand to make sure they are adequately covered and they understand the risks involved in taking the space,” Ratcliffe said.
“In some cases, before a brand has moved in, they may work with a landlord to make sure it’s been updated. We’ve had brands who have invested in new alarm systems installed, some landlords help brands to cover building insurance, taking on additional insurance.”
Appear Here doesn’t offer security services or products for the time being, but in the future, Ratcliffe said similar to how travel agencies help to provide add-on services beyond “booking your flights, [to include] holiday insurance, transport to and from the airport, we’d want to offer the full 360 on launching a store.”
Diego Dultzin Lacoste, cofounder of On the List, a sample sale pop-up organizer that recently hosted events for Stella McCartney and Kenzo, said brands should approach the retail format sensibly.
“The security is super limited and so the risk level has to be measured by the tenant,” he said. “The landlord can give some guarantees, but you cannot [necessarily] expect to have CCTV and alarms. It’s up to the tenant to manage it — to make sure there won’t be anything happening whether that’s customers stealing, staff stealing or it can be what happened to Guiltless.”
Although initially On the List rented out different venues to hold its sales, it has since moved to a permanent showroom, investing in security fit-outs and brings stock from the brands it works with to the space instead.
But Dultzin Lacoste remembers a sale it did in the company’s early days in a hired venue, before it set up its own showroom.
“We were not sure about the doors and to avoid the risk, we had some security agents come in for the whole night so that we could sleep well and not be stressed out,” he said. “It was on Russell Street in Causeway Bay. You could lock the doors, but it could be activated by the management, and we were not sure how to trust the management of the building.”