Making the leap from Wall Street, Melissa Gonzalez, chief executive officer and founder of The Lion’esque Group, an experiential retail agency, wandered into the DreamWorks-produced “Trolls the Experience” to discover that even her three-year-old daughter is a participant in the experience economy.
It seems that even when Gonzalez isn’t designing and executing pop-up activations for brands, such as J.Hilburn, Madison Reed or Stella & Dot, she’s toting her daughter — or perhaps the other way around — to them. At the interactive DreamWorks experience, Gonzalez’ daughter scored so much rainbow troll merchandise that Gonzalez questioned how she wasn’t a fan before.
Whether digitally native or enterprise retailers, the goal is to “tell the story as good as the founder would” through experiential retail, according to Gonzalez. And today, if that story resonates, then the typical three- to six-month pop-up trial period may be extended indefinitely, as was the case with a past client: Penguin Random House.
Like many of Gonzalez’ clients, market testing and validation is key through pop-up retail. When Borders Bookstores closed down, it left a gap in San Juan, Puerto Rico, which according to Borders’ data at the time, the city was the second-highest consumer of books in the U.S.
Penguin Random House, alongside The Lion’esque Group, found “experience per square foot” in around 1,000 square feet of retail space in San Juan, carrying a unique reading selection in both Spanish and English. Being Puerto Rican herself aided her ability to source contract partners and execute the pop-up buildout. The finished experience featured Skype-in sessions with authors unable to fly in for book signings, and was an immediate success among the literary fanatics in San Juan.
It’s more than just selling a product, pop-up success varies by definition.
“We always start with asking our clients: ‘What do you consider success?’” Gonzalez said. Experience per square foot can mean e-mail capture, social media posts or the meaningful conversion or interaction with what Gonzalez groups as three major “buckets” of customers: existing clients, converted clients (moving from online to in-store) and wanderers who stumbled upon the activation.
“Building mindshare” initially constitutes attention-getting tactics to “grab the customer in those first three seconds,” Gonzalez reiterated.
In her brand beginnings, Gonzalez operated on a budding scale whereby the founder or designer would be present during the buildout process, but with new capacity brings new clients. Everything from the selection of inventory to the store footprint to educating the sales associates is being effectively conveyed in the same “founder’s vision” by aid of The Lion’esque Group. Her clients cover a spectrum of needs and include digital natives, real estate and mass retailers.
“They’re your most important touch-point in the store,” Gonzalez said about the importance of the sales associate in creating a winning in-store experience. And as for the customer: “They can’t know more than your sales associate.”
Today, much of her learning and A/B testing has been refined over time since founding The Lion’esque Group in 2009.
While the pop-up market is highly saturated, Gonzalez reiterated that the consumer expectation is higher than ever in regards to the in-store experience, and she offered the following advice: “Pop-ups give you a chance to go to your customer, so where are they?”
Coining “pop-up architect” and authoring “The Pop-up Paradigm,” Gonzalez has received numerous accolades, such as recent recognition in 2017 for Design: Retail’s 40 under 40 for her work in pioneering the pop-up retail format.
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