The pop-up store model has become somewhat of a phenomenon for brands and retailers wanting to test brick-and-mortar experiences before committing to pricy and lengthy leases. Pop-up retail, or flash retail, was popularized by brands such as AT&T and Levi Strauss & Co. in the Nineties, while the current model was popularized by Japanese fashion label Comme des Garçons in 2004 with its first “Guerrilla” store in Berlin.
The Lion’esque Group, founded in 2009 by “retail futurist” Melissa Gonzalez, creates pop-up store experiences for brands and property owners. The company has produced more than 100 pop-up stores for retailers located in New York, Austin, Los Angeles, Puerto Rico and the Hamptons. Its clients include The Real Real, Penguin Random House, Madison Reed, Marc Jacobs and Carbon 38.
“It’s been great for brands to have a storefront in midtown without having a long-term lease and [still have the opportunity to] learn about their customer,” Gonzalez told WWD. “The consumer is evolving faster than retail is,” she added. Validating the efficiency and demand of the pop-up retail model, the firm said one in four of its pop-ups expanded to long-term brick-and-mortar stores over the past year.
And in its partnership with a luxury active apparel company for a two-monthlong pop-up project, 85 percent of in-store visitors were converted into sales, the company said. A collaboration with an international food and goods one-monthlong pop-up saw a 300 percent increase in e-commerce traffic, while a performance men’s wear brand reported a 75 percent lift in brand awareness as a result of its one-monthlong pop-up, according to The Lion’esque Group.
Gonzalez began her career on Wall Street as an intern at Lehman Brothers, where she worked in the fixed-income market and later transitioned to equities. After leaving the firm in 2009, Gonzalez had a brief career as an actress. While filming a web series on beauty, fashion and fitness, she met an entrepreneur whose family owned commercial real estate in midtown Manhattan. Upon learning that Gonzalez was looking into more creative fields in lieu of finance, the two decided to partner on pop-up real estate projects.
Pop-up architecture for The Lion’esque Group is multifaceted and includes full-service amenities: conception, location scouting, design and merchandising, staffing, a calendar of events, build-out and execution, technology integration and full-scale analytics and reporting metrics. The Lion’esque Group also offers retail coaching services, which include a “Think Tank,” or assessment of a brand’s retail strategy for reevaluation; ongoing brand consulting, and a group coaching session for brands looking to share ideas about retail strategies. The firm also offers speaking engagements for its clients, as well as live interactive sessions via a two-way video cast.
Elevating retail concepts even more seemed like a natural next step for Gonzalez. Her latest project is 22 City Link, a “smart city” undergoing construction in Loudoun, Va., where she serves as the chief pop-up retail architect. Working with 22 City Link managing partner Minh Le among a team of six experts across real estate, legal and consumer intelligence sectors, the development will be Virginia’s first smart city, which aims to connect technology, real estate and consumers. Named “22” for its “Master Builder” meaning in Numerology, 22 City Link is the first smart city in the country that will comprise residential, retail, coworking and education spaces with apartments, a hotel, high-rise offices and a start-up accelerator.
Its access to Washington, D.C., enables residents and visitors to commute, as the ride straight into downtown D.C. is only 40 minutes long. The site is also the future location of the Ashburn Silver Line Metro Station, which will open in 2019. Rooted in every possible detail of development, the company even has a 99-year lease on the fiber under the ground. “This is the first [smart city] I know of that is fully comprehensive from the ground up,” Gonzalez said.
The smart city’s “Gramercy District” will serve as a “sandbox” for technology, where a variety of high-level projects can be tested throughout the space. Gramercy District is a $500 million development spanning more than 2.5 million square feet. All buildings will be clean-energy efficient and equipped with Artificial Intelligence that learns the behavior of its denizens to automate and streamline daily life. The initiative is targeting corporations, start-ups, Millennials and Gen-Z cohorts intrigued by accelerating local economic growth and technology.
Predictive analytics will enable the city to reduce waste for retailers, restaurants and businesses. A high-level tracking system for all city dwellers will also be installed. The team has not confirmed how it will interact and measure the behavior of its residents. “To be honest and realistic, it’s going to be a lot of iterations along the way,” Gonzalez told WWD. “The first people who live in this city are definitely going to be [technology] believers,” she said. “It’s probably going to be a little bit of a younger generation.”
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