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Pop-Up Beauty Shops Offer More Than a Photo Op

Brands Use Experiential Design to Test Markets and Partnerships

At a time when the most profitable cosmetics brands are being built online by influencers and social media, brick-and-mortar moves within the beauty industry feel like an expensive gamble—especially if they require traditional retail leases.

Pop-ups, on the other hand, warrant just a few months of lead time, and less commitment; they can be open to consumers for a just few weeks or months. In that short duration, they're able to attract exponentially more media attention, social media coverage, and foot traffic than a standard retail store opening. They offer a new way for brands to test new markets and redefine their relationships with landlords and partners, such as department stores.

“Pop-ups create bonds between the brand and the consumer, which often convert to loyalty and sales," says Ana Pelucarte, CEO of Pop Up Mob , an experiential agency that has executed some of the most buzzed about pop-ups in the fashion and beauty world, for brands including Revolve, Benefit, and Marc Jacobs.

Pelucarte believes that successful pop-ups have dual intents of both creating a memorable experience, and providing a retail space conducive to shopping. “The experience within a pop-up is what makes the customer connect with the brand, pushing them toward a transaction on the spot, as well as long-term," she says.

Different brands use pop-ups for different purposes. In recent years, established brands have launched new lines, popular e-commerce upstarts have slowly moved into brick-and-mortar locations, and boutique brands have forged relationships with legacy stores.

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(Glossier)

Millennial darling Glossier utilized pop-ups as a way to test whether permanent stores in various markets were sustainable. While still operating pop-ups, the company has also opened a permanent flagship in New York, as well as stores in Los Angeles. At its current Boston Seaport pop-up, the interior design—conceptualized by the brand's in-house experiential team—is as thoughtful as a permanent retail store. From August 7 to October 4, the entire product range is available to test and purchase, as well as a limited-edition Glossier Boston collection of accessories that creates a local connection.

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(Glossier)

For brands that are better known outside the U.S., a pop-up can be a good way to build a brand's public outreach. Korean beauty eCommerce site Peach & Lily is using pop-ups for this purpose. Though K-Beauty has been a trend for a few years, it can be difficult for Western consumers to navigate due to language barriers. Peach & Lily, who both curates K-Beauty products and manufacturers its own, scored when its own line became available in Target stores, but the company wanted to achieve further awareness and credibility with American consumers. To accomplish this, Peach & Lily held five-day pop-ups in Los Angeles and New York, with a full schedule of panels, master classes, experiential stations, and VIP experiences. The pop-up was open to media, influencers and customers.

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(Peach & Lily)

Landlords mulling over the feasibility of a short-term lease or a sub-lease for a pop-up should weigh whether the publicity and social media attention to their space—combined with the higher rent you may be able to charge for a special event occupancy— could stack up against a traditional long-term lease that draws less attention, and may not bring in enough long-term revenue to live up to projections from when the lease was signed.

In several cases, beauty brands aren't taking over raw space, but instead are popping up in other businesses with a complementary offering and similar demographic. One such example is the photogenic Pop Up Mob-produced Benefit Roller Liner Diner , which put a Benefit product testing area into a 1950s soda fountain setting, all done up in signature Benefit pink.

And while the entire pop-up model seemed at one point to be a threat to the makeup counters at traditional department stores, major department store chains are figuring out different paths to a symbiotic relationship. In the case of the Mac Cosmetics station within STORY at Herald Square in New York, it's simply a repackaging of the retail experience from two retail heavyweights; The Mac counter has been a staple in department store cosmetics for decades, and Story, a Macy's-acquired concept store that changes its visual profile every few months, is the newcomer to the equation. For the Story x Macy's rollout, Mac created a design-your-own palette station with rainbow-hued choices to fit the rainbow launch theme.

Nearby, Hudson Yards boasts a three-floor Neiman Marcus, and within that, plenty of square footage for traditional luxury brands. However, the company also brought in some buzzy upstarts, including a flagship salon for vegan and natural nail care brand Sundays. Revered for its non-toxic products and “manicure and meditate" mantra, Sundays popped-up in salons at Saks and the Visa #ShopWithPurpose NYFW experience before landing at Hudson Yards.

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(Sundays)

Though some brands, such as Neiman Marcus, still very much rely on legacy, the company is newly committed to offering “physical and digital experiences" that appeal to digital natives. Among its offerings in this wheelhouse, a series of Coach-branded “Art of Signature" summertime pop-ups featured various artists customizing products with their art in live performances.

The beauty industry is an innovative and dynamic one, and landlords looking for innovative ways to revitalize retail space should keep a close eye on opportunities to partner with brands in this space.

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