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Pop-Up Stores Growing Trend, Not Just for Halloween

Cheryl Rich-Kern

It’s that time of the year when the days are getting shorter and the retail hours are getting longer.

And while year-round merchants are gearing up for the holiday season, pop-up stores, like the many Halloween outlets, are cropping up alongside them — and then shutting their doors one or two months later.

These temporary stores may sound like a fad, but pop-up stores reflect a growing trend in the retail sector.

You see one in almost every large mall in New Hampshire:

A Halloween store that sells friendly and flashy costumes, not to mention spooky décor and special effects.

Patricia Harris manages the Halloween Superstore in the Pheasant Lane mall in Nashua.

The gig is a two-month stint she found on craigslist. Harris opened the store in September.

As the calendar inches closer to Halloween, she says foot traffic is steady.

Harris: The teenagers, they’ll come in and buy two costumes because they go to two different parties. Weekends, usually moms, dads, come in, families.

And the cash register keeps ringing.

Harris: A customer will come in and she just bought herself four costumes. So that went up to 300 bucks. That’s kindof your average.

Jeffrey: The Halloween folks that are currently in business out there, an amazing amount of profits generated out of those temporary spaces.

That’s Scott Jeffrey with Interbrand, an Ohio-based design firm that helps retailers market their brands.

Jeffrey says the Halloween stores didn’t pioneer the pop-up concept. But they certainly perfected it.

"The numbers being generated are in the multiple millions of dollars."

By next week, the Halloween stores will stow away their masks and goblin goop until next year’s venture. 

Some, especially those the national chains own, will morph into temporary toy stores just in time for the holidays.

Jeffrey says that pop-ups aren’t just for the big players.

He says small mom-and-pops can also take advantage of short-term leases and low overhead to try out a concept or promote a new brand.

Alison Murphy is opening a pop-up shop with handmade local crafts on Concord’s Main Street beginning November first.

Murphy: I think for a lot of artists it’s a dream to have our own shop. But it’s really difficult to do something like that year round when the income is kindof cyclical. Independent artists get their year’s worth of income just in December.

Murphy’s entrepreneurial pluck got off the ground when she found a landlord who needed to renovate an empty building in January and wanted a short-term renter.

Christina Norsig is founder of PopUp Insider, an online exchange that helps retailers find temporary spaces.

She says a 13-percent retail vacancy rate nationwide is helping spawn the growth, but the here-today-gone-tomorrow tenant has to work harder to grab the consumer’s attention.

And sometimes that leads to pitfalls:

Norsig: If you’re going into a space for a month, merchants need to be very cautious. They watch every dime and calculate how much they need to make to succeed.

Retailers also have to strategize how set up a store quickly, sometimes overnight.

It’s a challenge that’s creating opportunities for other types of businesses: the designers and builders of modular retail spaces.

Jeff Baker owns Image 4 in Manchester.

Baker: Over the last 18-24 months, we’ve seen pop-ups move in the number of projects we’re running, up by about a third, and the commercial value, by a little over half of our business revenue.

Next up for Baker is a merchandising and event space for the Super Bowl that will stay open for a month.

The Image 4 team will set up in Indianapolis. But the design and construction begin much earlier at its warehouse in New Hampshire.  

Baker: We’ll probably send a hundred thousand dollars into the community in subcontracting.

Image 4 will have to personalize the pop-up to reflect the winning teams — which they won’t know until two weeks before the game.

But that’s retail for you: always under the wire, unpredictable, and at least some of the time, profitable.

Sheryl Rich-Kern has been contributing stories for NHPR since 2006, covering education, social services, business, health care and an occasional quirky yarn that epitomizes life in New Hampshire. Sherylâââ

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