Are pop-up stores the hip new face of retail or a clever marketing ploy to fight consumer fatigue?
It's three o'clock on a Tuesday afternoon. You're sitting in front of your computer at work, and suddenly an e-mail appears in your in-box inviting you to an exclusive fashion sale on Thursday. The downtown address is an unmarked warehouse. The password is "gingham."
It sounds a bit James Bond, but the scenario is very real. And who's the mastermind behind these guerrilla tactics? Russ Miller, the creator of Vacant, a high-end travelling store that sells one-of-a-kind shirts, shoes and accessories. "Normal retail is just about making money, but coming to Vacant is an experience," says Miller, who jumped into retail when he realized that shopping, like a good martini, needed stirring up. "We never put prices up on our website, and we don't list all our items. People fly to our stores just to get the products."
Miller used to work in corporate advertising in London and New York but made the break when he launched his first Vacant store in New York in February 2003. He rented an empty space in trendy SoHo to sell limited edition designer gear to an exclusive crowd. Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick and Robin Williams popped in to shop, as well as a slew of brand-conscious trend-setters. It seems that Miller had tapped into a retail model that gave people exactly what they hankered after-- exclusivity, novelty and hip happenings.
The concept is simple enough: Vacant takes over an empty space for a month and sends private invites by e-mail to a small portion of its 1.6 million members from its www.govacant.com database. The company's appeal is its exclusivity: it showcases one-off and limited edition products from hot brands and emerging designers. There are belt buckles made for Busta Rhymes by Kel 1st, hemp sneakers by Puma and Billionaire's Boys Club apparel designed by N.E.R.D singer/Neptunes producer Pharrell Williams and A Bathing Ape designer Nigo. "We want people to feel like they've found something unique and special," says Miller. As an added attraction, Vacant stages art installations and creative happenings at each store. (For example, Puma built a mini-racetrack for one shopping spree in Las Vegas.)
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