Pop-Up Retail Gains Widespread Popularity in Canada [Feature]

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Pop-up retail in Canada is becoming more common than ever, with retailers and landlords coordinating temporary leases in a variety of interesting ways. Experts are now saying that pop-up retail has become mainstream, with some even asking if the concept is becoming ‘over-exposed’.

It wasn’t that long ago that pop-up retail was seen as merely a solution to fill challenging real estate, or an otherwise seasonal endeavour for brands selling around Christmas and other holiday seasons. Things began changing a couple of years ago and towards the middle of 2017, pop-up retail growth in Canada became explosive, according to Linda Farha, founder and ‘Chief Connector’ at online pop-up retail platform pop-up go. “Demand has never been so great for pop-up space in Canada… landlords are seeing this as a strategy to build buzz, and retailers are utilizing it to further expand distribution and exposure”, said Ms. Farha.

Ms. Farha’s pop-up go, which also features a curated pop-up match service that provides access to the ever-growing pipeline of pop-up seekers looking for space, recently launched an innovative pop-up program in downtown Winnipeg. It’s the latest project for pop-up go, which last year partnered with Bentall Kennedy to lease out several pop-up spaces in downtown Oakville. The multi-retailer pop-up space at downtown Winnipeg’s Cityplace is a partnership with landlord Triovest. “We are seeing industry leaders across the country, like Triovest, investing in pop-up programs and dedicating strategic spaces to amplify their customer experience models,” said Ms. Farha.

(City Place, Winnipeg. Photo: Triovest) 

Cityplace spans two levels of shops and services, and through the Winnipeg Skywalk it connects to Bell MTS Place, True North Square, Millennium Library and the RBC Convention Centre. It’s also linked to the nearby office towers housing more than 70,000 daytime workers. There’s potential for significant foot traffic in a downtown core that’s seeing a resurgence.

“Designating spaces specifically for pop-up tenants is part of Triovest’s strategy to diversify our retail offering by supporting and showcasing local talent,” said Cheryl Roney, Director of Leasing and Marketing at Triovest. “With fresh perspectives, products and experiences, our goal is to bring more people to Downtown Winnipeg and offer an exceptional shopping environment for our Cityplace customers.”

[Above: Les Parfums Louis Vuitton pop-up at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, open until March 18, 2018. The 460 sq ft space includes 2,995 white stacked paper tube packaging containers in its construction, housing 7 LV fragrances. Photo: Yorkdale]

[Above: Les Parfums Louis Vuitton pop-up at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre, open until March 18, 2018. The 460 sq ft space includes 2,995 white stacked paper tube packaging containers in its construction, housing 7 LV fragrances. Photo: Yorkdale]

Pop-up tenants have the opportunity to lease for a few days, or a few months — it’s proving popular in beautiful downtown Oakville where pop-up go has already facilitated new tenants, and other landlords are also getting in on the game.

One of the biggest pop-up announcements of 2017 was CONCEPT at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The 3,600 square foot concept space can house several tenants on a temporary basis, and according to landlord Oxford Properties, CONCEPT has been a runaway success. Oxford Properties is expanding its pop-up initiative into several other of its properties, including housing several temporary spaces at its Kingsway Mall property in Edmonton.

Landlord Cadillac Fairview has been hosting pop-ups in its malls for several years, with some formerly temporary tenants eventually signing long-term leases. This has been the case for other landlords as well.

“Pop-up retail is a great way for retailers to test out new concepts prior to committing to a long-term lease”, noted Hilary Kellar-Parsons, broker with Avison Young, who has been strategizing with some of the world’s top brands as they look to enter the Canadian market.

As popular malls add pop-up retail to the mix like never before, is the idea at risk of becoming so mainstream as to ‘fall out of fashion’? One analyst thinks that this is only the beginning for pop-up retail in Canada.

[MUJI pop-up in Vancouver in early 2017 — MUJI learned a lot about the vancouver consumer, prompting it to open larger stores than originally planned. Photo: http://retaildesignblog.net)

David Ian Gray, consultant and retail strategist/founder of DIG360, says that he thinks more retailers should be examining pop-up retail as part of their overall retail strategy. He noted how pop-up retail is now considerably more sophisticated than in the recent past, with landlords going out of their way to accommodate temporary tenants. “The phenomenon has been gaining traction over the past several years — pop-ups were originally intended for brands to engage with customers”, he noted, describing how retailers “quickly co-opted the idea, with considerable success”.

Last year, Mr. Gray predicted that 2018 would be ‘the year of the pop-up’ — a sentiment shared by pop-up go’s Ms. Farha and other key industry players. Pop-up spaces in malls, on urban street-fronts and even in department stores, are now more common than ever.

(Toronto-based footwear brand ‘zvelle’ launched as an e-commerce brand, and has since since operated pop-up spaces as part of its strategy. Photo: Zvelle) 

Nordstrom, for example, has a constant pop-up rotation at its CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Toronto) and CF Pacific Centre (Vancouver) stores. Nordstrom’s latest pop-up includes a collaboration with fashion brand The North Face. Hudson’s Bay is adding pop-up retail at some of its downtown flagships, and Holt Renfrew continues to host temporary interactive installations that range from bicycles to pricey jewellery and accessories.

Some landlords, such as Joseph Gatto of Chestnut Park Realty, are embracing pop-up retail for their own street-front properties. Mr. Gatto owns 202 Queen Street West, which is now considered to be one of the hottest pop-up spaces in the city, having recently hosted pop-ups for Microsoft Xbox and Square, among others. While the ultimate goal is to find a permanent tenant, Mr. Gatto noted that owning a pop-up space can be dynamic as well as profitable.

[Above: Microsoft Xbox hosted a pop-up on November 18-20, 2017, at 202 Queen Street West, transforming the space into an immersive brand environment]

Another hot property that has recently hosted several notable pop-ups is Toronto’s 1056 Queen Street West, in a space located just west of Ossington Avenue. Last year, the building hosted several temporary retailers, including Daniel Caesar and Glossier, both of which were very popular.

Shopping Centres are getting in on the pop-up trend in a big way, with Mississauga’s Square One being a national leader in hosting various temporary installations. Square One became home to Swarovski’s first-ever ‘Sparkle Pop-Up’, and last week the mall hosted an innovative four-day bridal pop-up for “the edgy bride” with ideas and samples from over 16 vendors and Square One retailers. Next up for Square One are two unique initiatives — a Chinese New Year pop-up in the mall’s ‘luxury wing’ near Holt Renfrew that includes an interactive station where shoppers are able to learn about their Chinese Zodiac sign and what’s upcoming for them in 2018. There’s also the recent ‘Rethink Breast Cancer pop-up’ with a charitable theme — Rethink’s returning #8008135 campaign was a modern spin on a retro “hotline”, complete with a phone-booth that was intended to educate consumers about breast health through busting breast cancer myths and answering questions.

The world of retail is changing, the dynamics of online and physical channels are merging. As e-commerce gains prominence and consumers increasingly shift spending towards experiences, pop-up retail will continue to pop-up in Canada, possibly becoming a significant component of the industry. Whatever the future holds, it appears that the world of physical retail now includes lease terms that, time wise, are more variable than ever — and we’ll continue to report on pop-up retail in Canada as it continues to rapidly gain popularity.

Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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