For Emerging Brands, Pop-up Shops Bridge Online and Offline

Jessica Binns
Senior Editor
Emboldened by the success of trailblazing brands such as Bonobos that launched exclusively online, many of today's new labels — including lingerie newcomer Fleur du Mal — choose to establish a web presence before venturing into retail opportunities in the bricks-and-mortar world
Emboldened by the success of trailblazing brands such as Bonobos that launched exclusively online, many of today's new labels — including lingerie newcomer Fleur du Mal — choose to establish a web presence before venturing into retail opportunities in the bricks-and-mortar world. Of course, the lower CapEx investment is an enticing reason to pursue an Internet-only business model, too.

"The next generation is online first and physical store after that — the opposite business model of what we've seen in the past," says Fleur du Mal founder Jennifer Zuccarini, who previously co-founded luxury lingerie lifestyle brand Kiki de Montparnasse and served as Victoria's Secret's design director.

But even as emerging brands embrace the web-first model, many recognize the invaluable importance of interacting with customers in person.

A pop-up primer
Pop-up shops remain a wildly popular way for brands and retailers to dip a toe into the brick-and-mortar waters without necessarily committing significant resources to a permanent physical presence. Speaking at a Third Wave Fashion event in New York in May, Melissa Gonzalez, founder and CEO of fashion trend curation website Lionesque Style, explained that brands both young and established pursue pop-ups for many purposes, from "activating" a new brand and getting the word out to clearing out existing inventory or simply launching a new line within an existing brand.

"A pop-up shop is an event," explains Gonzalez, who has consulted on more than five dozen pop-ups across the U.S. "It's an opportunity to tell your brand story, so every detail matters — from paint and wallpaper to fixtures." Choosing the pop-up location is equally important; is the potential neighborhood representative of your brand — and does it naturally offer substantial foot traffic?

Many brands make the mistake of focusing all of their marketing and promotion efforts solely on their pop-up's opening night, but Gonzalez recommends keeping the buzz going by organizing various blogger and "friends and family" VIP nights and offering special deals, which should help to keep traffic steady for the duration of the pop-up instead of fizzling out after the excitement of launch night. And to ensure that the right people are buzzing about the pop-up, brands should create a hashtag so that shoppers can chat on Twitter and share their pop-up pics on Instagram and set check-in deals for sites such as Facebook and Foursquare.

Blending online and offline at Fleur du Mal
When Fleur du Mal was gearing up for its November 2012 launch, Zuccarini says her first instinct was to establish a physical store in order to reach the customer but she ultimately "decided to make online our flagship." The brand website features shoppable editorials that mix content and commerce, she explains, which needed to be optimized for mobile viewing as customers increasingly browse and buy through smartphones and tablets.

Fleur du Mal turned to Usablenet to develop a mobile site that captured and reflected its identity as a "highly experiential brand that's edgy but discreet," says Usablenet CMO Carin van Vuuren. "The mobile site needs to be very, very next-gen from an aesthetic point of view but also needs to support what the business wants to accomplish."

Built with the user experience in mind, the Usablenet-powered mobile site is designed to quickly get the shopper where she wants to be and load as few pages as possible, focusing instead of robust dropdown menus and overlays in order to achieve "super-fast" browsing, van Vuuren says. "Fleur du Mal is at the vanguard of what mobile-based browsing will become."

Taking things one step further, the companies decided to create a mobile pop-up store to complement the launch of Fleur du Mal's first physical pop-up, gracing a SoHo street in New York City for up to three weeks starting on the July 14 Bastille Day holiday, a nod to the brand's original inspiration: the provocative writings of French poet Charles Baudelaire. 

van Vuuren says the mobile pop-up site gives marketers the flexibility to capture what users are already doing at events: snapping photos, posting on social networks, tweeting, and pinning.

The mobile pop-up is activated by a geofence, programmed by zip code, to give users within a certain location access to the unique products in the pop-up site that correspond with the items on display in the actual physical pop-up store. For example, the mobile pop-up site will likely correspond with up to two zip codes in and around the SoHo neighborhood where the physical shop will be, says Zuccarini.

Usablenet's U-control dashboard lets Zuccarini and her team change images and promo banners and manage content for the mobile pop-up shop. The site's shoppable editorial features "hotspots" focused on Fleur du Mal garments or complementary partner brands that users can tap to see additional product information and detail or to buy immediately.

Fleur du Mal is working with one such complementary brand, Brooklyn-based design firm Flat Vernacular, to create a custom wallpaper for the pop-up interior, adding to the overall unique pop-up shopping experience, Zuccarini says.

The brand will stock the SoHo boutique with inventory from its New Jersey warehouse, along with special pieces from its newest collection, currently in production. Zuccarini supports the New York apparel industry by manufacturing 65 percent of the brand's garments in the Big Apple but also works with factories in Europe and Asia. "Some things like bras are difficult to make well in New York," she says. "I like to go with factories that are the best at what they do. By working in New York, we can do small runs quickly and be more agile with quick turnarounds."

Fleur du Mal maintains a physical presence in retailers such as Barney's and is in talks with luxury lingerie company Journelle about a potential partnership.

"We love the idea of being mobile for the first year with pop-ups in cities like Paris and Hong Kong — then we'll see if we're ready to do something permanent in retail," says Zuccarini. "If you open a store right away it all becomes about the store. Now we can be global."
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