Food & Culture

The Power of Pop-ups

Seattle shop has been a hit with tenants and customers



This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Seattle Magazine.

The retail landscape with which we ended 2020 is not the same one that we see in the first quarter of 2021; the coronavirus pandemic has transformed an already struggling industry for the foreseeable future.

According to retail analytics firm Core-sight Research, about 8,400 stores closed across the United States last year.  And it’s no secret that more shoppers than ever are shifting to online purchasing. Since the start of the pandemic, statistics show a 20% to 50% increase in plans to spend money online rather than in-store, even after the pandemic fades.

Another noticeable change: 78% of Americans have either tried or are open to trying new brands, so capturing and hanging onto customer loyalty is more important than ever, but also likely more difficult than it was before.

One thing is clear: For brands that are ready to stand out, attract new business and make it safely to the other side of this retail transformation, it’s time to think 10 steps outside the box. Traditional marketing tactics, steep discounts and social media or influencer marketing all have their place, but many retailers need more to ensure their businesses can thrive.

Enter pop-up shops. A pop-up shop is a short-term or temporary shopping location where brands of all kinds can try something new, expand their customer base and spend a little time in a very different type of spotlight.

Perhaps a company has only ever sold its products online, but would like to test out a brick-and-mortar location to see how it goes. Or maybe a business is looking for a way to activate its brand quickly and easily in a new area and needs a leg up. The reasons for leveraging pop-up shops are growing by the day, and the changes brought about by 2020, have only made the option more valuable.

My company, The Lion’esque  Group, brought such an option to Seattle’s Regrade neighborhood beginning in the summer of 2020. Periodic: A Pop-Up Shop, is a turnkey retail experience space that features a varied rotation of local, national and global brands, both emerging and well-established.

No two experiences at this experiential retail incubator are ever the same, and that’s a large part of the draw for area shoppers. At slightly more than 1,000 square feet, Periodic’s easily adaptable space features modular fixtures, digital screens, prominent branding options and more.

Since its opening, the space has hosted everything from European e-bike company VanMoof, to Seattle’s favorite hand-blown glass company Glassybaby, to Black, female-owned clothing brand 4Twenty4 Boutique, as well as Sensebellum, a space that strives to create new sensory possibilities using art and technology.

From layout and design to new signage and fixtures, a pop-up shop gives retailers an opportunity to reimagine their space, and to do so more than once. It’s not just the flexibility of the physical space that’s drawing businesses to the world of pop-ups. In our current environment, many brands are uncertain about what their futures will look like, and they may be wary to commit to a long-term lease. Something temporary might strike just the right balance for the time being.

Making strategic decisions around seasonality is another common theme for pop-up retailers. Perhaps your business sells sweaters online, but in the winter months, you’d like a physical presence for holiday shoppers. We saw this strategy play out well for VanMoof, which occupied the Periodic space last summer, right when e-bikes were growing in popularity due to Covid-19.

Even larger brands are searching for a bit more flexibility these days as some aim to trim down their national footprints. In some cities, they may feel they need a permanent flagship location for all 12 months of the year, but it might make sense in other regions to appear in a physical space for only part of the year. Pop-ups are providing answers to tricky questions for retailers of all sizes.

If opening a brick-and-mortar location is financially out of reach, pop-up shops provide an option to set up shop in a physical space without the hefty investment. This is an especially useful opportunity for smaller brands that are in the early stages of growth. At Periodic, everything from fixtures to signage is included with the space — the kinds of items that tend to add up quickly and challenge budgets for new storeowners.

Even brands that have been around for years can see worlds of growth by embracing a “beginner’s mindset” and being open to testing new strategies. Pop-up shops provide the perfect environment to conduct a living focus group.

Shoppers come in with more attention and intention than usual; they’re expecting something new and they’re ready to take it all in. It’s not difficult to quickly see what they’re excited about, what they’re gravitating toward and what they’re dying to share on social media. Whether it’s a new line or an exciting collaboration, brands have plenty to learn by observing how shoppers respond to the temporary setups.

At Periodic, 4Twenty4 Boutique is a perfect example of a brand that was ready to learn. While this company had only managed an online presence before fall of 2020, the two co-owners were set on transitioning into a physical space as well. They had hoped to launch earlier in the year, but like so many of us, their plans were derailed by pandemic-related challenges.

They were extremely savvy in the e-commerce world, but they were on a mission to start learning more about physical retail, so Periodic provided the perfect avenue to familiarize this team with the ins and outs of keeping a brick-and-mortar location running smoothly. As an added bonus, the company is also increasing brand awareness and company profits.

The current retail landscape is forcing us all to put up a good fight. Many companies have had to cut teams, set up online stores without the proper infrastructure or pivot away from exciting growth plans. While it may feel more difficult these days to develop a strong relationship with your customer base, it’s far from impossible. You just need be committed to giving customers a compelling reason to walk through your doors — in a safe and clean environment.

From launching new products to an-nouncing new partnerships to testing new regions, the pop-up shop is a unique platform to get creative and push the boundaries of brick-and-mortar shopping. Retail isn’t dying, it’s just evolving.

Melissa Gonzalez is founder and CEO of the Lion’esque Group, a design agency in New York City specializing in retail strategies and pop-up shops.

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