Pop-Up Stores Going Permanent

Tacofino Commissary | BCBusiness
After success with its food trucks, Tacofino opened a permanent location in Vancouver, on East Hastings Street.

Entrepreneurs finding success with pop-up stores are taking their businesses to the next level with permanent addresses

Now you see them, now you don’t? Pop-up stores—bricks-and-mortar businesses that appear for a limited time—are a popular trend used by B.C. entrepreneurs looking for a low-risk way to test an idea. In Vancouver, pop-ups are increasingly turning permanent—from food trucks like Tacofino and Pig on the Street opening restaurants to businesses blooming from The Chinatown Experiment, an empty shell on Vancouver’s Columbia Street that is rented out to an ever-changing roster of pop-ups that inhabit the space for a few days, weeks or months.

For ex-graphic designer Jackie Ellis, the right time to move from popping-up at farmers’ markets to opening Vancouver’s Beaucoup Bakery in December 2012 came after she closed down her design business and spent time in Paris. Ellis used her design and marketing background to begin conceptual branding while she was selling at farmers’ markets. “I researched the viability of the business I wanted,” Ellis says. “Competitors, anything financial on comparable businesses, failure rates, market trends. And I defined specific points at which decisions like location would support or change the direction of the business model.

“Being permanent gives you the opportunity to generate more revenue simply by being more available to the customer. They are not purchasing on your schedule, but theirs. This allows us to capture the ‘convenience buyers’ and a wider target market. We were also able to expand into other revenue streams. The most obvious challenge is larger overhead costs. There are more facets to operating a permanent business such as managing staff and building operations to ensure consistency.”

Becoming permanent can also solve logistical issues. Jason Sussman, co-owner of B.C.-based Tacofino Cantina Inc., found that opening a permanent commissary in addition to the company’s three food trucks helped expand the brand. “It’s much easier to have our truck and kitchen in the same place,” says Sussman. “Trucks are limiting as far as our menu goes; the restaurant has allowed us to cook things we’ve always wanted to.”

Deb Nichol has been running The Latest Scoop fashion and homeware boutique pop-up shops around Vancouver since 2004, when she moved into pop-ups after running an independent women’s clothing boutique on Granville Street for twenty years. She opened a permanent flagship store in March 2013 in south Granville and is already discovering advantages. “I found it exhausting and expensive scouting and training new staff for each new location,” Nichol says. “It can be challenging to find prime retail storefronts—this location was too hard to give up.

“We want to keep the face of a pop-up, as we believe it excites and entices our customers, so we’ll be closing our stores as each new season ends to revamp our decor and inventory. We’re accustomed to reinventing our stores so there will be no additional expenses in the merchandising. In fact, we will save money from not constantly relocating.”

B.C. retail expert David Ian Gray of DIG360 Consulting believes that the pop-up trend has potential. Says Gray: “Pop-up stores are still vastly under-utilized as a retail device. They provide rich, 3D experience, so can provide seasonal or in-campaign brand impact. Pop-ups can serve to test-market a new concept prior to full investment. If sales hit a threshold, morphing to a permanent location is a logical progression.”

Vancouverites have embraced the pop-up phenomenon and now is an ideal time for entrepreneurs to turn a passion into a pop-up and a pop-up into a permanent profit. Here today and no longer gone tomorrow.