When Retail Pops Up in Vancouver

Vancouver pop-up retailer the Latest Scoop is here today, ?gone tomorrow.

Vancouver-based Latest Scoop is a small operation whose entire business is built around the pop-up.

Vancouver pop-up retailer the Latest Scoop is here today, 
gone tomorrow.

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in Vancouver’s Kitsilano neighbourhood, and a horde is stampeding through the Latest Scoop, hauling clothes and housewares to the till with the frenzy of a going-out-of-business blowout. Indeed, the West Fourth Avenue boutique will have been shuttered by the time you read this, just six weeks after its doors opened on June 2. But this is not a retail disaster. For owners Deb Nichol and Michele Sinclair, the vanishing act is all part of their business plan.

The Latest Scoop is a pop-up retail store, part of a hot global trend that sees shops open for limited periods and then disappear. The fad has captured the imagination of retailers ranging from luxury designers Comme des Garçons and Gucci to soccer-mom discounters Target Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. Other big names include Nike Inc., Gap Inc. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. Popping up gives retailers a chance to generate buzz around their brands and to test-market new products. Gap dedicated its Los Angeles pop-up last year to promoting its 1969 jeans brand.

But Vancouver-based Latest Scoop is unique in that it’s a small operation whose entire business is built around the pop-up. There is no year-round store that the temporary retail locations are meant to lure customers to. Instead, Nichol and Sinclair open shop twice a year for six weeks at a time, sliding into whatever vacant retail space suits them.

What’s more, the owners have begun dedicating half their floor space to their pop-up charitable operation, Philanthropy by the Latest Scoop, each time they open a new Scoop. For Philanthropy, Nichol and Sinclair partner with registered charities – this summer’s recipients were Arts Umbrella and the Canucks for Kids Fund – which receive the proceeds from sales of donated goods. Companies such as Sunice, Livingspace and Wear Else, donate surplus goods and get tax receipts from the associated registered charities. The entrepreneurs plan to partner with new local charities each time around.

The charitable and the for-profit operations work symbiotically. “Philanthropy wouldn’t have gotten the traffic, originally, if it hadn’t been for Scoop,” says the manically energetic Nichol. Because Nichol has been popping up twice a year since 2004, she’s built a database of 9,000-plus customers ready to pounce on each new opening. When Scoop customers drop by, they invariably check out Philanthropy. Having Philanthropy attached to Scoop attracted the generosity of their most recent landlord, who leased the 3,200-square-foot former Duthie Books space for a mere dollar. 

Nichol, a longtime retail veteran, says she started her first pop-up because “I didn’t want to do it all the time.” Instead, she decided to open just for the two busiest retail months of the year. Operating only during the early-summer and Christmas peak shopping seasons saves Scoop from paying overhead costs that would bleed cash during the retail doldrums of months like February.

Having no year-round warehouse saves costs but also forces the entrepreneurs to source carefully, ensuring that even the store’s shelving is sold by the end of the run. Nichol and Sinclair take regular flights to visit suppliers in Los Angeles, hauling back as much of the latest fashions as the airline luggage restrictions and Canada customs will allow. Many customers shop as if they were picking up fresh produce, returning every few days as they get emails, Facebook updates or tweets that new shipments have arrived.

After the doors of this summer’s Latest Scoop close in mid-July, Nichol and Sinclair will have a few months to breathe, catch up on books and scout out new sourcing. Then the cycle will start all over again in November.