‘Tis almost the season and as small businesses across the country prepare for the Christmas rush, e-commerce brands are dipping a toe into the bricks-and-mortar space with customary holiday pop-ups.
But in a year that’s seen renewed interest among consumers in environmental sustainability, there’s an onus on doing things a little differently in the world of short-term retail leases.
Leak-proof underwear brand ModiBodi has this week launched its own pop-up roadshow, designed to be entirely recyclable as the business strikes up conversations with new customers in major shopping centres along the east coast, from Chadstone in Melbourne to Indooroopilly in Brisbane.
Designed under the stewardship of founder Kristy Chong, the short-term shops have drawn on recycled PVC, second-hand fittings and biodegradable wallpaper in a bid to minimise the environmental footprint associated with bricks-and-mortar retail.
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It’s the first time Chong has taken Modibodi, which she started in 2013, into a physical location — a venture the founder says is a big step for the fast-growing company.
“We wanted to give our customers an opportunity to touch and feel our product, but we needed to create a space with sustainability in mind, as we do with all our business practices,” Chong tells SmartCompany.
“It was a no brainer.”
Chong has opted for three shorter-term offerings rather than one seasonal lease in a single location, and will pack up the pop-up for travel over the Christmas season to avoid unnecessary waste.
The business owner says the idea of getting into short-term leasing over the holiday period was an attractive one, particularly as ModiBodi seeks out a new type of customer that might not have heard about the company online.
“It’s a big educational piece,” Chong says.
ModiBodi hopes to cross what Chong concedes can be an awkward first interaction with the brand as new customers familiarise themselves with its range of specialised underwear.
“We’ll have our own customer ambassadors there sharing their own personal stories,” Chong says.
“We want to draw attention.”
The circular pop-up economy
The pop-up economy is a natural extension for a retail market in the process of embracing a new identity, defined increasingly by e-commerce and a desire to avoid long-term retail leases.
The draws are obvious. Barriers to entry are much lower than traditional retail stores, there’s an element of scarcity and discovery marketing to the entire affair and, if it fails, well at least nothing is bolted down too tightly.
All this makes a pretty compelling proposition for any e-commerce store looking to shake a few hands ‘IRL’ so-to-speak, or even a new company that wants to make a splash.
Judith Treanor, founder of online retail business Temples and Markets, says short-term retail leasing is benefitting from the growing circular economy in Australia, with empty shops, often still containing their fit-outs, being utilised by new brands.
“When businesses are going under they’re leaving everything behind,” Treanor tells SmartCompany.
“One store I’m going into in Chatswood Chase has all the fittings already.”
“Who can afford it?”
Treanor is also the founder of The PopUp Collective, a short-term leasing advocacy organisation that passes around information about store opportunities.
This Christmas, however, there’s a bit of a grizzly undertone to the pop-up affair, as many of the open locations in Sydney and Melbourne have been vacated by companies that have either entered liquidation or abandoned bricks-and-mortar retail for lower-cost e-commerce.
“[Bricks-and-mortar] is a failed business model now,” Treanor says of the current retail landscape.
“It just doesn’t work. Who can afford it?”
It’s undoubtedly a challenging time for many small business owners in Australia’s retail sector, with poor consumer fundamentals and broader concerns about the health of the economy giving way to sluggish sales growth.
Treanor believes short-term leasing is a flexible option that can help entrepreneurs save money while driving holiday sales, but says landlords are holding the industry back, preferring empty shops to pop-ups.
“The choice of spaces for pop-ups are few and far between, and in my experience … we’re already having to pull off minor miracles to get a pop up happening at all,” Treanor says.
“They’re looking for a premium on the space,” Treanor says.