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The Drapers Interview: Ross Bailey, pop-up shops

Ross Bailey founded Appear Here in 2013 to give the UK’s empty stores a new lease of life. Now he is looking to repeat the trick overseas.

After launching pop-up space booking platform Appear Here in 2013 aged just 20, Ross Bailey secured a $7.5m (£4.9m) investment from one of Europe’s biggest venture capital firms, Balderton Capital, last November. He talks to Drapers about how he plans to use the funding, his career so far and what makes a successful pop-up store.

How does Appear Here work?
Retailers, brands or individuals looking for selling space go onto the Appear Here website and search in a similar way they would use other sites to search for a hotel room. If users don’t know where they want to be there are also destination guides to inspire and educate people about an area. The average user then applies for four to five spaces, including details on when they want to ‘appear’ and ‘disappear’ as well as a bit about the concept.

Appear Here then sends the request to the landlord and if the landlord agrees with the idea, we send back an offer and price for the space, with Appear Here taking a commission. Users sign and pay online on a monthly basis.

How much investment does it require?
It can be anything from £50 to £5,000 a day, depending on where and when. Retailers also need to bear in mind business rates and utility charges, although these are all included in the Appear Here pricing. How to take payments, the time to set up, how to get people there and how to keep the buzz going also need to be seen as additional costs.

How do you plan to use the investment from Balderton Capital?
Ultimately, the money will go towards hiring great people, strengthening technology and expanding internationally. We want to launch in a further two international cities this year [Appear Here is currently only available in the UK]. One will be in Europe. We have also hired former H&M head of merchandising Andreas Thors as head of operations, who will ensure we are growing our commercial teams and processes as we grow the business. This time last year we had a team of five; this has already grown to 25 and will be doubling again this year to increase roles in the marketing, communications, concierge and technology teams. In terms of technology, we want to make the online experience a more seamless one for landlords, as well as building smart tools for the front end to personalise the service and suggest suitable locations for the retailer.

Talking of buzz, how do you attract people to a pop-up?
It’s about creating something that will stop people in their tracks. Make people know you have arrived and give them a reason to come back. Some of the most successful stores have been those that attach themselves to a moment in time - when Jamie Oliver opened a pop-up during London Cocktail Week last October for example. Create an amazing experience in store so people not only want the product but you are giving them a souvenir of that moment. Give customers a story to tell and they will share it along with your brand.

Are there any types of fashion stores that have worked particularly well?
Womenswear brand Finery had an amazing interactive storefront pre-launch of the brand on Greek Street for one week [starting January 19, 2015]. It worked so well because it was innovative and really stood out in the crowded streets of Soho. Bag brand Eastpak also had a cool pop-up on Commercial Street in Shoreditch from November to December 2014, combining a store and digital experience alongside an in-store coffee shop.

Which streets have proved the most successful so far?
South Molton Street [in London] is incredible and Redchurch Street in Shoreditch always performs. Stores on King’s Road in Chelsea have less footfall but a far higher spend per customer. In Shoreditch less money is spent in store but the halo-effect of having a pop-up means online basket sizes increase.

Is this just a business model for a tough economy?
Absolutely not. Look at the larger retailers and they are closing more stores than ever before. Look at the smaller guys (many of them originating as innovative etailers) and their store opening rate is increasing. The difference is the models [terms and lengths of letting] they are using. Building a model for the future will be about allowing retailers to make an impact in an area and stay in that area until people get bored - and then allowing them to move on without the ties of a long-term lease. As online becomes more important, the use of the store will change but it will not disappear.

Lastly, what skills does it take to become a successful entrepreneur?
Ha, I’m not sure I’d describe myself as that just yet! However, what I would say to anyone starting out is don’t take no for an answer. When I first met with landlords, I had 40 to 50 meetings and not a single landlord agreed to list on Appear Here with a price. We had to convince landlords to be upfront and transparent and that was challenging. But if I had taken the “no” I heard at the start as gospel, I would never be where I am today.

Readers' comments (1)

  • brilliant article.....it's the new way to do things. Gotta love the LL's who wanted to 'price up' the customers. ...the younger generation won't stand for it. It;s the new way to trade, pop up b+ m as and when and online 24/7.
    Good for Ross on setting up such a good website ...we will def use it at some point.

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