Varsity Sports owner, Jenni Peters, readily admits that opening a holiday pop-up shop in a Baton Rouge, LA, lifestyle center was a risk, albeit a calculated one. But now, with three months of experience in her back pocket, she's game to take the plunge again.
"After all, if you don't take a few chances in business, you're standing still," says Peters, whose four-store, Louisiana-based operation captured the 2017 Run for Good Award presented by Saucony at The Running Event.
In September 2017, Fort Worth, Texas-based Trademark, owners of Perkins Rowe, an upscale shopping Hub in Baton Rouge, contacted Peters asking if Varsity Sports might be interested in a permanent spot at the mixed-use destination.
"They especially wanted someone local," says Peters, whose Varsity Sports Baton Rouge outlet is located about 10 miles away from Perkins Rowe.
While Peters didn't have much interest in that overture, she did accept Trademark's subsequent offer to run a three-month holiday season pop-up in a Perkins Rowe storefront between Anthropologie and a high-end salon. For Peters, the thought of being in a marquee local shopping area across from one of the world's largest Christmas tress and amid holiday cheer, proved intriguing while Trademark's reasonable terms, including flexible requirements around store hours, cemented the deal.
"They made it hard to say no," says Peters, describing the deal as "a good one for both sides."
Birth of a pop-up
Inheriting a blank 1,650-square foot box, Peters worked to put Varsity Sports' stamp on the space while also minding the budget. She and her team created a show wall from recycled ballet boards and worked with vendors to reduce costs. Brooks helped with co-branded temporary dressing rooms while Powerstep supplied stools and benches. From area rugs to upholstered armchairs, Peters outfitted the stores with elements characteristic of Varsity Sports' other locations in historic houses.
Peters then pulled inventory from Varsity Sports' four other Louisiana-based units and brought in new product, careful not to overstock the pop-up store and aware that her existing stores would absorb any remaining inventory after the temporary store's closure. Knowing staffing would be thin as well, she recruited knowledgable, energetic runners to slide into off hours at the store, effectively creating a seasonal workforce to complement her experienced staff.
For the store's grand opening the first weekend of November 2017, Peters placed tents in from of the shop and broadcast its arrival on Facebook Live. On it's first Saturday, the pop-up recorded 78 transactions, a surprising result that calmed Peters' nerves.
"Even though I thought it was a smart, calculated risk, you still never know how something like this will go," Peters says.
Over the next three months, Varsity Sports mimicked the programming found at its other locations, hosting fun runs, live music, medal engravings, packet pickups, yoga sessions and more to drive traffic and create a community feel. As is Varsity Sports' well-known custom, the pop-up also handed out a free Varsity Sports t-shirt with every shoe purchase.
"The byproduct was just as we had hoped: exposure and sales," Peters says.
The pop-up concept gives a small retailer like us a chance to be in a big arena."
OWNER, VARSITY SPORTS
Reflecting on a new experience
The Varsity Sport pop-up closed on January 24, 2018 and Peters terms the exercise as a success. The store neared the monetary goal Peters set at the beginning while Varsity Sports' holiday season sale in Baton Rouge - albeit over two stores rather than one - jumped 16 percent over the same period in 2016.
"It delivered ROI and definitely made money, though not boatloads of money," Peters says of the pop-up, noting that sales dropped off a bit more than expected in January after a hearty holiday shopping season.
Intrigued by the buzz and energy some established local concepts can bring a shopping venue as well as the positive alternative a pop-up store represents compared to a vacant storefront, Trademark representatives have told Peters the pop-up concept is something the company is looking to cultivate in other centers. She believes other property owners will embrace the concept as well.
For Peters, a future pop-up shop is something she will "absolutely consider" as an ongoing strategy, perhaps even transforming from the hunted to the hunter as the 2018 holiday season approaches.
"I'm open to looking at New Orleans with all of its different alternatives," she says. "I see an opportunity to build mystery and energy around where the next pop-up might be. I'm not necessarily interested in anything long-term but the pop-up gives a small retailer, like us, a chance to be in a big arena and, in this particular case at Perkins Rowe, the advantage of being there in its busiest season."
And with the three-month Perkins Rowe experiment now complete, Peters feels better prepared to capitalize on future pop-up opportunities, holding a better sense of the inventory, staffing and marketing needs necessary to fuel a successful effort.