CORDER’S COLUMN: The power of pop-ups

Rob Corder.

I am not a fan of cliché business or motivational mantras, but one that I have adopted for my entire career is that “there is nothing in this world so irresistible in this world as an idea whose time has come”.

Pop-ups are one such idea whose time has very much come and for many intersecting reasons.


Specifically, I am not talking about pop-ups where a brand takes over a derelict retail unit in a town centre for a short period of time, I am talking about brands taking a residency in top quality retail stores for a limited period.

Watches of Switzerland is becoming a master of this on both sides of the Atlantic. In London, it has held successful pop-ups for Grand Seiko, Ulysse Nardin, Oris and others.

Grand Seiko has also worked with the retailer in New York.

This week its store in Soho, Manhattan, is featuring Meerson as its “designer in residence”.

You may not have heard of Meerson, a low volume luxury French brand, but that is kind of the point. WOSG chief executive Brian Duffy told me recently that there is hardly a brand out there that he cannot make a success of.

Which brings me back to my theme of irresistible timing, and the many reasons why major retail groups and artisan luxury watch brands should all be jumping on the pop-up bandwagon.

First, the biggest brands and groups are squeezing out independent watchmakers by negotiating more space, up to and including monobrand boutiques, with their partners.

This is driving smaller brands out of the best stores in premium locations. Pop-ups are likely to be the only opportunity for smaller brands to get any space.

Secondly, the biggest brands cannot meet demand for their most popular watches and customers are getting tired of going into stores and seeing only Day-Dates and DateJusts. They want to be shown something new, which pop-ups deliver.

Thirdly, customers want experiences. Meeting with the actual designers of independent watches fits the bill. A designer in residence might appear for a champagne reception to launch a pop-up, which is popular in itself and markets the watches that may then be on sale for a month at the store.

Fourthly, social media and digital marketing makes promoting pop-ups highly effective. It gives retailers something new to say to their database of customers, while the designers can use their own contacts to pull new people who might previously have been unknown to the retailer, into the stores.

Finally, it is a great way to research the market for retailers. Rather than committing to furniture, stock and the cost of replacing one long term partner brand with another untested marque, a store can see immediately if there is long term demand.

It goes without saying that there is no point installing an MB&F pop-up in a small town with little wealth and no watch collecting heritage.

But there are likely to be sufficient customers for Ressence, Voutilainen or Urban Jürgensen in Leeds, Manchester or Glasgow.

With many of these artisanal brands, selling one or two watches would pay for a month’s residency.

I hope I am right about this because it will bring fresh vibrancy to the market, particularly outside global cities like London and New York. It is good for independent brands, collectors and retailers — the ultimate win-win-win and an idea, in my opinion, whose time has come.

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