Feature: We Are Pop Up

Leon Goldwater, CEO of We Are Pop Up, talks entrepreneurship, the pandemic, and the future of retail.

In a sea of CVAs and administrations, there is no clear picture when it comes to the future of retail. Those who will remain standing when the dust settles is anyone’s guess, but it is likely that when it comes to filling the chasm left on the high street it will be out with the old and in with the new. Hoping to facilitate the bridge is an international booking platform for retail spaces, We Are Pop Up.

We Are Pop Up was founded in 2012 in London by a young team of entrepreneurs who wanted to make it easier for brands and traders to connect to spaces – working a bit like Airbnb for retailers. Its function is to connect brands to spaces for short periods of time, breeding flexibility in an old-fashioned industry, and giving entrepreneurs and new brands the physical location to find a market for their product.

Leon Goldwater, the company’s CEO, says that as a platform, there are no losers – it benefits the landlord sitting with an empty shop, and it gives the entrepreneur the opportunity to test or market their product in the space where their perceived market exists. Plus it enables brands to rent spaces on a highly flexible basis, from a matter of days up to a whole year.

The booking platform boasts an existing customer base of thousands of independent fashion, food, art and homeware brands and entrepreneurs worldwide, as well as major corporate brands such as Unilever, Swarovski, Google. Etsy, Nike, Net-A-Porter, Six and Sons and more. Landlords including CBRE, JLL, Boxpark, and the Camden Markets are already working with retailers in this way.

In November, We Are Pop Up announced it was switching up to become a free-to-use model. The business model in the past was a 20% commission paid by the brands to We Are Pop Up. Landlords would list the space at the price they want, and then the platform charges 20% on top when a booking was made.

“We felt the model had to change as we’d been listening to how brands and landlords wanted to connect directly – they didn’t want a middleman taking a slice of the cake,” Goldwater explains, pointing out that it would feel especially wrong to take a commission as a time when the industry is already in so much pain. And so, being able in a position do so, We Are Pop Up took initiative by becoming a free-to-use model.

“We have the ability to provide service to brands, asset managers, landlords and cities to help them survive and fill up their empty spaces during these difficult times,” he says of the decision to change the business model. He expects there is going to be a lot of people unemployed in the short term, which will empower those with an idea and an entrepreneurial spirit the opportunity to build their own business – and then We Are Pop Up will be able to connect these new found entrepreneurs with the space to test out their ideas.

Goldwater adds that down the line they are going to have to develop a model that works for everyone, but until then the service will encourage users to consider donating a fee in return for the value they see generated from using the service, though there is no obligation to do so.

Pre-pandemic, offering a free-to-use platform would have likely seen a veritable explosion of interest – but these are not normal time, and Goldwater says has had to manage his own expectation: “We have seen an uplift but it hasn’t been enormous, which is not surprising during lockdown.”

He does, however, note a positive number of professional landlords coming to We Are Pop Up, but thinks that for the smaller landlords and brands it’s going to be a step-by-step process. Whilst the level of uptake is below expectations, Goldwater says this has afforded them the opportunity to adapt the platform towards the new “community focused” model.      

In terms of the platform benefitting landlords, he says it enables them to discover their future long term tenant through pop ups: “We see We Are Pop Up as a dating site – you have to get to know who you’re getting into a relationship with before you get married.”

He points to the changes in the market demands which are accelerating faster than ever before, such as brands wanting to move location after a few years to a space that is better suited to their offer or that better connects them to their target demographic: “We think the lease terms and agreements from landlords need to become more flexible.”

The main agenda for We Are Pop Up is to empower the smaller entrepreneurs looking to incubate and test their concepts. But a brand doesn’t necessarily have the need or product to fill an entire store, which is why the company created its Shop Share offer on the platform: a concept which brings small brands and entrepreneurs together to join forces. “Shop Share gives the ability to connect, communicate and find a space together,” he explains.

Shop Share also empowers retailers to give existing retailers a platform to offer space within their stores for brands looking for a shelf fit, rack or a square meter of space to sell their product. Goldwater says this brings new blood and new ideas into these existing stores, giving them additional revenue streams.

 “For us, in terms of creating the premium model, it’s a way that gives us the window of opportunity to work together with industry colleagues – brokers, landlords, retailers – and figure out what the long term model can be and should be,” he adds.

“It’s about flexibility in retail space and in the business model and how we can position ourselves and be able to change how we work based on the environment. Our goal is to unite brands and landlords by building a community, not just a platform.”

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