How To Succeed In Retail? Be An Editor
Ross Bailey, founder of the Appear Here rental platform for pop-ups, tells PSFK why he thinks the future of retail is media
Ross Bailey’s approach to retail requires a certain amount of editorial acumen. The founder and CEO of Appear Here, a rental platform for pop-up shops, believes traditional commerce is far from obsolete—it just needs to start choosing its stories more wisely.
“I think the future of retail is becoming about media. It’s a channel; it’s about discovery,” Bailey said. “There’s so much stuff to buy in the world that physical experiences and things like this are about connecting to a brand so that we have shared beliefs with that brand, and then we know what we want to purchase, because they’re the editor on our behalf.”
Appear Here is essentially the Airbnb for retail space, operating in London, Paris and New York. Forget the five to 10-year lease: Appear Here storefronts are just about as easy to rent as anything else in the sharing economy, with offerings tailored to multiple levels of square footage, cost and duration.
Bailey sees a bright future in retail, based on the idea that there’s something about a physical experience that e-commerce just can’t replicate. He told a story about walking past an antique shop and spotting a stone sculpture of a head. “Sadly when I saw the price for some reason I thought it was a lot cheaper than it was; when I got to the till they explained there was an extra zero at the end.” He bought it anyway and placed it prominently in his living room.
“When I think about what I follow on Instagram, when I think about what I buy, no algorithm would have presented that stone antique head, yet I loved it,” Bailey said. “I found once that I have, like, 20 kimonos because one time I was in a market and this woman convinced me that I needed a kimono, and I bought it and now I love having it when I’m on holiday.
“I sound like an oddball who has stone heads and kimonos but my point is that those things happen because in the real world you can discover things—you can get surprised, you can discover things, you can change your opinion. And I think that that doesn’t happen online. They’re the things, when I look in my house and I look in my wardrobe, I love most.”
Asked about his favorite recent pop-ups, Bailey rattled off a disparate few: a collaboration between Nike and grime artist Skepta, for which the rapper curated elements of his life to build a world within a warehouse; a Match.com shop where people could buy 3D printed figurines of eligible London men; Refinery29’s immersive 29Rooms exhibition, which brought artists and brands together for a selfie paradise in Brooklyn. Their draw, Bailey said, boils down to brands knowing their audiences, having a little fun and, most importantly, making people want to talk about the experience later.
Appear Here began for Bailey, then a recent graduate, in the summer of 2012 when London was teeming with visitors for the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. Sensing an opportunity in the outsize foot traffic, Bailey cajoled some landlords to let him have their empty storefront for a week and, along with some friends, launched a pop-up shop called Rock & Rule. They sold hip Queen Elizabeth-themed souvenirs of their own design, like a “Lizzy Stardust” t-shirt featuring Her Majesty made up with David Bowie’s legendary lightning bolt.
Though he placed only one small ad for the store in a city paper, word spread quickly, and Bailey soon had hundreds of people lining up for his wares. Shortly thereafter, he got a call from Buckingham Palace—not looking, as Bailey at first hoped, to get in on the fun, but instead to ban the merchandise for its unauthorized use of the Queen’s likeness.
Despite this setback from the powers that be, Bailey’s experience with Rock & Rule established his belief in the potency of the pop-up. “It made me realize that people aren’t buying these things all the time because something’s beautiful, they’re buying them because of wanting to be part of something, or being a great memory or whatever it might be.”
His timing, amid dire reports of vacant storefronts and a soaring interest in experiential marketing, could hardly have been better. Appear Here rented out 80 shops in London its first year; last year, it rented 4,000. The platform caters to big brands, independents who are just starting out and—as Bailey often finds in Paris—artisans who simply want to show off their craft without growing a business. All in all, Bailey’s success makes a compelling case for brick and mortar.
“What people still crave is human connections—they want to talk to people. What people still love is great design, things that look beautiful. People want to sit in environments and look at lovely people and drink coffee or amazing wine, and go to farmers markets and have conversations and negotiate and buy and sell and that’s what we’ve been doing since the beginning of time. That’s not going to stop.”
“What I think is going to disappear is a lot of these retailers that sort of boomed in the late 80s, 90s and early 00s,” Bailey continued. “Let’s buy as much as possible as quickly as possible with as much stock stacked as high as possible.”
With online retail rapidly cornering the market for convenience, Bailey believes that larger stores need to start thinking small. “If you think about the idea of a department store: If it’s about everything being under one roof, then it’s probably not going to work. But if a department store is about there being too much choice in the world and—under one roof, across every category—you having a point of view…
“They should be using influencers, using editorial, using curation and telling us what we need and why we need it. And editing things down and creating amazing environments. That’s obviously far more easier to say than done, but department stores should feel like a livable magazine.”
Though Appear Here’s brand list includes household names like Google, Nike and Coca-Cola, Bailey is determined not to lose sight of the little guy. In 2015, Appear Here launched the Space for Ideas annual competition for new entrepreneurs. Three winners (one for each city where Appear Here operates) win free retail space for a two-week pop-up, plus $4,000 to spend and $10,000 worth of agency design services. The contest judges each year hail from top brands and agencies like AKQA and Warby Parker.
This year’s winners reflect the breadth of Appear Here’s community: Aerende (London), whose handmade homewares employ workers facing barriers to conventional employment, educational toy company Primo Toys (New York) and Le chocolat des Français (Paris), which packages French-made chocolate with illustrated labels by French artists. Each will open a pop-up shop at the end of October.
“Everyone’s got an idea floating in their head and this is giving someone a reason to take action, give it a go, put it down on paper and take that first step,” Bailey explained. “An idea’s nothing until you make it happen, but we probably have way over a thousand people write down their idea. Three of those are going to win something for free, but I suspect that a big percentage of those, once they’ve written that idea down, are going to go, ‘How are we going to focus now on making it happen?’ So the Space for Ideas competition is about asking, how do you give someone a kick? How do you level the playing field?”
Lead Image: Ross Bailey | Photo by Appear Here
via PSFK http://www.psfk.com/