Pop up shop interview: Think Inside The BOXPARK

On November 9th 2012, we began taking entries for a competition we were hosting with BOXPARK. We had never seen a Tweet generate so much interest as:

“Enter to win 3 months FREE at BOXPARK! http://wearepopup.com/boxpark  via @wearepopup

As is clear by the number of great contestants submitting applications, BOXPARK  is an incredibly innovative place to be and an exciting challenge for brands and retailers. BOXPARK has opened up a powerful and valuable opportunity for an independent business – at no rental cost and proven to us that they are willing to mix things up and see what happens. We love that attitude, and were curious about what the current BOXPARK retailers had to say about life in a shipping container in Shoreditch, and what advice they had to give to someone about to move in.

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King from Thai And Lao Street Food (@THAIandLAO).

Thai and Lao Street Food, located on the upper deck in unit 53, started 12 years previously on Brick Lane serving honest and homemade food-to-order out of a van. Manager King explained that the restaurant has always been and will always remain a family-run, owned and managed business.

Thai and Lao Street Food moved into BOXPARK four months before and continues to uphold powerful tenets: keep it simple, focus on your product, and keep it fresh. Thai and Lao never pre-cooks anything, as King mentioned, “We get people who come in and expect us to already have food on the go, or just hand them something. We say, ‘there’s nothing to try until you order it!’ ” Whilst this style of food service might surprise some customers, it also helps expose new and unique attitudes to the local community.

King shared that being in the heart of Shoreditch has been encouraging, “the people are great – they know about food. We are surrounded by a mix of everything from artists to business owners. It’s young and fresh, and you really have everything in one place.” As we met with more BOXPARK businesses, King’s sentiment was echoed and proved itself as one of the keys to understanding exactly how BOXPARK Shoreditch operates.

Find Thai And Lao at BOXPARK even today, and connect with them on Facebook and on Twitter.

 

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Aleks from Abuze London (@abuzeldn).

Next, we met with Aleks, the owner and creative director from Abuze London, in Unit 35. We learned about Abuze London’s 10-year history, conceived by a group of friends as a way to turn their passion for graffiti and street-art into quality crafted clothing. Aleks explained, “we turned our life around to start this business. We were a large crew of graffiti writers and we came together to invest in a product.” Their shop at BOXPARK was the first physical location. And Aleks explained why, “It can be incredibly hard to find investment for designer brands that are managed by designers. It was a real struggle to get the investment together to take this space at BOXPARK… but now we are one of the top stores.”

Abuze London’s designs and artwork are heavily steeped in a history of London Street Art, and the traditions of stenciling, cut-out and spray paint could be traced throughout the shop’s fit-out. We asked if it was challenging to consider interior, physical space, having been dedicated to an online platform. Aleks replied, “Not really. We’re designers and artists, designing the space was easy. Some friends built our display units and we were lucky to be able to make the furniture and space exactly how we wanted it. The vision wasn’t the hard part… finding the money was the problem.”

Despite the extreme challenges associated with setting up shop for the first time, Abuze London was able to increase their sales and brand awareness with their physical space. When asked what advice he would give to a business moving into a physical space for the first time, Aleks replied, “It’s such a huge task. Be driven, and don’t take no for an answer. You’ll get knocked back, but you just have to take it and keep moving forward.”

Visit Abuze London’s online shop and connect on Facebook and on Twitter.

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Amanda from Original Penguin (@penguineurope) and FARAH Vintage (@farahvintage).

Amanda co-managed Original Penguin in Unit 11 and FARAH Vintage in Unit 12, curating their re-fits and product selection. For Amanda, Shoreditch provides the ideal opportunity to showcase vintage-inspired clothing with modern sensibilities. As Amanda explained, “a cool big brand doesn’t necessarily drive traffic to an area. The product and vibe are way more important. It’s about matching your environment well.”  While concepts like “price-point” and “targeting” are important, businesses succeed most by understanding the style and desires of the locale.

Developing a business around these ideas can be difficult, especially as customer and community trends may shift rapidly, or change altogether. With Original Penguin and FARAH, Amanda was able to use this to her advantage, and built into their BOXPARK strategy is an ever-changing interior. “It’s great, we can come in here late in an evening or on low-traffic days. Because the spaces are so compact, we can re-arrange and re-develop the space very quickly. Being small makes it easy to switch it all up.” This also creates opportunities for engagement – with every change comes community announcements and updates.

We asked Amanda why BOXPARK in particular seemed to stand-out as a destination, “It’s surrounded by creativity, and BOXPARK is very open to trying new things out.” We started to understand how adaptation and moving quickly is embedded at the core of BOXPARK, and why shipping containers in particular seemed such a simple way to facilitate these fundamental tenets.

Visit Original Penguin’s website and connect on Facebook and on Twitter.

Visit FARAH Vintage’s website and connect on Facebook and on Twitter

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Ross Thompson from PUMA Twentyone (@puma).

We took an opportunity to do an old-fashioned Q&A with Ross with great results.

What is your position at PUMA, and what would we find at PUMA’s BOXPARK shop?

My position is Head of Retail for Capitalize Ltd, and we operate the PUMA Twentyone store at Boxpark.  Built around the Boxpark store unit number 21, PUMA Twentyone will see stock refreshed every 21 days and promotions taking place at 21 day intervals.  The concept is illustrated in-store with a menu and countdown board at the entrance, which lists the 21 special and limited editions footwear styles currently available and when new stock arrives.

What is the primary advantage of being a pop-up?

Retailing from a shipping container is a unique concept and it gives businesses the opportunity to display their products in an unusual way.  High streets throughout the UK are all very similar and it is important to have something new and exciting for customers to see.  These are key offers of pop-up.

What are some of the best aspects of being at BOXPARK?

It is interesting seeing how other brands showcase themselves, and to be successful the store has to continue to be exciting to customers.  Being amongst brands who are all trying different ways to appeal to customers promotes a healthy rivalry and pushes each retailer to show their best side.

What are the advantages of being in Shoreditch?

Shoreditch is such a creative area and is really on-point when it comes to fashion.  Having PUMA in Shoreditch helps us showcase the brand to people who care about fashion.  The store is continuously visited by fashion students, fashion bloggers, and people in fashion PR.  A unique concept like PUMA Twentyone has helped us receive many good reviews online by the media.

What advice would you give to someone setting up at BOXPARK for the first time?

The main challenge of the BOXPARK store is the space.  To keep customers interested, stock must be on consistent rotation.  Many customers come back frequently, and we would lose them if the store never changed appearance.  The store has to be simple and refreshed regularly.  Even though big brands might not choose to change their flagship stores as regularly, adaptability is one of the core strengths of the BOXPARK units.

Visit PUMA’s website, on Facebook and on Twitter.

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Maybe it is the proximity and uniformity of the containers, or the fact that the entire mall feels tucked snugly against the Shoreditch Overground Station. What we know for certain is that BOXPARK elegantly captures the potential of what ‘pop-up’ can mean for a businesses: an opportunity to show ingenuity by getting great results within serious constraints, a requirement to be fast and flexible – to think on your toes, to take risks, and most importantly to see restrictions as opportunities.

Many thanks to Abuze London, Thai and Lao Street Food, Penguin Originals, FARAH Vintage, and PUMA for being generous with your time.

And  special thank you to Claudia, Karen and Agee @BOXPARK for helping set up the interviews and supporting the competition.

#SMWPOPUP

“How Social Media Powered The Pop-up”

For Social Media Week (September 24th – 28th in London), Eventbrite

As part of Social Media Week, EventbriteUK (@briteuk) hosted 60+ attendees at Engine to discuss why pop-ups use social media, how to market big new ideas and what growth really looks like in a world gone digital. We heard from a great panel composed of major London pop-up entrepreneurs:

Andrew Swain – social media consultant at Boxpark (@boxpark),

Alice Hodge – co-founder of The Art Of Dining (@artofdiningldn)

Max Bergius – founder & editor of Art Wednesday (@artwednesday)

Sam Michel – founder of Chinwag (@chinwag)

Daniel Young  – founder of Young and Foodish (@youngandfoodish)


For pop-ups, the problems with promotion and consumer traction are obvious: they are intrinsically ephemeral, underground, inconsistent, and often invisible to the naked eye (read: invite only). They are projects built from scratch by courageous and inventive individuals keen to bring something new into the world. Conversely, they’re often unable to afford the luxuries of promotion, mass-marketing, or any paid advertising whatsoever. We heard from the panel that proper (paid) promotion can actually damage reputations if the goal is to find an authentic and authentically engaged consumer base.

Enter Social Media.

“Everyone on Twitter Is Into Crochet”

The consensus in the room was that user/consumer/fan-generated content is the most valuable to both identifying and growing a dedicated base of customers. Rather than filling Facebook with every little announcement, or feeding Twitter with flippant information, success comes from re-posting Instagram photos, sharing positive consumer feedback and reinforcing messages of gratitude. While these strategies seem fairly obvious, we were given plenty of counter-examples where Pinterest had been used to mask commercial interests, verbose blogs fell on deaf ears and scattershot over-use of Facebook and Twitter isolated everyone.

As Daniel Young put it, “Everyone on Twitter is into crochet.” This doesn’t mean that any crochet business will de-facto succeed through Tweets alone, but rather that the challenge is to bring new and useful information and projects to the platform. Take the time to tell the right people about them, and then take them on a journey. Daniel found a collaborator in Edible Experiences, and they often share and support each-other’s content.

For Alice Hodge, the journey starts with ‘being real’, which is facilitated primarily through Twitter and Instagram. The accurate buzz word here is “oblique.” Tweeting about mis-steps and antics, coupled with Instagram photos of what happens behind-the-scenes can do a lot to bring humor, life and humanity to a new business. Andrew and most of the panel echoed the value of re-posting Instagram images and other user-generated content as a way to build a reputation directly through relationships, rather than ‘pitching’ anything at all.

Email = Workhorse

So how do you connect directly with your base to promote events, sell tickets, generate a buzz or announce a new feature? And how to do you measure retention vs. interest when social network stats are only as good as the last week’s activity?

For Max Bergius, email equivocates best. Because it is so direct, Art Wednesday sees the most monetization come from direct emails. MailChimp is the favorite tool for scheduling and building email campaigns (we use it at WAPU for our mailing-list and love it). As social networks grow larger daily, getting a signal through the noise can be quite the challenge. But email – set apart from networks and inherently personal – is a great way to find and keep your ‘sticky’ supporters.

Quality, not G+

Of the many platforms supported and praised for their ability to help connect and network users, Hootsuite and Tweetdeck were praised as tools to manage and schedule social updates (they focus on Twitter and Facebook). Path, Highlight and Banjo were mentioned as good personal networking tools. Drupal and WordPress were the blogging favorites.

We would like to throw in Shhmooze as an up-and-comer which helps you find people from your networks at events hosted by Shhmooze, Eventbrite and MeetUp.

The consensus was that Google Plus and the complicated integration of Google Plus Local and Google Plus Groups makes it more of a headache than a tool. When resources are already stretched across development, outreach and service, convoluted software that changes frequently is the most likely to drop off.

“If corporates can get out of the way… we’ll have a great time”

The most poignant question of the session came at the end of the event, when Sam Michel had a chance to discuss the role of big brands amidst the pop-up phenomenon. The title quote is his, issued after explaining the potential and exciting opportunity for entrepreneurs and brands to partner around offering large-scale, authentic experiences.  Brands can bring financial support and capability, where entrepreneurs bring authenticity and a true connection to consumers.

This is most likely to work if the brand is just barely visible. We imagine meaningful or quiet product-placements, rather than big noisy ad-campaigns.  Most brands now don’t seem to cop to the idea, so maybe they just need to be taught.  Connecting with true pop-up entrepreneurs is a great opportunity for brands to authentically connect with their consumers – as we see in The Art Of Dining’s new Tradicional project.

Many thanks to Katie McPhee and Eventbrite for facilitating this fascinating conversation. (And for not forcing everyone in attendance to wear big orange shirts.)

Watch the live stream

Event overview and speakers: http://eventbriteatsmwldn12.eventbrite.com

Host: http://www.theenginegroup.com