David McNew/Getty Images North America
Pop-up stores, like this one in Burbank, Calif., last year, disappear once a holiday is over.
Pop-up stores, like this one in Burbank, Calif., last year, disappear once a holiday is over. David McNew/Getty Images North America
Retailers are getting ready for the holiday shopping season, and to avoid the cost of long-term leases and permanent locations — as well as long-term obligations to workers — more and more companies are selling their goods out of "pop-up" stores.
"We've been here since the day before Labor Day," says Eddie Hill, who's worked at the Halloween Express that's popped up in a northern Virginia mall for the last six years.
In the store's window, a skeleton sits at cards with a mummy. On the table are gold coins and severed fingers. Inside, a witch cackles over a crystal ball and mummies creak as they sit up out of their graves.
Pop-up stores are outlets that appear in malls and other locations for only a few months. Once the holiday is over, the store packs up and vacates — leaving employees behind.
"During the off-season, I struggle to find work with the economy and all," Hill says. "You know, luckily, this thing always pops up — and when it does, I'm always invited back."
Halloween Express fills a space next to the Cheesecake Factory and a Corner Bakery. The previous permanent tenant, a furniture store, filed for bankruptcy protection. Hill says it's an arrangement that works for the store's owner — and for the mall.
"We do very good business for them, and it brings in revenue in the mall," he says.
A Holiday Deal: Cheap Real Estate
The mall's management agrees. Ferris Kaplan is the marketing director for Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Va. Filling that empty space brings in rent and customers.
"It helps the traffic in the center," Kaplan says. "It helps the traffic down the wings in that mall. It just brings more people to the surrounding stores who are there permanently."
The seasonal pop-up store phenomenon is driven by cheap retail space, says Stephen Hoch, marketing professor at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania. Malls offer lower rents to temporary stores rather than leave storefronts empty.
It's a winning combination of available real estate and seasonal products, Hoch says.
Big name retailers are also trying to capitalize on lower rents to increase their presence and improve store sales by renting pop-up stores. Toys R Us Express stores are opening in 600 locations. Best Buy is operating shop fronts in malls to hawk its mobile phone line. All in time for the holidays.
Many Exchanges But No Returns
College student Elizabeth Renna is looking at costumes at Halloween Express with a friend. She already has ideas about what she might wear next month.
"I'm thinking about being a lion," she says. "There's a really cute lion costume."
She and her friend both say they prefer to come to an actual store to see the clothes for themselves and try them on, rather than go online. Getting in early, Renna says, is important.
"I think it's better to do it now, before they sell out and don't get your size," she says.
Throughout the store, pinned above Buzz Lightyear costumes and President Obama masks, are signs stating unequivocally that sales are final. They have to be — anyone who tries to return a costume to the shop after Halloween will find a store selling toys for Christmas instead.