The Brief Life of 'Pop-Up' Stores In a marketplace cluttered with new products, companies will do just about anything to grab the public's attention. Now, some companies are using short-lived "pop-up" stores to generate a little buzz.
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The Brief Life of 'Pop-Up' Stores

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The Brief Life of 'Pop-Up' Stores

The Brief Life of 'Pop-Up' Stores

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One of the toughest challenges companies face is how to introduce new products to the public. Consumers are bombarded with so much advertising every day that it can be nearly impossible to get their attention. Now some companies have hit on a new strategy to break through the clutter. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports on the rise of the pop-up store, a store that is designed to stay open just long enough to generate a little buzz.

JIM ZARROLI reporting:

One of the remarkable things about living in New York is how ephemeral its businesses are. One year a restaurant is so hot you can't get a reservation, the next year it's closed for good. The little grocery store you go to every day can suddenly lose its lease and be replaced by a bank, but the Galleria illy in SoHo could redefine the concept of business turnover. It's a kind of a cross between an art gallery and an ultra modern coffee shop where customers sit on long low-back divans and drink cappuccino. Everything here is about coffee. A huge spiraling chandelier made of coffee cups hangs over a wall display of brightly colored espresso machines.

(Soundbite of banging)

ZARROLI: Customers are served by white-coated baristas, like Giovanni Adams who talks about his product with the assurance and ease of a Colombian coffee trader.

Mr. GIOVANNI ADAMS: Again, I'm grinding the coffee. This time I'm using a dark roast coffee for cappuccino. We believe that the dark roast holds up a little bit better than the normali(ph), which is our standard medium roast coffee.

ZARROLI: But Adams has been making coffee for just a month or so. He's a recent Yale graduate trying to become an actor, and in less than three weeks, he'll be out of a job. That's when the Galleria illy will close.

Ms. KRISTEN MARSHAW(ph) (Events Manager, Galleria illy): It opened on September 15th. It is here for a three-month period. It closes on December 15th.

ZARROLI: Kristen Marshaw is an events manager for illy, the big Italian coffee company. Illy wants to expand into the crowded US coffee market and it needs some way to get the attention of coffee drinkers. So this year, it opened its own store in the middle of SoHo.

Ms. MARSHAW: Basically to educate the general public on our brand, who we are, what we're doing, actually give them a full illy experience.

ZARROLI: As Marshaw speaks, workers are hanging pictures on a wall nearby, photos taken by NYU art students. The Galleria illy also sponsors film screening and lectures. Illy won't make any money here. In fact, it will probably lose a bundle, but by coming to SoHo, the epicenter of trendiness, illy hopes to create a kind of event that coffee drinkers will remember and in the process get people talking about its coffee. The concept isn't new. Dolce & Gabbana, Target and Peroni beer have opened pop-up stores. Roy Edmonson(ph) of the public relations firm Ketchum says these companies are looking for ways to break through the advertising clutter.

Mr. ROY EDMONSON (Ketchum): At one time, you know, it was easy to just get everybody's attention by putting an ad on TV or to put--do something in a magazine, but now you have to complete the picture. Otherwise, you just don't get seen through the crowd and you've got to do crowd-pleasing things at the same time.

ZARROLI: Edmonson handles publicity for Kodak, which is introducing a new digital camera this year. Kodak has a rich history as a company, but that's not necessarily a good thing when you're trying to sell a high-tech product like a digital camera. So this year, the company opened pop-up stores in San Francisco and New York. Edmonson says the experience was nerve-racking. For one thing, he says a lot of commercial landlords don't want to lease space for short periods.

Mr. EDMONSON: Some people say no and there is no discussion.

ZARROLI: But Kodak eventually set up this airy brightly lit store in SoHo. In truth, the word store is a kind of misnomer. You can't actually buy anything here, but you can talk to the staff about Kodak products. And if that's not enough to lure you in, the company offers other services. For instance, it will scan your old photographs on to a Web site. One recent afternoon, Barbara Froinlich(ph) brought some old family pictures in. She wanted to put them on a disk and give them to her kids. Kodak employee Shawn Davidson(ph) runs the photos through a scanner as Froinlich watches.

Mr. SHAWN DAVIDSON (Kodak Employee): So what it will do is scan over the photo, find out the areas where it needs to improve it and automatically improve the shot.

Ms. BARBARA FROINLICH: I didn't know that they enhanced it.


Ms. FROINLICH: My God, this is a wonderful thing, I mean, 'cause I had thought I'd have to sit with Photoshop and do a lot.

Mr. DAVIDSON: It will do all the color correcting for you.

ZARROLI: Kodak is hoping that customers like what they see in the gallery and that word of mouth about its products is strong, but companies say pop-up stores also do something else. They give marketers a controlled setting in which they can study customers and see how they respond to new products. At a time when retail competition is tougher than ever, that's a valuable tool. As for the Kodak gallery, it shut down for good the Sunday after Thanksgiving. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.

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