Pop-up store fad hits Aspen | AspenTimes.com

Pop-up store fad hits Aspen

Pop-ups and trend are terms that often go hand-in-hand.

But Melissa Akaka, who's studied and worked in retail for about 20 years, contends that kiosks and pop-ups have been around for as long as she can remember.

"I don't remember a time when (pop-ups) didn't exist" on a national level, said Akaka, a marketing professor at the University of Denver. "And I've been in retail since I was 16."

One trend among retailers that pop-up stores are helping promote, however, is the need to create positive experiences for customers.

"We can buy whatever we want from the comfort of our home," Akaka said. "The online component only makes it more important that (businesses) have these engaging customer experiences. It's become so clear how important they are."

One Aspen business owner who knows this well is Outdoor Voices founder and CEO Tyler Haney.

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In less than three years, Haney will have opened five stores in four major U.S. cities.

The success of Haney's first three pop-ups – one in Austin and two in New York – led to permanent stores in each location.

In July, the 27-year-old launched her fourth pop-up, this time in Aspen; next week, she will open another in Los Angeles.

The thought behind opening a pop-up store rather than committing to a storefront with a long-term lease, Haney explained, is simple.

"Our intent is to definitely test the waters of a new market, and then learn and understand if it makes sense long term," she said. "It's purely to see what kind of offline engagement would do to our online business."

From a financial standpoint, the active-wear brand's Aspen location is making more than dollars and sense.

In its first week, Haney reported, the pop-up racked in three times the revenue than its other three stores' opening weeks.

"Aspen was a record-setter for us in terms of engagement and revenue," Haney said. "It's pretty incredible."

Part one of Outdoor Voices' business model is "using pop-ups and retail to unlock markets," Haney said.

"It's a neat strategy that I think young brands are seeing success with as opposed to the older players that might be more reliant on (traditional) storefronts."

Part two sounds familiar: engaging with customers through experiences as well as products.

Along with its retail component, Outdoor Voices hosts a slew of free programming and communal events, from its joggers' club and Pilates classes to dog-walking and "stroller roller" meetings.

"Think about it as sparking bonds through activity," Haney said. She noted earlier how Aspen in particular "is such a good spot for the lifestyle that Outdoor Voices supports."

While the pop-up concept is a no-brainer for Haney, the city government is somewhat grappling with the nontraditional business model.

Following claims from local brick-and-mortars that pop-up sales hurt their business, the city of Aspen at a council work session in late November agreed to investigate the financial impact of these nontraditional businesses and, consequently, what measures may need to be taken to help mitigate any alleged issue.

According to a memorandum to the City Council from Aspen Chamber Resort Association President Debbie Braun, nearly 20 luxury retailers in Aspen "have collectively vocalized a negative impact" of the growing presence of these temporary businesses.

Most of the ideas that Braun and retailers at the work session proposed as possible solutions, which City Manager Steve Barwick agreed to investigate, involved creating a more difficult barrier of entry for these nontraditional businesses to gain a temporary foothold in Aspen.

Barwick wrote in an email Friday that city staff will "most likely be proposing to City Council some increased tax auditing efforts" to address these issues during talk of the 2018 budget.

For now, "any commercial operation can go in a commercial space," Aspen director of community development Jessica Garrow said. "There's a future conversation that council is going to have — it's not yet scheduled — about are there ways that the city can regulate different types of pop-ups in different ways."

erobbie@aspentimes.com