Storefront x Joy Fan: In conversation with the West Coast pop-up shop guru

Storefront sits down with the San Francisco queen of experiential retail to discuss what it takes to create a successful pop-up store

Once a Storefront contributor, Joy Fan has gone on to innovate and lead experiential pop-up store design on the West Coast, and now leads the demo + popup program at Bespoke at Westfield in San Francisco. Originally a designer herself, she lent her magic to the likes of Anna Sui and Juicy Couture in the past and before shifting toward retail design for Levis and more.  Now, she is something of a pop-up guru, working with local marketplaces to understand retailer perspectives, champion designers who lack access to physical storefront space, and bring the worlds of tech and retail together. We sat down with her to discuss everything from pop-up stores to Bespoke and San Fran:

Why are pop-up stores such a success?

With the intro of e-commerce, everyone is able to build a brand, but that says very little about traffic. Most true brand discovery happens in person. The pop-up store market is taking off and will remain sustainable because it disrupts the retail footprint, provides access for brands who are e-commerce or startups, and engages clients on the ground. Regardless of the amount spent on analytics or online apps, they are met with a small percentage of feedback relative to the immense in-person interaction in pop-up shops. We’re so hung up on ROI, but pop-up stores are 100% successful because they render tangible information you will never get from a survey, newsletter, or click-through ad.

Can you tell us more about your work with Bespoke in the Westfield San Francisco Center?

In the summer of 2012 I launched a strong partnership with Westfield. We were trying to create a solution for best understanding the pop-up phenomenon. We curated a space, brought in 10 designers in 20 days, to introduce local market and tourists to the pop-up concept. The event was super successful, with great quotes from all designers showcased, and from then on Westfield took to encouraging pop-ups.

Bespoke is a wonderful eco system for pop-up stores because it explores how shopping evolves at the hands of technology, which was exemplified in our Audi on Demand pop-up last August. It offers a trifecta of co-working space for retail tech start-ups, event space for numerous partners to use, and demo space to make testing of retail formats and new tech all the more possible with real world consumers.

It brings in extra traffic to Westfield, but more importantly enables the company to better understand the technologies its retailers needs to be aware of in the future.

What is the biggest challenge you have seen with implementing multi-sensory experiences and experiential marketing in stores?

The biggest challenge is preparing tech brands that work within 2D to meet the basic needs of a 3D space. There are a lot of elements to account for when translating a brand into something experiential: such as hiring employees, security, outlets, lighting, flow of space, inventory, storage, and management. But this is a challenge I am passionate about, because I get to translate a online brand into a lifestyle experience.

“Creativity is Intelligence having fun!” – Albert Einstein.

San Francisco is universally recognized as the home of startups and tech – seems like an unusual market for retail.  Can you tell us more about the market?

San Francisco is indeed the epicenter of data, and that word is in everyday speech here. People are always talking about disrupting infrastructure. While we don’t have same pure demand for retail brands as NY, for example, we still have a need for brands and services. Our marketplace will be for pop-ups of various digitally native services as opposed to fashion and retail. More companies pop up in San Francisco than elsewhere because it’s a nexus for idea introduction and high awareness of whether a brand will stand out or succeed.

You’ve been running a “How to Pop-up” workshop series all fall. Can you tell us a bit about the sessions?

In September we hosted a chat with Union Square Bid and Storefront to talk about the changing retail footprint and to best understand how to find spaces, and the legals and resources behind that process. The biggest question we saw across the board, in a session which was attended by everyone from tech entrepreneurs to retail services and e-commerce brands looking to jump offline, was “How do I know when I’m ready [to pop-up]?” We’re so accustomed to judging success by monetized ROI and a correlation of returns with running time. But the view is shifting to one of experiential ROI, to creating experiences for customers to learn about the product or get to know what the lifestyle brand looks like. Pop-ups are so much more than a temporary ad space.

The October session was extremely instructive for experience design; Gensler, the architect behind the Airbnb Office and Terminal 2 at the SFO airport, shared his thoughts on best practice, while Daybreaker taught about an entirely new way of experiencing dance. From design to dance we looked at popping-up to drive loyalty and brand value in off-channel ways.

The November Series was special because it linked the collaborative efforts to transform retail and tackle barriers we’ve seen in the past. “How do I staff? Align payment system with inventory? How do I make it the best experience for my consumer? Same day shipping? How do I store the product?” We brought together an array of companies that are resources in creating a quality pop-up experience and add significant value:

    • Staffly, which staffs for retail (we’re using for Bespoke Holiday)
    • Omni, on demand storage, both business and personal
    • Darkstore, same day delivery
    • Hemster, hemming on-demand.

What can we look forward to in the session coming up on December 7th?

The upcoming session is “Brands that have successfully popped up; how they did it and why”  and it will be an in-depth chat with brands that have successfully popped up at Bespoke: Audi on Demand, Etsy and Square.

The Bespoke How to Popup Series will be hosted monthly on the first Tuesday of every month.

Check out the Winter Nights Holiday Bazaar; Presenting Bespoke Marketplace at Westfield Dec 1 – Jan 7th. 

Do you have any final words for our international readership?

I’ll borrow in this instance: “Creativity is Intelligence having fun!” – Albert Einstein.

Feeling inspired by all of the Joy? Launch a pop-up store today with us around the world, or in the Bespoke Center at Westfield in San Francisco!

Share this article: