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Holiday season means pop-up stores here, then gone

Here today, gone in weeks — pop-up shops and temporary stores are back for the holiday season.

At Christmas Lights Etc.’s Atlanta showroom, the public gets to shop for about month-and-a-half, browsing the high-end Christmas trees, lighting and other holiday decorations. The temporary store pulls in additional sales and the company finds it’s good marketing for its core business of selling online and to commercial and wholesale customers.

The yearly sale draws families from far and wide. Some drive five hours to see Christmas trees as tall as 25 feet (customers can order taller trees). Workers clean, freshen the paint and bring in new inventory for their holiday guests.

“If customers have a good experience here, like the product, like the people, they’ll come back next year when they need lights or a tree and they’ll recommend you to their friends,” says marketing director Hillary Zody.

The sale at Christmas Lights Etc., is one of many temporary stores that open during the holidays. These shops, often called “pop-ups” sometimes produce extra income, but small business owners increasingly use them as promotional tools and test labs for merchandise. Manufacturers, designers and online retailers use them to decide whether to open an actual store.

A pop-up store was part of the startup plan for Zady, an online clothing and home goods retailer that launched in late August. Owners Maxine Bedat and Soraya Darabi chose a high-profile location, in the Delta Airlines terminal at New York’s LaGuardia Airport. The store operates from Nov. 4 until Jan. 4. They wanted to get feedback about their merchandise, which includes $395 sweaters and $225 jeans.

“We have all sorts of metrics to see what customers are doing on the website, but nothing compares to actually seeing them interact with our products,” Bedat says.

So far, they’re getting food feedback. It’s too soon to tell now if the season will be a success, but if it is, Zady’s owners say they’ll consider more pop-ups, and perhaps a permanent store.

Janet Holian opened a pop-up in Boston to see if Gemvara, her online custom jewelry business, would succeed with a physical location. The shop opened in a vacant store on Nov. 3 and will operate until Feb. 15, longer than most pop-ups, to take advantage of Valentine’s Day.

“I wanted to see whether people needed to actually touch or feel the jewelry or meet us,” Holian says.

Her instincts were right. Women want to see the merchandise and meet the people selling it. Men who are shopping for jewelry that can cost in the thousands of dollars want to be sure they’re buying from someone reputable.

Jeanne Chinn chose dog-friendly Century City Mall in Beverly Hills, Calif., for a kiosk for the upscale dog accessories she designs. Chinn, who sells carriers, coats, beds and toys to retailers and online, opened the kiosk Nov. 18 near the mall’s dog park and will be there until Dec. 31.

“I’m trying to capture holiday sales and make people aware of the brand,” Chinn says. Her Chihuahua, Mr. Truffle, is by her side during 12-hour days.

Chinn is also getting more visitors to her website. She credits that uptick to being in the mall. One customer bought a dog T-shirt at the kiosk, then looked at her website and returned to the mall to buy a bag.

Retailers are rotating through pop-up shops at the Alki Arts Gallery in downtown Seattle. Each week, nine merchants will set up shop for seven days in space paid for by American Express and Delta Air Lines. Susan Wheeler is selling antiques and vintage clothing this week. She’s hoping the pop-up will introduce her three-year old store, Susan Wheeler Home to new customers.

Linda Walsh, who has owned Clementine, a West Seattle store, since 2006, will run her temporary shop from Dec. 4-9, selling women’s clothes and accessories. Her inventory includes $475 sweaters and $350 tops.

“It would be awesome if we bring in more revenue,” Walsh says. “I don’t expect it — I am doing it primarily for advertising and promotion.”

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