Mini-Retail Becomes Big, Bigger, Biggest Thing

Chelsea Market is a terrific example of the growing trend to fill retail space with dozens of mini retail sites designed to surprise, delight, and trigger sales

This holiday season, GameStop is launching 80 Holiday pop-up stores. These mini-retail sites are crammed with the toys kids love: Lego, Angry Birds, Hello Kitty, and more. No line extensions or cheap knock-offs. There just isn’t room.

Microsoft, Amazon, Bonobos, and others are also creating small retail sites to boost their wares over the holidays. Nordstrom is opening 6 pop-up shops, and Walmart and Mattel have teamed up to open a digital pop-up toy store. The Pop-Up, which used to be a time-sensitive device to surprise and delight, has now become as standard as rubber Wellingtons and neck scarves.

What this signals is retailers working with the advantageous size of Pop-Up retail. And a new trend toward keeping it small: minimizing inventory, keeping service marks high, with a careful watch on consumer behaviors.

Not only are the small spaces highly efficient compared to outfitting a Big Box store but, like speed dating, you can get real-world experience, have the opportunity to make a good impression and (if desirable) get in and get out without too much damage.

Retail spaces like Chelsea Market in Manhattan, Newbury Street in Boston, and The Ferry Building in San Francisco (not to mention like-minded spaces in Seattle, Atlanta, Tampa and elsewhere) have proven that you don’t need an amphitheater-sized mall or a Big Box-styled strip mall to attract shoppers.

For example, Best Buy’s Mobility stores continue to be a strong profit center for the big box retailer.

Which makes you wonder if other endangered species like Barnes & Noble could rally: create lovely small retail spaces filled with books that book lovers love. (The Paris booksellers along the Seine leap to mind.) And leave the Nook to business books and best-selling page turners? Cover both extremes.

Rachel Shechtman and her STORY retail store has shown that not only can small work gracefully but, as Shechtman proves as she switches out her entire store each season, it can be incredibly nimble.

“The store has become a community center for innovation,” says Shechtman. “My rule is to have a very strong surprise and delight factor.”

Let’s watch and see if bite-size retail becomes a larger and more mainstream source of delight in the New Year.