Imagine all of the planning and hard work that go into planning a retail store. Now imagine all of the planning and hard work that go into planning a retail store that lasts only for a month. What’s the strategy behind this concept, which over the past few years has grown ever more ubiquitous? To find out, I spoke with Emily Schildt, founder and CEO of New York-based Pop Up Grocer, which, since its founding in early 2019, has set up shop in such cities as the Big Apple itself; Chicago; Los Angeles; Austin, Texas; Miami; and Washington, D.C.
“Previously, I’d been working with small food companies as they entered the market, and peeked behind the curtain of their retail journey for the first time,” explains Schildt. “I saw just how challenging it was for a new brand to get on shelf and, even more so once they’re there, to stay on shelf. That was my ‘aha’ moment. I wanted to create a space where founders could more easily display their creations and efficiently reach their target consumers. Beyond that, I wanted that space to be enjoyable — brands aren’t the only ones getting the short end of the stick with major retailers. A typical grocery store is 40,000 square feet — about the size of a football field — and has 40,000 SKUs. It’s difficult and time-consuming to navigate, and there’s no sense of intimacy to the experience.”
Thus, Pop Up Grocer was born, which Schildt originally envisioned as a service she would provide for her clients, although it’s now taken on a life of its own.
As well as continuing to open new temporary locations across the country, Pop Up Grocer is planning its first permanent store.
In Search of Space and Suppliers
Asked about what goes into the decision process to bring a temporary store to a certain area, Schildt replies: “We assess where the brands we work with would want to go, where they want to support retail expansion and/or validate sales for future distribution, and we also ask our community where they are interested in visiting us. Additionally, we look at where there is a high concentration of spending in natural products, as well as where there is CPG innovation/a community of CPG startups. Once we’ve determined the city in which we’ll land, we decide upon the right neighborhood and search for a short-term lease.”
As for cultivating with unique suppliers and local producers, she considers that “the best part of the job! We love scouring the internet and independent stores across the country to identify new brands and their founders. We’ve worked with many of our partners time and time again, and it brings us great joy to watch them grow, as we have.”
When it comes to the design of the shops, much depends on geography. “For the most part, we travel with our major fixtures, such as our shelves and fridges,” notes Schildt. “So, the design process for each location entails localizing the shop through signage, florals and other details. We try to bring in elements of each city to our digital content as well. For example, we’ve used column props in our product shots for D.C. We build and merchandise a full, beautiful store in just a couple of weeks, and we break it down in just a few days. It’s laborious, but it’s also a lot of fun.”
In terms of future plans, Schildt reveals: “We’ll continue to pop up across the country! We’re also busy planning the opening of our first permanent store, which we don’t see as a pivot. We’ll be able to use that space as a reliable destination for discovery, for consumers, and for exposure and visibility for brands. We’ll maintain the essence of the pop-up in our continuous rotation of new products that are exclusively better-for-you. And we’ll build on the experiential nature of Pop Up Grocer with ongoing in-store programming, as well as a café. We are the world’s first experience-first grocery store, and we are excited to continue to evolve our platform with new formats and ways in which to bring that to life.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: After this column went to press, Pop Up Grocer revealed that it would open its first permanent location this winter in New York City.