San Francisco is home to many shopping malls, department stores, and global chains, but in recent years, has also been a hub for temporary pop-up businesses. These shops typically exist in a location from one day to one year. Some businesses begin as pop-ups to test out unexplored markets, whereas others resort to the pop-up model later on in their existence as a way to broaden their clientele. Modcloth and Boba Guys — two notable businesses — have found success in utilizing the pop-up model in very different ways.
Modcloth — a new Pop- Up shop located on Grant Ave. — has been receiving a lot of attention lately for their golden age inspired dresses, affordable vintage pieces and their ador- able storefront. Before Mod- cloth was a pop-up, the business began as an online retailer. The idea for the business came to Susan and Gregg Koger when they were college students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. Susan’s love for vintage pieces and thrift shops inspired her to create a unique online retail store. According to Modcloth’s former COO Kerry Cooper, Modcloth doesn’t “push ‘key looks’ like some retailers.”
This past summer Mod-cloth added a new aspect to their business by launching their down- town pop-up (called a “fit shop”). Modcloth used the pop-up model as a tool to increase their exposure nationwide and learn more about their customers.
When Cooper started at Modcloth, it was a small online retail store, based in Pittsburgh. Throughout her three years as the COO she learned a lot about Mod- cloth and their values as a business. When asked about these values, Cooper explained, “I think Mod- Cloth started from a very authen- tic way of helping women find the best clothes for them.” Modcloth’s genuine approach has been greatly appreciated by many customers. By opening up a pop-up, Mod- cloth is able to reach more clients — especially since their westward expansion. Their new pop-up is in San Francisco, which allows them to branch out from their home- town of Pittsburgh.
Now, with the addition of a pop-up, Modcloth is able to reach a much larger variety of customers. Before customers all over the country could only order their favorite pieces online. Now patrons who have never heard of the store can simply walk past the gold and white storefront and stop in for a quick peek. And those who prefer trying on their clothes before purchasing can stop by and try on clothes to find the perfect fit, skipping the hassle of online returns.
Most San Franciscans have heard of or even been to the small, local boba shop, Boba Guys, but most people are un- aware that Boba Guys started out as a pop up. The shop got their start as a weekly pop-up at Ken Ken Ramen, a Japanese noodle restaurant on 18th street. Co-founders Andrew Chau and Bin Chen, former co-workers at Timbuk2, connected over their love of milk tea and were deeply disappointed when their favorite boba shop in the Mission closed down. However, the shop’s clo- sure gave them what turned out to be a revolutionary idea, coined by the “Boba Guys” as artisanal boba. Chau and Chen were determined to turn their visions of horchata with tapioca balls and Thai Iced Tea with al- mond jelly into a reality. There was only one problem. They had no customers, no kitchen, and no storefront, so they turned to a business model that required less capital and gave them a chance to promote their growing business. When asked why they decided to begin as a pop-up, Andrew Chau, co-founder of Boba Guys, replied, “It’s really about resources and testing… We weren’t a proven model, so what we would call nowadays artisanal boba, back when we started in 2011, didn’t exist.”
From the store’s chem- istry-inspired aesthetic to its experimental flavors, the ele- ment of exploration remains prominent in the business to- day. When asked to reflect on how the store’s start as a pop-up influenced the development of their business, Chau remarked, “As a pop-up everything is so temporary, so that’s actually why Boba Guys is so experi- mental. You still see our chem- istry-looking sets and our scien- tific motif; we do all that partly because our DNA in the begin- ning was experimental.”
And this experimentation proved to be the business’s key to success. Boba Guys is now known for their unique flavors of “hipster boba,” as Chau called it, as well as their storefronts’ sleek design. From pop-up to pioneer of the artisanal boba industry, Boba Guys is an example of a pop-up success story.