Pop-up stores are surrounded by the aura of underground, guerrilla marketing and social media nerds, even though it has been some time since they were a fringe phenomenon. Even well-known brands have discovered this form of surprise product staging for novelties in recent years. Pop-up stores can even play an important role in countering "the negative spiral of vacant premises, declining appeal and diminishing footfall", as Credit Suisse describes it in its Retail Outlook 2020. While it is true that they can't cure everything, they do show how important the integration of offline and online channels has become today.
Despite the boom of recent years, the tendency is still to expect to find temporary showrooms in trend hotspots, be it New York, where the first pop-up store opened in 2000, or in Tokyo, Paris, London and Berlin, where there is a density of digital native brands. The principle of the distribution form is always simple. Pop-up stores rely on exclusivity, word of mouth and the hunting instincts of insiders. Location, position, set-up and form have to be unconventional to stimulate curiosity and put emphasis on the uniqueness of the customer. But a pop-up store in the East Frisian city of Emden? In the middle of the city centre? With an "everyday product" like toys during a pandemic?
Here to stay
JFC Toys weren't daunted by that. Behind JFC Toys stand Insa and Wilko Vogt, who are throwing one thing in particular into it: passion for products. Both are devout fans of Marvel, Harry Potter and Disney. This was already reflected at the beginning of the start-up. At the start of 2019, the company sent up a test balloon in the form of its JFC e-store with merchandising products and licensed toys in order, according to Wilko Vogt, to sound out the market potential for "extravagant items", on Amazon and ebay first of all. The success encouraged them to take the next step and go live with their own online shop at the start of 2020. "Our goal from the beginning," says Wilko Vogt, "was to open a shop. When we became parents at the end of 2018, there was nothing in Emden and no-one who could advise us on toys." Like many other German cities, Emden had long become a diaspora for toys and advice.
In realising its goals, the East Frisian start-up pursued a strategy of gradual growth from the online into the offline world. If the testing and learning phase with the ebay shop and sales over Amazon had not worked out, the experiment would have been broken off there. The range is also intended to differ from that of a classic full range toy supplier. "You can buy many toys in the supermarket today," says Wilko Vogt, "but our passion and expertise lies in infants and wooden toys as well as in the merchandising segment." That is why the pop-up store doesn't see itself as a competitor to a drugstore who moves into the department store that is currently emerging, but rather as a player who is widening the range.
Fate had it that an opportunity arose at the end of September to make interim use of retail space in the city centre. The city gave its support where it could; this was helped by the fact that the landlord had hopes that out of the temporary pop-up it might win a long-term tenant in the start-up. The concept formed from marketplace activities, its own online shop and physical store seems to be working for JFC Toys in any case. "Customers today want to be given the opportunity to browse online first before going to the store later," Wilko Vogt is convinced. "One of the biggest problems for brick-and-mortar retail, however, is that people don't like going into the city centre if they can't be sure that the product they want is going to be available in store." The first weeks were promising. The customers played along until mid-December. Then along came the second hard lock-down. If the COVID-19 pandemic doesn't completely upset things, chances remain strong that the retailers who were once selling items out of their garage will make it through beyond February. The model is unusual though: whoever uses the online world as a springboard for getting into the offline world?