ArtPrize offers testing ground for retailers


Kendall College of Art & Design and Goodwill teamed up on a three-day pop-up shop, selling upcycled products created by the college students. Courtesy KCAD

(As seen on WZZM TV 13) Retailers interested in signing a long-term lease downtown are using ArtPrize as a testing ground.

This year, Moosejaw, a retailer from Madison Heights, set up shop ahead of ArtPrize to find out if Grand Rapids has the customer base to support a full-time store, and Kendall College of Art & Design partnered with Goodwill on a three-day pop-up shop to sell upcycled products created by KCAD students.

If previous pop-up shops are any indication, the ventures have a good chance of making it — or at least learning some valuable lessons.

Chris Hagist, general manager of Moosejaw’s Grand Rapids pop up at 410 Ionia Ave. SW, said the company, which originally was an online-only retailer, has been using the pop-up model as a way of testing new locations outside of Michigan, and it recently opened a location in Detroit using the pop up-to-brick-and-mortar model.

He said Grand Rapids seems like a good location for the company, because many of its online customers are coming from West Michigan zip codes.

Moosejaw signed a six-month lease at the Ionia location, which is near the Grand Rapids Downtown Market, after which it will make a decision about a permanent space.

Hagist said so far, things are going well, with the company performing especially well during its opening weekend.

“The grand opening exceeded expectations slightly,” he said.

He said while the second week “fell off” a bit from Week 1, the store still was seeing good traffic.

“This is a (truer) week,” he said.

Hagist added while ArtPrize might be attracting some people, he thinks many of the store’s customers aren’t necessarily being driven to the store by the event.

Hagist said foot traffic over the next six months will be a big factor in whether the store stays in Grand Rapids.

“We need to see the traffic and the support,” he said.

KCAD and Goodwill saw great success with their pop-up shop and already are discussing plans for future collaboration.

“It exceeded our expectations,” said Jill Wallace, chief marketing & communications officer at Goodwill. “We had good foot traffic and were very happy with sales and the all-around excitement.”

Wallace said Goodwill’s goal with the store was to gain more exposure for its brands, ReBlue and Goodwill.

“We are trying to direct more traffic to our store and reminding people about upcycling and making those donations to Goodwill, because there is so much more we can do with those donations then just reselling.”

The pop-up store was an offshoot of an existing collaboration between Goodwill and KCAD.

“The partnership is more than just during ArtPrize,” Wallace said. “There are items in ReBlue that are sold throughout the year from Kendall students.”

Michele Bosak, curator of exhibitions at KCAD, said the pop-up store was mutually beneficial, helping KCAD extend its ArtPrize RE• exhibition theme of environmental and social responsibility.

“Most of the time, the exhibitions we host are more conceptual in nature, and the artists (this year) were utilizing repurposed materials,” she said.

She said the audience was seeing repurposed material through the artwork and then having the opportunity to see repurposed material as products they could purchase.

“After the exhibition, they are seeing how materials that can be acquired at Goodwill or in their homes that aren’t being utilized can be repurposed into utilitarian objects,” she said. “It felt like a nice, natural extension to the exhibition.”

Wallace said Goodwill hopes to partner with KCAD again in the future.

ArtPrize already has served as a testing ground for a handful of businesses, two of which opened permanent locations downtown this year timed with the ArtPrize Eight kick off.

The Mitten State took advantage of an opportunity to operate a pop-up shop in the MoDiv retail incubator on Monroe Center three years ago during ArtPrize, now the company has a permanent location at 415 Bridge St. NW — adjacent to New Holland Brewery — it just opened.

Scott Zubrickas, co-owner of The Mitten State, said the pop-up shop was a last-minute decision and was created in a five-hour span just ahead of the art competition’s opening day.

A 700-square-foot space was outfitted with three foldout tables covered with merchandise, and The Mitten State decorated the shop with signage it had on hand, as well as vinyl window logos to attract customers and “make it look like a real shop.”

“It was awesome,” Zubrickas said. “Even to be a little outside of the realm of the heart of ArtPrize, we still had a ton of traffic, and it really did make us decide to get our own permanent retail spot.”

Zubrickas said during the three-week period of ArtPrize, the company sold 1,000 pieces of apparel out of the location.

For a company that had begun as an online retailer, the pop-up shop model was a helpful way to test the waters and figure out if it had a big enough customer base to warrant a brick and mortar location.

“Our brand has been sold in retail shops all across the state in a mix of other people’s apparel,” he said. “This gave us an indicator of how well the brand would do on its own, and it did great. It really answered that question for us. We thought, ‘Look what we did in three weeks, what can we do in three years in one location?’”

The Mitten State’s pop-up shop operated for one month in the MoDiv location before signing a two-year lease in the Eastown neighborhood.

Zubrickas said the plan was to move to a new development Rockford Construction was building on Grand Rapids’ West Side after that lease ended.

Ferris Coffee & Nut Co. also tried the pop-up shop model before opening its permanent home at 40 Pearl St. NW this past month.

This is the second location for Ferris, which also has a shop at 227 Winter Ave. NW.

David VanTongeren, director of retail for Ferris, said the company decided to open a pop-up shop during ArtPrize last year in the space it already was planning to convert into its second location.

He said the pop-up shop helped influence the final design of the store, which is different from how it originally was laid out.

“We had a brew bar in the southwest corner, and last year, there was no street access, so you had to go through the building’s lobby to enter,” he said. “It was a cool spot, but without street access it wasn’t conducive. Once we were able to build the entrance, we changed the layout of the bar and the seating.”

He said overall, the pop-up shop wasn’t very successful.

“I’d say financially it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “With coffee, it’s hard to do a pop-up because you are also working with the health department. We had to fully renovate the space and bring it up to code, do plumbing and a fire/emergency system. It was more intensive than we’d anticipated.”

He also said tailoring the pop-up’s hours to those of ArtPrize didn’t work out well, either.

“In retrospect, we probably should have opened earlier and focused on the professional community in the area,” he said.

Still, he said the pop-up shop generated a lot of excitement and interest and Ferris decided to move forward with its permanent plans.

VanTongeren suggests other would-be pop-up shops do their homework ahead of time and weigh their potential return on investment.

“Figure out exactly what you have to do to renovate the space, look at staffing and costs and really weigh the pros and cons,” he said.

He said businesses also need to be clear about their goals, whether they are looking to generate a profit or build brand equity, when making their decision.

VanTongeren also recommends partnering up.

“I would have loved to have partnered with another retailer for the space, I think that would have helped drive traffic,” he said. “If you have the opportunity to work with a well-known retailer or another pop up or pop ups, anything to drive more traffic to your space and broaden your potential customer base.”

Mike Mraz, managing partner with Rockford Construction, helped The Mitten State with its pop-up shop in 2013.

Mraz said the benefit of pop-up shops is they offer an opportunity to test an idea and learn more about market potential within a short time frame at a specific location.

But he agrees businesses need to do their homework before signing a pop-up shop lease.

“Any retail venture is hard and risky,” Mraz said. “I think it’s key for potential pop-up shops to identify what they hope to learn and accomplish through a short-run, location-based shop.

“The better they understand where it fits into their overall business goals, the more helpful it will be. They also need to be prepared with a marketing plan and budget, ideas around collaboration with other businesses and networking to support the shop.”

Mraz said Rockford Construction sees the value in allowing businesses short-term leases to test out their ventures, which is why it offers leases of 6-12 months in its MoDiv retail incubator space.

“We can activate vacant space temporarily at little to no cost, explore new concepts and better contain risk for everyone involved,” he said. “We love to see successes that result in long-term tenants that can activate store fronts and provide needed goods and services consistently.”

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