Feels like home: New breed of long-term pop-ups and stores join retail scene

SINGAPORE - Inside local fragrance brand Six's new store, you would be forgiven for thinking you should take your shoes off.

The boutique in the basement of 313 @ somerset is styled so cosily, it almost feels like a home. Art installations fill the space, and a marble table out front looks perfect for hosting dinner parties but is really where the brand conducts perfume-making workshops.

Founder Jason Lee, 36, spent about $150,000 on renovations to fashion a store that would soothe customers' well-being and make them think of filling their own homes with the same scents.

Three floors above, fast-fashion footwear brand Sunday Staples is set to open its third store next week with the same comfort aesthetic. Plush booths to try shoes comfortably and curved lines all around evoke an almost cafe-like feel.

"It's in trend," says co-founder Maurice Bay, 33. "The motivation is to create a more comfortable, alluring setting where you're drawn to something you can relate to."

Instead of ramping up e-commerce, some brands are bucking the trend and opening new stores and longer-term pop-ups (with a minimum six-month lease).

They are also going all out on decor, opting for stylish, homey interiors that would make the pages of interior design magazines.

Even non-permanent stores are getting the comfy retail treatment.

Founder of local womenswear label Klarra, Ms Beatrice Tan, 32, chose a pleasing palette of wood and white for her new pop-up, which opened at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands last month and will last till June.

Booths at Sunday Staples 313 @ somerset store. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SUNDAY STAPLES

She spent close to $50,000 furnishing the space; some friends and customers thought the store was permanent.

"A permanent store is the way to go for exposure and brand awareness, but because of Covid-19, I wasn't sure about committing to a long-term lease, which is usually three years at least," says Ms Tan, who has a boutique at Raffles City that opened in end-2018.

She was on the hunt for leases that were at least six months long, having done a three-month pop-up at Capitol Piazza in 2017.

"Three months is too short, given the renovations. People used to think pop-ups are very makeshift, like a little booth, but nowadays (the concept has) evolved. There is a permanent store feel and malls expect you to put in more work and insert a bit of store branding," she says.

Such longer-term pop-ups have been on the rise in recent years.

Retail experts say they may serve as a kind of "compromise" solution, especially for new or emerging brands and retailers considering an omni-channel marketing strategy.

National University of Singapore Business School's professor of marketing Leonard Lee says such pop-ups allow brands to build a physical identity or cultivate a pool of regular customers without having to commit to a long-term rental arrangement.

"Brands are hence able to stay agile in the rapidly evolving retail landscape. Some may also use it as a way to test the waters on a new retail concept or brand identity."

Beatrice Tan chose a pleasing palette of wood and white for her new pop-up. PHOTO: COURTESY OF KLARRA

The home-like atmosphere many brands are favouring can create a feeling of familiarity or a general sense of psychological comfort, adds Prof Lee, who foresees such pop-ups gaining ground as the pandemic situation eases.

"Prior research has suggested that such feelings can foster liking for the brand, which can, in turn, translate into greater sales.

"Depending on the type of products being sold, a home-like atmosphere can also make it easier for customers to imagine or visualise consuming the products in their own homes, which could further boost their willingness to buy."

Observing that more malls have become receptive to long-term pop-ups in the past year, Ms Tan finds them a good way to test foot traffic and build brand awareness at a new location - without too heavy an investment.

The fact that customers like snapping pictures of the store to post on social media does not hurt either.

"We started with e-commerce, so Instagram-friendly decor was a big consideration. The photos can attract people to come by," says Ms Tan.

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SIX: A scented space for mental wellness

Jason Lee spent about $150,000 on renovations to fashion a store that would soothe customers' well-being. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Forget the yellow brick road. To get to local fragrance brand Six's new store in 313 @ somerset, just follow the alluring scent from the basement entrance of Somerset MRT station to the store.

The olfactory strategy has already worked in attracting new customers, says founder Jason Lee, 36. They come for the scent and stay for the store experience, he adds.

The 550 sq ft boutique, which opened last month, boasts an earthy palette and soft edges that mimic the contours of a cave - or one's "personal sanctuary". Soothing ambient music and, of course, calming scents complete the cosy experience.

He calls it a retail-home hybrid. Perfumes and mini nebulisers are displayed unobtrusively on shelves and coffee tables. In the back, different scents are piped out through artworks that cleverly disguise the bulky nebulisers beneath.

"I want people to feel comfortable here. We don't want to hard sell them on our products, but allow them to experience the concept and see how the fragrances can be applied at home," says Mr Lee.

The bestseller, he adds, is the store scent, a blend named 27°F Biei - the same scent people smell from the MRT.

Different scents are piped out through handmade artworks with glass nozzle dispensers that disguise the bulky nebulisers beneath. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SIX

Mr Lee had been looking for a second store space - Six has a boutique in Bugis Junction too - since July, after seeing "good growth in online sales" during the pandemic.

The new store was a chance to introduce Six's new brand purpose - to use fragrances as a tool to soothe, heal and delight.

He drew design cues from a visit to a co-working space for mental health caregivers, where the muted hues and lighting, and no sharp edges, created a conducive environment for people to talk to the counsellors.

Spending almost $150,000 in renovation costs, he hired local creative agency In The Wild to design the space, after meeting one of its artists, Ms Clara Yee, at an arts festival.

"She had created an exhibition space that was so comfortable for people to walk through; so well-crafted with many angles for Instagram-worthy shots," he says.

Portraying a "nice home environment" was also key as Six intends to focus more on its home scents going forward.

WHERE: B2-30, 313 @ somerset

KLARRA: Feel comfortable, stay longer

A room provides a concealed spot for customers to try Klarra's new shoe collection comfortably. PHOTO: COURTESY OF KLARRA

Stepping into local fashion label Klarra's pop-up store feels almost like stepping into a friend's home.

The 1,489 sq ft store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS) could be an apartment - with a room on the side hidden away by gauze curtains, and a cushy couch and shelf display in the front.

Called The Gallery, the room provides a concealed spot for customers to try Klarra's new shoe collection comfortably. In another corner, a wooden dining table framed by a custom-made plant oasis displays new items from the brand.

The idea was indeed to make it feel like home, says founder Beatrice Tan, 32.

"The brand's direction has always been about creating reliable, wearable pieces that give customers mileage; something that is comfortable and here to stay.

"We wanted to translate that into the store concept as well," she says.

Founder Beatrice Tan said the idea was to make the store feel like home. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF KLARRA

She was inspired on a trip to New York City in January last year, where she shopped at concept stores with designs that experimented beyond the "conventional racks and clothes".

Back home, she similarly explored unique shapes and forms in her choice of mirrors and furniture, custom-making many of the pieces.

The decor for the MBS pop-up, which will operate till June 30, was completed in three weeks. She saved costs by retaining the main structures of the store - previously housing another fashion brand - such as the fitting rooms and storeroom.

The knick-knacks displayed on the shelves were sourced on past travels and from her own home, says Ms Tan, who is also a fashion influencer (@beatricesays).

They were curated to suit "the Klarra girl's lifestyle" - like a globe for the woman who enjoys travelling, and books on travel, fashion and coffee.

Though it is early days, Ms Tan has noticed that customers are more inclined to spend both time and money here. They snap pictures and linger in the store when they are comfortable.

"Their partners or family members staying around in the store helps them shop at ease, so there is no rush," says Ms Tan.

"Usually with smaller stores, the boyfriends are forced to stand outside. But here, I see them looking around and feeling comfortable on the couch - so I suppose that does translate to sales."

WHERE: 01-68, The Shoppes @Marina Bay Sands

SUNDAY STAPLES: Shop for shoes in peace and comfort

Sunday Staples did away with the scattered seating of conventional shoe stores. It has designated booths for customers to try shoes comfortably. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SUNDAY STAPLES

Frazzled store assistants and the movie cliche of haphazard shoe stores prompted the novel design of Sunday Staples' newest outlet.

The local fast-fashion footwear brand observed how, at its first two stores in Far East Plaza and Suntec City, retail assistants were swamped serving multiple customers who wanted to try numerous pairs of shoes.

"Customers would point at four different pairs and want to try them in their sizes, and our staff would have to go to the storeroom and remember which shoes to take," says co-founder Maurice Bay, 33. "Sometimes, customers try up to 10 pairs."

Other times, they would wave the shoe on display at store assistants, and the display shoes would end up misplaced.

As such, for the new store opening on Jan 16 at 313 @ somerset, Mr Bay and his wife, who is his co-founder, did away with the scattered seating of conventional shoe stores and built designated booths for customers to try shoes comfortably.

The footwear is displayed on shelves with corresponding wooden tags. Shoppers collect tags for the styles they want to try, pass them to store staff and head to the booths, which were partly inspired by those in American diners.

Shoe-tagging system at Sunday Staples 313 @ somerset store. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SUNDAY STAPLES

For a seamless experience, tables on the side are equipped with barcode scanners for contactless payment, adds Mr Bay.

The couple spent more than $200,000 on renovations "after extensive haggling". "Structurally, curves are really expensive to make," he says, estimating that building costs can run up to $500,000 depending on store size.

But the look is on trend with other retail stores and cafes - and parallels the shift in customers' buying patterns, he points out. After the circuit breaker, he noticed customers buying more slides than heels as they edged towards comfort and working from home.

"Similarly, I think the retail store look and feel have started to soften - moving away from the clean, professional look of sharp edges and white lights, towards soft curves and warm lighting. It's that home-away-from-home vibe."

Asked how the decor may pay off, he says: "The booths and instant checkout allow for quicker conversion. It reduces buyer remorse when they are queuing to pay and lowers the chance of losing a sale."

But more importantly, details such as coordinating the colour scheme of the store to the palette of their shoes play a bigger part in building brand identity, he says.

"The entire store is in line with this theme that our customers can relate to. It's omnichannel and homogenous - you get the same experience online and offline."

WHERE: 02-40, 313 @ somerset

DR BARBARA STURM MOLECULAR COSMETICS: Futuristic space for skincare

The store resembles a futuristic laboratory, with products displayed on curved shelves alongside matching couches. PHOTO: COURTESY OF FJ BENJAMIN HOLDINGS

A month after luxury skincare label Dr Barbara Sturm Molecular Cosmetics launched an e-commerce store in Singapore, the brand has set up a new pop-up store for customers to try the full range of products in person.

The eponymous label was founded in 2014 by German aesthetics doctor Barbara Sturm who, before entering skincare, was an orthopaedic doctor who specialised in combating inflammation.

Distributed and managed by local fashion retailer FJ Benjamin Holdings, the pop-up opened last month at Ngee Ann City and will be there for at least six months.

The store itself resembles a futuristic laboratory, with products displayed on curved shelves alongside matching couches.

There was little renovation work needed, says FJ Benjamin chief executive officer Douglas Benjamin. "We kept the clean, minimalist and neutral look from the former tenant as it worked well with the premium and minimalist aesthetics of the Dr Barbara Sturm brand, and also synergised well with the science-based aspect of her skincare range."

Launching the brand with a pop-up gives the company time to look for a permanent location where it can incorporate a spa treatment room as customers have requested, he adds.

"We are also exploring other pop-up store concepts as we have been approached by many brands interested in entering the Singapore market."

WHERE: 02-12E, Takashimaya, Ngee Ann City