Often the most elegant and successful business ideas are the most straightforward ones. PopUp Immo is looking to address two pressing, basic needs – brands’ need for visibility with customers at minimal financial investment and commercial real-estate owners’ need to fill their space. With their launch last year, they’ve quickly become the top marketplace in France connecting brands and advertisers with the commercial real-estate sector to create exceptional Pop Up store experiences.
Fresh off their selection to top-notch acceleration program NUMA Sprint and making the finals last month at leading tech event B Dash Camp in Japan, PopUp Immo founder Mohamed Houache discusses their vision, the unique value they deliver both brands and commercial retail, and their plans to quickly ramp-up internationally, particularly in Asia.
What is PopUp Immo about and what’s special about what you do?
PopUp Immo is a retail revolution. What we do is enable brands, artists, designers to find retail space for short-term duration. Although it’s mostly an innovation of service rather than technology, we can say that we’ve been impacting the future of some brands. Before PopUp Immo there was essentially no cost-effective way for smaller brands or brands not based in Paris to engage directly with their customers at retail. What these brands really wanted to test the Paris or French market at low financial risk to them. To do this they needed flexibility as well as visibility on the cost of booking a boutique for two or three days.
Prior to our launch there was no marketplace like this, meaning essentially that there was no transparency or efficiency around this type of service. As the leading marketplace in France offering rental of short-term retail space, we’re addressing a real, basic need. The ability to launch a Pop Up store also gives an edge to these brands because they can communicate and leverage social networks to bring their fans to their store and connect with them afterwards. In many ways we’re both an online-to-offline and an offline-to-online solution.
Who specifically do you think is most drawn to what PopUp Immo can offer?
Think about all the American brands that want to come to here to test the Paris market, all the ecommerce platforms who can’t meet their customers directly, or all the PR or advertising firms who are bidding for contracts with big brands and can offer them this approach which will give them better ROI that pretty much any online marketing campaign.
Another advantage which we didn’t anticipate is that pop-up stores are also bringing more life back to particular areas of Paris. After we launch a Pop Up store and the brand does a good job at communicating and delivering an experience, people want to come back to the area. For example, last December we had a collective of 10 small men’s accessories brands come together to book a Pop up store on small street in the Sentier district. They promoted like it crazy and the store became the top Pop up store during that month. Following that success, we now we have all types of brands wanting to book that space.
How are you reaching the owners of these spaces to get them on your platform?
They’re now contacting us. We really are helping both sides of the marketplace. For private owners and real estate agents they have a few issues. Many really want to reinvent the DNA of the space. Others just want to rent the space temporarily until they can find a more permanent long-term tenant. So as with brands, we can offer owners and agents flexibility.
What about all the services around it. Do you help in the conception of the Pop up store experience (design, promotion, etc)?
Not yet. We’re still a very small team and if we expand into an agency business where we connect brands with designers, advertising agencies, etc, you can create an ecosystem around PopUp Immo. But the problem is that it’s not completely scalable, it requires more people and resources, and it really is a different type of business. It doesn’t mean we won’t expand into that in the mid-term, but for now we want to focus first on the marketplace.
I understand you were a finalist at last month’s B Dash Camp, an exclusive event for some of tech’s best and brightest in Fukuoka, Japan. Tell me a bit about that.
I was proud and extremely happy to just have gotten the chance to attend, let alone to reach the final phase of the competition. Initially my plan in going was to test the market and show to the world that there is a French company offering an innovative solution for retail space. The fact that I was a finalist was a big surprise because there were truly some other fantastic projects as well. Just being there for me was like the final. Being the only European company as a finalist and having such great feedback after the final was a big success for us. What I realized is that we’ve really developed a compelling story around the marketplace and that’s a unique angle.
I understand you also traveled to Hong Kong during your visit to Asia last month. What are your thoughts on opportunity in Japan and elsewhere in Asia?
I’ll start with the Japanese market, which is very unique and has several appealing characteristics for PopUp Immo. Customers have a lot of purchasing power. They love and enjoy brands. There’s a very high vacancy rate in Tokyo. When you bring these aspects together, it makes a really interesting opportunity for us. My biggest concern is to be able to find local expertise and be able to put in place PopUp Immo fully tailored to Japanese customers. I met some very skilled people on the VC-side, entrepreneurs and others that stressed that there was real market there for PopUp Immo. For example, we can be a bring between Europe and Japan just by offering retail space.
I also spent time in Hong Kong. Very a different dynamic. High growth market, completely deregulated and very oriented to shopping malls. There is a lower vacancy rate in Hong Kong than Tokyo, but a lot of brands want to test Hong Kong prior to expanding to mainland China.
Two amazing and viable options for PopUp Immo, but to grow in these markets we’re definitely going to need more resources, especially local talent.
What about competition? I imagine there’s an increasing number of startups in this space?
We’re really keeping our eye on the competition, particularly one in the UK that recently raised a lot of money and one in the US. So far, however, we have been able to do with few resources what our competitors have done with a lot more. I want to very quickly build on the interest we’re getting from increasingly large brands, as well expand to new markets such as London and East Asia, where we want to have the first advantage there. We feel that in Asia, particularly where you have lots of shopping malls that look similar, Pop up stores offer them a great way to differentiate themselves.