The Name: Appear Here
The Place: Omnipresent in that it lets out retail space all over the country but if you want to be pedantic about it, headquartered in Hoxton, East London and run by a small team of around 10 staff.
The story: The founder of Appear Here is so young, it’s not even decent. Ross Bailey should probably be studying hard for an MBA or something. Still, you can’t keep a lad with ideas shut up in a library can you, so here he is on Innovative Retailers with the cosmic idea he put into practice about a year ago of exploding the old-fashioned and stuffily legalistic world of … retail leases.
Leases? Excuse me, I think I may just have a quick lie down while you talk: Oh no you don’t! By the time you wake up the pop-up shop will have opened, caused a sensation and closed down again. We have left the age of 25-year leases, buddy, and entered the era of ‘blink and you might have missed it’.
OK. OK. I’m awake: Good, so it’s an online market-place which brings together vacant retail space and people who might want that space. Simple.
Is that it? Yes. Bailey’s vision is that it could be an AirBnB for shops. Across the world a space for your goods, a brand launcher, a one-off pop up, whatever you want. You can instantly see if a unit in the required district of New York, Barcelona, Maidstone is available for you.
Hmm the golden triangle. And what sort of time frames are we talking: The minimum is one day and an informal maximum is one year but according to Bailey most deals are struck for a couple of weeks to a couple of months. As you would expect Appear Here takes a commission on every transaction done – according to the boss the standard amount any operator in this kind of field such as HouseTrip would take – about 10-20%.
But surely this is all a legal minefield? No, that’s just what they want you to think.
Aha. A conspiracy. Who’s they? Old-style landlords who want to sign things in fountain pens in wood-panelled offices in the City. Bailey concedes that the landowning fraternity is basically a conservative one. But even they have to take into account that in 1991 the average lease length was a reassuring 20 years, by 2001 that had dropped to less than 10 years and in 2011 it was less than five. So Bailey is really just taking a natural progression that bit further. Kind of.
Yes, but it’s a far cry from oak panels to this sort of thing: True, Appear Here clients upload their own legals, or use the standard license agreements. Everything is double checked, signed online and clients can pay monthly or upfront – the advantage of that is you do not have to prove you are a steadfast and solid member of the retail community you just need the readies and you’re in.
Now I get it, it’s full of shysters: Please. There are 3,000 to 4, 000 account holders at Appear Here and it is everyone from luxury goods, to brands who occasionally want to launch shops like Microsoft and Google to small independents like WreckLondon.
Who? Clothes. Anyway, the buyers highlight their retail preferences in mail-outs. The landlord has a ‘concierge’ who looks after them and brings good fits to their attention.
And where might these good fits mainly be? Obviously, most business is done in key metropolitan districts like London, Edinburgh, Manchester and Bath. And in all of these places consumers do like a bit of pop-up action.
Don’t they mind it might not be there when they return in a month? Not a bit of it. The online presence is now viewed as the flagship store that is always open and always there. Bricks and Mortar have become the transient part of the deal. So pop-ups provide a bit of street theatre, get in some food carts too and voila! – a vibrant street scene. Anyone with an idea can open a short term shop and add to the retailtainment – and crucially landlords are getting increasingly interested in that aspect too.
I think they’d rather just bank the money don’t you? Well, Bailey has a good metaphor – between the scheduled programmes on a TV listings, the broadcaster does not just leave the screen blank. They titillate you with other offerings to keep you interested. Same should be the case with shop space. An empty unit is a terrible lead in to the next long term tenant, put something snappy in there for a couple of months and everyone is happy. A great landlord, Bailey cites the West End player Shaftesbury, gets it.
OK, got a question. How does all this work in a shopping centre for example? May I use Mr B’s TV analogy again. He thinks the best operators in this field and he admits there are some very forward thinking ones should use a kind of viewing figures method. If people stop watching a programme, it gets shunted off air. The shoppers are the audience and if they are not giving a certain, albeit long-term paying retailer the time of day then… off with their lease.
Blimey. He doesn’t mind does he? Actually that is not the most surprising thing about Appear Here’s effects on retail property. The fact which seems most revolutionary is that just when we thought online had it all sewn up, it turns out that consumers don’t just want to look at a screen – they want shops from their brands that aren’t even retailers. Collaborative consumption, the sharing economy.
What? They want to say explain your product to me Mr GoogleMan in a shop environment to get that human interaction. In other words, it turns out we want sometimes to be able to buy software, or a service, from an online player but in front of another human to create an experience. Microsoft don’t want to set up a chain of shops but when they organise a retail presence for a short time via Appear Here people lap it up.
And what is the most popular street in the metropolis for Appear Here? Surprise me: The Kings Road, Chelsea – at one stage it had six or seven pop-ups along its length.
Just goes to show you can teach an old dog new tricks.
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