The founder of Appear Here spoke to Business Advice about how he identified a gap in the market for short-term space rentals – and succeeded in filling it.
Commercial property, with its five-year contracts and small number of big players, seems like a difficult target for a disruptive startup. But though Ross Bailey took a gamble when trying to get a staid industry to see the benefits that pop-ups on short-term leases could bring, it was one that certainly paid off.
His company – a digital platform which connects retailers looking for pop-up space with landlords – was recently named Young Company of the year in the 2015 Growing Business Awards, hosted by our sister title Real Business.
Bailey created Appear Here after realising through personal experience that there was a gap in the market. He struggled to secure a unit for the pop-up clothing business – Rock and Rule – that he wanted to create to sell t-shirts inspired by the Queen in the run-up to the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
“It wasn’t too hard to find the space as I knew I wanted to be in Soho, so I simply went out onto the streets looking for empty spaces,” he said.
But once Bailey found an empty shop it was “stupidly hard” to book it, because landlords were unsure about the risk posed by short leases. When he eventually secured the space, other aspiring retailers flocked to Rock and Rule to enquire about taking it on next.
“We ended up letting a lot of them join us in the pop-up,” Bailey said. “Then when we finally shut up shop, I got a phone call from a major American sportswear brand which was looking for a pop-up shop in the run up to the Olympics and wanted to know if I could help. That’s when I realised I might be onto something.”
Appear Here now allows retailers looking for space to browse available units online and sign short-term leases in under two weeks. “The main challenge was persuading the property industry, which hadn’t changed for the last few decades, to give us their vacant spaces to not only list online but to market for flexible rents,” Bailey explained.
But he was able to win over major landlords including British Land, Legal & General and Capital & Regional with his argument that pop-ups were the best way to utilise empty space. Appear Here has collaborated with Transport for London to turn parts of Old Street station into space for pop-ups, and, most recently, with Topshop Topman to create pop-up pitches in the brand’s flagship Oxford Circus Store.
Though Appear Here was only founded three years ago, when Bailey was 21, it has grown to include over 1,000 pop-up spaces. Unlike landlords, potential residents took immediately to the idea.
“A key moment was when we first launched the website and started advertising it online. Within a weekend, we’d taken hundreds of requests for space,” explained Bailey. “And since then, demand has grown for our spaces has grown by 20 per cent month on month.”
Now, with London’s commercial property owners convinced that pop-ups are a good use of their space, the next challenge for Appear Here is spreading its reach globally.
“Our mission has always been to create a global network of spaces so that people can make their ideas travel. Ultimately, we want to be in every major retail city, giving people access to the best audiences around,” said Bailey.
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