After conducting a pilot program with three participating properties, Starwood Retail Partners recently launched its first full-scale “The Challenge: Battle of the Pop-Up” across America. Expanding the initiative by more than a dozen properties, the company is looking to facilitate innovative thinking and change the world of retail.

“The mission of the challenge is to find and support local entrepreneurs. Starwood Retail Partners truly believes both in becoming part of the community it serves and in creating the retailers and experiences of tomorrow. The Challenge takes care of both,” said Catherine Loy, VP, specialty leasing, Starwood Capital Group.

Starwood is encouraging individuals to submit their most original product, concept, or business strategy for the chance to win four months of free rent. Applicants are expected to be committed to their community, willing to learn, and in the early stages of development.

“Our goal is to diversify the products and services we offer our guests and to let our communities know that we are not just a place to buy things, but an integral part of their lives,” Loy added.

Thinking ahead, the team is hopeful that providing local businesspeople with a brick-and-mortar destination will lead to full-time tenants and permanent partnerships. Free of restrictions, top submissions will offer something brand new to the market. The pilot program introduced two apparel retailers and three gift retailers to a larger audience, each winner with a unique sense of style.

To generate awareness and engage the community, Starwood implemented a multi-media marketing strategy. It featured traditional press releases in local newspapers, in-center signage, and social media announcements via each center’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter channel. As a result, the competition got a great response. With two rounds of review, submissions are read first by those closest to the market and second by those with an arms-length perspective. While in-center management takes note of every product, concept, and strategy, only select submissions move on to a team at company headquarters, where the final decision is made. Win or lose, Starwood follows up with all of those believed to be promising candidates.

Looking at the big picture, the initiative has increased word-of-mouth communication at the company and strengthened community ties. Once the winners from the pilot program settled in, each of the related properties experienced an increase in traffic and retail sales. Locals simply wanted to check out the goods and get in on the action. The opening of H.Flynn, a custom apparel retailer for women and girls at Gateway Mall, was most effective at boosting numbers and attracting visitors.

“Interestingly, it’s also been a positive with our traditional leasing efforts. Major retailers love to work with proactive, innovative landlords who are working hard to differentiate [their] projects and drive traffic into the property. That can only benefit all tenants, too,” Loy noted.

Continuing to receive positive press from the local media in both introductory and repeat areas, The Challenge resonates with all types of people and places.

The Bottom Line

  • Promotion budget per property (call for entry): US$5,000–$10,000
  • Promotion budget per winner (tenant-specific): US$2,250
  • Four months of free rent: Expense varies by project and location

Posted in Pop-Up Retailing
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