Appear Here is a new site that makes it easy for brands large and small to find and book retail space. We spoke to its Founder, Ross Bailey, about its most exciting projects and his take on future retail trends.
Could you give us a description of what you do in your own words?
Appear Here is an online marketplace which allows people to book, discover and list retail space for short-term let. Our aim is effectively to create a site where you can book a retail space as easily as you can book a hotel room.
What are the most exciting projects that you’ve worked on?
One of my favourites was Diageo’s Tanqueray Gin Palace in an old store on Floral Street in Covent Garden. It was a huge, gorgeous retail space which looks like an old townhouse. They booked in through our site and within a couple of weeks they had turned it into a magnificent gin palace. Gin palaces used to be all across London, they were like pubs. And this gin palace was just amazing. It was incredible – they had a bar in there that looked like it had been taken out of the Savoy Hotel, with massive portraits of Charles Tanqueray, the founder of the brand. It was as if it was going to be there forever – but all along, the idea was it would only be there for a week.
After the star-studded launch night, they opened it up to the public for a week – it was great for them to experience it. They also ran a TV ad at the same time, and a video which ended up going viral. It did so well that the song from the video went into the charts, too.
It sounds like they could have got a lot more mileage out of it if it was only there for a week. Do you think it was there for long enough?
They could’ve got a lot more mileage out of it – but then you have to look at why they’re there. They wanted to do it for media attention, which they accomplished – they were in everything from Tatler to Vogue to the Daily Mail. The next thing was to allow people to have an experience with the brand.
A project that disappears gives the people who experienced it something over those who didn’t. When other people have missed out, it gives you something to brag about. So Tanqueray probably got more mileage by the gin palace disappearing quickly, rather than giving everyone the chance to be there. If you’re doing something that most of your friends probably won’t get the chance to do, you’ll tweet about it or post a picture on Facebook and you’ll get kudos for it. Things that disappear are a lot more likely to be shared on social media and therefore have a lot more marketing value.
Which project are you most proud of?
We’re proud of Diageo’s, and another one we’re proud of is ‘Rock and Rule’ – a brand that we launched. We designed a range of eight t-shirts all with the Queen’s image on. We got them printed, we came up with the brand, the logo, the website, everything. The t-shirts had a sort of rebellious twist – images of the Queen’s face with a Bowie stripe through the nose and stuff like that.
Ten days before the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, we opened a popup on Carnaby Street. We got loads of press from it, everything sold out, we even had people coming in and buying furniture we used for the shop fit. And since then we’ve had buyers from some big online e-commerce sites get in touch wanting to actually order t-shirts from the range. The whole thing cost us under £2,000 – and it made around £8,000.
We showed that if we can do it in ten days, anyone can. Literally anyone, even with quite a small budget, can take a shop, make something happen, and create impact.
We wanted to try and change perceptions a bit – people are used to the concept of renting out a club and get some mates in there. Now it’s just as easy to rent out a shop and sell stuff.
Do brands speak to you before they go into the spaces or can they literally book a space without interacting with anyone?
At the moment there’s a little bit of interaction but pretty soon they will pretty much have no interaction. It will all be done through the website.
What do you think are the biggest shifts that are happening in retail – pop-ups or otherwise?
There was a huge crash in retail last year. Looking at the retail property market, lease lengths have fallen like never before. Every year it’s getting shorter and shorter – there’s now a huge question mark over what the future of estate agencies looks like. These guys work on a commission model, but when there’s a let for under three years but you’re using the same approach as you did with twenty year lets, something’s got to give – it doesn’t make commercial sense anymore. The model’s got to change.
We’re working on finding a way that makes sense for those small deals. There’s this whole industry built around lets for two years plus, and this whole industry for events built around a couple of days. We want to find a model that makes commercial sense for leases in the gap between the two.
As online increasingly becomes the place where the sale is made, physical retail needs to be rethought. From my experience, it has to constantly change and evolve.
Retail is becoming all about the editorial and the selection. It used to be about getting a store, filling it with product and making as many transactions as possible. Now it’s about taking a store and taking people on a journey, giving them a story, or helping people learn and share. We’re also seeing more basic shop fittings because it’s becoming all about the selection. If you go into Acne for example, the ground floor constantly changes every month with the new colours, the new look. The top floor’s got the jeans but it’s only got a small selection. They might have four jumpers but they’re THE four jumpers.
Which opportunities are most overlooked by brands at the moment?
Brands need to start looking at retail space in the same way that they look at media space. The weekly rent for a shop can cost the same as the weekly rent for a billboard, but not only can a store show who the brand is, it can let people feel and experience what it’s about. A store is a 3-dimensional stage, which still has the same visibility as a billboard, but also the potential to do so much more.
What’s your feeling about the use of technology in retail?
The only time it shouldn’t be used is to mirror the online experience in an offline space. It’s one thing to put a big screen into a unit if it makes people buy, but we shouldn’t put a screen in a shop to try and mirror what we’re doing online. It removes that human interaction.
People will make their own decisions about whether to use their smartphone in-store – to compare prices or watch videos. Where I think we go wrong in retail is when there are shops with huge interactive screens and such like – people can get those kind of experiences online. What you need to have is great staff, great service. You don’t want a technology overload. Technology should be there to enhance, not replace.
People want to have conversations. They want to meet people face-to-face. Technology is really important, but it’s better when it’s natural and it genuinely makes the process easier.
How do you see the high street of the future? Do you think it will all be short-term pop-ups or short leases?
Well, 60% of the market used to be long-term lease. It’s now 6%. I think that will probably go down to a couple of per cent. Big places like Costco and Tesco will have long-term leases but for places like M&S, I think they’ll constantly change and evolve in size. Even if they have a long-term store, the inside will constantly change.
I think you’re going to see the high street becoming about people sharing, experiencing and learning. Much like the Apple store. You go in there to play, you go in there to share. You go to see a Genius, or to watch a lecture – you go there to learn.
I also think that online will go through massive change. Some of the big e-commerce names made 40% of their sales last year on a mobile. People are buying while they’re out and about. We’re going to see online and offline merge to the point where you can’t really tell which one is which.
Which three people or groups do you think are really leading the way in terms of shaping the future of retail?
I love Story in New York – they’re all about the editorial. Every month everything in the store changes, the concept, the design, absolutely everything.
Another brand I think is doing incredibly well is Acne. They get editorial, too. I love how they take you on a journey. They keep their range basic but it’s really on trend at the moment.
The third one is Other Stories. They’ve kept things really simple and have managed to bring a real personal touch to their stores. They’ve just got it completely right.
Image credit: Appear Here www.appearhere.co.uk