The Veggie Pret pop-up that ran through June 2016 in London's Soho was a resounding success.

Though a case study from the food and drink industry, I think it provides the perfect template for a retail pop-up.

Here's how...

1. Pret let the customer take control

What really generated love, affection, patronage, engagement (you name it...) was Pret's positioning of this pop-up as a trial that would live or die by customer preferences.

It was up to the customers to leave feedback on menu items, and this interaction would actively shape Pret's menu of the future - what makes the cut and is introduced to the everyday menu, and what doesn't.

Inviting feedback, particularly qualitative feedback (in the form of handwritten comment cards) cedes ownership to the customers and tells them what they knew all along - this brand cares what they think.

2. Pret created a destination

Pop-ups have become synonymous in recent years with digital pureplays, as they are the brands that get most press coverage when they decide to open a store (eBay, Amazon etc.).

However, what Veggie Pret showed is the cachet that a solitary, rebranded pop-up holds, when it is one of hundreds of other, 'normal' stores.

This is destination retail. The store shines brighter because it is 'different-but-the-same'.

Photo via Pret

veggie pret

3. Pret chose a pop-up raison d'etre

A pop-up needs to have a strong raison d'etre, it generates most buzz as an ephemeral and even risky venture.

Pret chose to go veggie - yes, it needed inspiration for more menu items, but it knew vegetarianism would strike a chord, in a metropolitan capital city where vegetarianism and veganism continues to be a rising trend.

It may not be for everyone, Pret knows that devotees of its chicken salads and prosciutto baguettes might give it a miss (despite its recent 'Not just for veggies' campaign), but it will chime magnificently with a significant portion of the customer base who feel their time has finally come.

It was this choice of cause (if you like) that created an in-store atmosphere that one employee described as similar to a Beyoncé gig.

4. Pret was open on social media

Pret emblazoned its social channels with veggie green and added the store location.

The Pret Twitter account isn't that active (it tweets about once a day, though makes strategic use of paid social), but it put the pop-up front and centre, retweeting feedback and encouraging further debate.

Essentially, one pop-up was allowed to become a campaign of sorts.

Pret's website, when running blog articles about the pop-up, even invited readers to tweet its chief executive and give him feedback directly.

tweet feedback to clive schlee

5. Pret showed that pop-ups don't even have to pop-up

What was striking about this pop-up was that it was more of a rebrand. Pret took an existing store and gave it a makeover.

The investment was considerable, given Pret was designing an entirely new menu, producing new assets and training staff, but the same strategy could be employed in other retail markets.

Indeed, this is what retailers do to test the market - pick a flagship store and change it, rolling out to the nation if successful.

6. Pret picked the perfect store

The store chosen was central, in Soho (the lunching ground of London's 'twitterati'), fairly large and with a very visible facade - facing the intersection of four streets.

Pret is predominately a London venture (67% of its trade and 75% of its stores are here, according to Wikipedia), so it was conceivable that the majority of regular Pret customers could visit.

7. Pret dug into the data

Pret published its early findings. Sales were up 70%, the two top-selling products were desserts, and vegan dishes were the big sellers. 

Sharing its findings and talking about what a positive atmosphere had been generated in the store and on social media was a way for Pret to validate its audience and keep the momentum going.

pret blog post

8. Pret created a conversation

Well, the public spoke and now Veggie Pret is staying open all summer - why would the brand look a gift horse in the mouth?

Pret has well and truly laid down a marker for innovation in its sector. The brand is now asking its customers, 'what should we do next?' Perhaps the concept will be rolled out?

The question for retailers is who might mirror this success and get brand-bang for its buck, whilst also testing a new concept?

It's difficult to do, as new product development is prohibitive for most retailers. And though high street brands spring to mind that could achieve buzz like this, finding the right angle is key.

Some trends do inspire new ranges that become departmental pop-ups, of a sort, such as the addition of ath-leisure wear to many apparel retailer stores (Primark, Topshop etc).

Indeed, Selfridges' Body Studio, opened in Spring 2016, is probably the best recent example of destination pop-up mentality.

Honourable tip of the hat to Lidl, too, for its Duluxe pop-up.

Did you visit Veggie Pret? Let us know what struck you about the project.

Ben Davis

Published 30 June, 2016 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Deputy Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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