Houston Entrepreneurs Become the Tech Kings of Pop-Up Shops: Store Matchmaking Catches OnBY Annie Gallay // 07.01.18
Scott Blair, Megan Silianoff, Barry Goldware and Rob Dobson run the Houston-based-and-inspired tech startup.
PopUp Shops is revolutionizing the pop-up shop landscape.
Barry Goldware, founder of Sun & Ski, is a serial entrepreneur.
The pop-up shop policy is here today, gone tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean they don’t leave a lasting impression. Pop-up shops are bite-sized boutiques, offering up goodies from nomadic small businesses, wandering online enterprises and on-the-move artisans.
They’ve got tons to offer, but no way to do it without space. They may not dig permanent digs — but they’ve got to set up shop somewhere, however temporarily.
That’s where PopUp Shops comes in. This Houston tech start-up plays matchmaker for pop-up entrepreneurs and shopping malls and centers. PopUp Shops’ website features all kinds of filters to arrange the best possible marriage of commerce.
PopUp Shops debuted last year, the brainchild of Barry Goldware of Space City’s own Sun & Ski and partners Scott Blair, who played a great role in Sun & Ski’s success and now works with The Netera Group, Rob Dobson from Red Pup Media and Meg Silianoff, founder of Mad Meg Creative.
This Bayou City pop-up matching has gone national, putting Houston tech in the spotlight. The company links up all types of would be pop-up shops with with vacancies in shopping centers and malls, which they’ve dubbed “spaces” across the country.
PopUp Shops connects them via a user-friendly website, with different domains for 44 markets. “It hit me there’s a need for a website. A very robust, very cool, very easy-to-navigate website,” Goldware tells PaperCity.
The premise is the brands each build their own page and list their website, descriptions of their products, images and social media accounts to give their prospective partners a thorough sense of their business. By the same token, the landlords load pictures of their space and available site plans.
“When you want to list, it’s like building a Facebook page, it’s that easy,” Goldware says. The spaces and brands then have the ability to privately message one another after doing their research. Filtering aspects for spaces includes options like the size, the part of the city and much more.
“In the next phase, the site will actually automatically recommend brands and spaces to each other. It would send out an email saying based on your criteria, here are five options,” Goldware says.
PopUp Shops has got major client mojo with names such as Bernie’s Burger Bus, Twisted Arrow Goods, Kicpops, General Growth Properties and Weingarten Realty already using the service.
The creators knew from the start that their concept had appeal and application in the national marketplace, from Chicago to San Francisco and beyond.
But they also know how much they owe to their Houston roots. “Houston is a great city. It’s conducive to growing a business. It’s a free-spirited, free-thinking attitude. The Houston economy is an economy of entrepreneurial companies,” Goldware says.
“We have talked to a number of people who are in the tech space and who are very interested in making Houston become a center for tech. If things continue this way because the city of Houston is getting involved, I think that Houston may be a very viable tech center within five years. There’s an emphasis on it.”
A Super Bowl Push
The inspiration for this startup fittingly sparked in H-Town. The influx of football fans during SuperBowl LI flooded pop-up shops outside George R. Brown.
“It dawned on me. I remembered when I was at Sun & Ski, I had the idea of opening up some temporary ski shops. It was so difficult it was to find a great location,” Goldware says.
Scrounging around to find lease signs with names and phone numbers was hardly rewarding. The entrepreneur would get no answer, call again, still get no answer.
And he didn’t fare much better when someone actually picked up on the line. “Nine times out of ten, they say sorry, we don’t want to do temporary. Want a five or 10 year lease? We’ll call you,” Goldware says.
With pop-ups growing in popularity and scope all the time, it became clear to Goldware that he had to create some much-needed synergy between brands and spaces. “All kinds of aggravations and trouble have become very, very efficient.”
It’s all part and parcel to the evolving shopping landscape. “Retailers are having to reinvent themselves. Pop-ups are a way they can reinvent themselves,” Goldware says. They serve as a sort of bridge between your traditional brick-and-mortars and e-commerce.
Traditional retail is deteriorating as online shopping takes over. Why get up, drive, park and walk when you can have the world at your fingertips — in your pajamas, no less?
Pop-up shops actually draw customers out, both because of their unique, often one-of-a-kind and handmade products, and their ever-changing curb appeal.
“There’s the touch and feel, the direct interaction with the customer,” Goldware says.
These temporary stores increase exposure for brands that would otherwise be limited to a digital presence. Not to mention how much these exclusive, limited-time-only pop-up events spark social media interest. The pop-ups are a key way to build a business without all of the overhead.
On the space end, it’s a splashy way to fill up vacancies and pull in new consumers. “The landlords look to add some flavor, some excitement, some experiential aspect to their business with these short-term leases,” Goldware says.
“Artisans, small businesses, these are the ones the big guys are looking for. They don’t want the typical kiosk — every mall has Verizon and AT&T. They’re looking for the cool, new ones. And that is definitely these businesses.”
There are endless opportunities when it comes to pop-ups for spaces and brands alike. You’ve got everything from rodeos to festivals, markets and more. Some have an entertainment aspect. Some are themed, like the Nutcracker Market.
“In New York, they do it in alley ways. They support it with music,” Goldware says.
For Goldware, it’s always been about being creative with the sell.
“I had my first business when I was 16,” he says. “I’m just an idea guy, a creative guy. Some people know from the time they’re five years old they want to be a doctor or a lawyer. I knew that I wanted to start and grow businesses.”
That meant starting out as a kid on the bottom of the totem pole, a stock boy at a local shoe store in his Midwest town. Every once in a while, Goldware got the opportunity to work the floor, rolling down his sleeves and throwing on a sports jacket.
His first entrepreneurial adventure was on the nose for an idea guy — selling light bulbs door to door. It all led him to creating Sun & Ski, a Houston-based chain of retail special sports stores. By the time he sold it five-and-a-half years ago, he had 31 stores in 13 states.
Goldware calls himself a serial entrepreneur. And he can explain the appeal in a convincing, off-the-cuff elevator pitch.
“I like to be able to use my own creativity. Have my own creativity work for me as opposed to an employer. And I also like the potential of unlimited income,” he says. “There’s something satisfying about building something, creating something. There’s something fulfilling in that.
“When you can point to it and say, ‘I built that.’ And success allows you to give back to the community.”
Above all, it energizes him. “Since I’ve sold my business I try to help young aspiring entrepreneurs build their businesses,” Goldware says.
That means helping them find a place to set up, no matter what pops up.