Social media platforms like Instagram, have played an important role in helping budding businesses and entrepreneurs develop and shape their marketing strategies as they leverage such platforms to reach their target audience.
The cascading feed of retail events and pop-up stores on Instagram has been valuable to entrepreneurs in the UAE and wider Gulf.
Pop-up events have become a retail experience on their own. They can be high-profile and gather traction with big name influencers taking part.
Past thinking would have budding fashion entrepreneurs deliberate what retail outlet might best fit their brand. Shopping malls were a preference for many. But that’s not necessarily the case anymore as pop-up events offer a “cool” appeal, come with lower lease fees, and the option of raising a brand’s awareness across different locations, as opposed to being stationed in one place all-year round.
Pop-up events and the UAE economy
Emirati Sumayyah Al Suwaidi, founder of Abu Dhabi Fashion Days, was one of the first entrepreneurs behind one of the popular fashion pop-up events in the UAE.
Founded in 2014, the fashion event takes place four times a year at different locations around the capital, where mainly fashion designers lease a booth to showcase their businesses. Women between the ages of 25 and 40 are Sumayyah’s main participants.
“Pop-up events support young entrepreneurs to get awareness, exposure, sales and opportunities to collaborate. When our homegrown brands make money, you know that the money will get recycled into creating more collections, maybe opening a store which will result to hiring staff and much more,” she said. “At the end the money that the designer makes stays in the country, is invested in the country, and that’s good for our economy.”
Pop-up events are also a good brand activation platform.
Jordanian fashion designer, social media personality, and chief executive of Searina, Searina Abdel Kader, owes her brand’s success to her participation in pop-up events.
“Meeting customers helped me understand people’s needs, what they like and dislike so I started producing designs that I feel will sell,” she says.
The designer then founded The Station in 2016– an increasingly popular pop-up event in Abu Dhabi that showcases different small to medium sized businesses.
"After my fashion collection launch, I got many requests from designers and entrepreneurs to organise the same for them. The numbers started increasing tremendously. The pressure was real. I felt the need to create a platform that can support all these entrepreneurs. And then The Station was established."
Ms Abdel Kader has to date organized 10 pop-up events in different locations around Abu Dhabi such as Yas Mall, Marina Al Bateen, and The Galleria on Al Maryah Island.
The Instagram Effect
There’s no doubt one of the main successes behind pop-ups is the demand of “Instagram-worthy” experiences, and the designers who deliver them.
“Instagram has a big influence on design as each event organiser can view other accounts and come up with something stronger or better,” said Maryam Al Suwaidi, Emirati co-founder of design studio Design Talk. Her venture is behind some of the major fashion and lifestyle pop-up events in the UAE such as W events, Abu Dhabi Fashion Days, and Yamah event.
Ms Al Suwaidi’s studio registered a year-on-year increase in requests for designing pop-up events that are “Instagram-worthy”.
Pop-up events and entrepreneurs’ development
Pop-up event fees depend on the organiser and the location. A three-day pop-up participation fee can cost from as little as Dh2,000 to as high as Dh12,000 depending on the event, the number of attendees, and its popularity.
Small or large, it provides an opportunity for growth, learning about customers, lower financial risk and commitment, when compared with leasing an outlet in a shopping mall.
Pop ups are not just a trend. They’re here for the long-run and will continue to evolve. Customers are always on the lookout for new experiences. Retail space will have to evolve to adapt to this model and should focus on ultra-short lease options and experimental events.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi