Pop-up shops have been getting increasingly complex and upscale for years, so it must be the most over-the-top example that commands attention. Sprayground’s temporary store in Times Square at 200 West 42nd Street spared no expense to wow consumers with immersive experiences at every turn, including some of most artistic sculptures the edgy backpack, designer handbag and luggage brand is known to create.
That includes one of the largest T-Rex statues in the world. The pop-up is also full of activations and activities through September 5, with collaborators such as Nickelodeon, Call of Duty, Naruto, and more. The pop-up’s run will be capped by a runway show during New York Fashion Week, taking place September 8.
What happened to the scrappy pop-ups that forced only those in the know to visit an ungentrified neighborhood and find a space sometimes without a visible address, or go to an up-and-coming area’s back alley for a drop, where the journey of finding the location was part of the experience. It also gave bragging rights to those who were able to navigate the address. Do consumers expect an enhanced level of engagement? Are they too jaded to walk into any old pop-up?
The new Sprayground pop-up cost $250,000, including rent and everything from the materials used to build it, to entertainment. “I started doing them bigger and crazier than ever,” said Sprayground founder and creative director David BenDavid, noting the massive sculptures on 42nd Street. “I will go above and beyond to bring an idea to life.
“Just seeing kids in the street wearing the product is marketing,” BenDavid said. “I don’t want to lose that essence of that organic growth. I had an artist friend help me because I wanted to keep costs [relatively] down. I vinyl-wrapped the floor, which is crazy, because it’s 6,000 square feet, but it was a very bland floor. It has to look cool, it has to look sleek, it has to look sexy.”
While BenDavid was generous with the money, he had to pick and choose where to spend it for maximum impact. He said, “$250,000 is less than traditional print or billboard advertising. Netflix
“We’ve been very good at doing pop-ups since 2015 and I got a lot of kinks out,” he added. “What’s cool is that I try to make them impressive because we have a lot of partners. I probably didn’t need to do the sculptures because the bags are so vibrant they command attention, but that’s also the beauty of it.”
BenDavid looks for spaces with high ceilings, so that the backpacks and bags can hang dramatically from ceiling. “That’s one of the most important criteria for a space because I have so many different bags and I like to display them higher so when customers come in they just look up and see all these bags.”
The thrill of the hunt isn’t gone from the new pop-up shops, it’s simply moved, inside, BenDavid said. “There still is something about that, but I shifted gears to where the hunt is in the store because everything I make is limited edition and never produced again. Earlier, there was a very long line because there were new limited editions. There’s literally 300 different bags on the wall and each one is different than the next.”
The old pop-up theory of “‘Oh, come find us,’ is okay, but there’s nothing wrong with being with the people. Some people say ‘Oh it’s not cool being where the people are,’” BenDavid said. “I don’t understand that. People go schlep out of their way to go here and go there.”
The drops also became problematic. “Those kids waiting in line in an alleyway for that product drop, 99% of them are not keeping it for themselves, they’re just reselling it,” BenDavid said. “The beauty of this is that the product is limited edition and it’s hard to find, so when they get it they’re like, ‘I got it, now and I’m going to wear it.’”
Call it the pop-up shop grown up.
A previous Sprayground pop-up was set up like an art gallery. The 5,000-square-foot space “looked like I had robbed the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” BenDavid said. “Like legit, I bought all these replicas of art works, and it was massive. That part of the pop-up represented the old art and then you walked through this corridor and it’s the new art. The new art was this fresh, sleek, modern contemporary display. Each bag was in a frame.”
Louis Vuitton in 2017 famously launched a pop-up shop that reimagined the iconic works of old masters such as Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh. There were copies of old master paintings for its collaboration with Jeff Koons, who affixed large gold and silver metallic letters on the handbags with the name of each artist represented on the bag.
“This time, because I was able to get a location on 42nd Street in the theater district, the story there is that it’s in Times Square so I did a time-travel theme. In the T-rex rib cage are popular teddy bear backpacks I made,” he said.
Before the pandemic, like the one I did with the latest pop-up, were these massive sculptures that I did on the corner of 47th and Seventh. It was an old Champs store. And the one after that, I put in a real boxing rink and had real sanctioned boxing fights on one of the nights, because I did a collaboration with the Estate of Mohammed Ali. I wanted to show experiences and really tell a story and also show our partners that we will go above and beyond to promote this and bring the story to life.”
What are the economics of the new pop-up shop? Are they being used as a strategy, to test a neighborhood before signing a lease? Not in Sprayground’s case. The show is there for consumers to enjoy while it lasts.
“I think we spend very strategically with a very small, tight team,” BenDavid said. “We’re doing everything strategically. I don’t want to blow the whole marketing budget. Just seeing kids in the street is marketing. I keep things tight and put all my resources and energy into it. I could have outsourced it, but I do everything strategically because I want to do pop-ups throughout the year. I don’t want to blow the brand’s marketing budget. It’s a lot of the brand’s marketing budget.”
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