Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Pop Up concepts: Pump up the design volume

Literally one day to the next, the brown paper that was covering the windows (and which promised to something to the effect of "soon, something exciting will be happening" or whatever new shops seem to say) went down, the result made me do such a double take I almost fell: There they were, prominently displayed, the covetable Thom Browne sunglasses. Further look behind them revealed the unmistakable Marcelo Burlon iPhone cases.
The shop with no outside banner or name is called Pop Up Concepts and is situated on Salim Boustros street right opposite So restaurant (in other words, the first street parallel to the Fouad Malek/Sagesse avenue on your way to the ring up from the intersection of the Netherlands and Quantum towers), and proved to be a cave of wonders for the discerning buyers, stocking eclectic brands most of which could not be found elsewhere. Apart from the afore-mentioned brands, one could spot Lust Ltd., Oskar Gydell, Rouille, Corso, Nialaya, North Skull and so much more.
Although there is the usual phone, and even website, the main modes of communication are whatsapp and instagram!
Photos courtesy of Bassam Houssami

My first attempt at contacting Bassam Houssami via whatsapp found him in the Paris Fashion Week stocking up on goodies (for another store as well, the well-renowned Piaff) which, if it indicates anything, it is the personal nature of communication that drives the store. Eventually our schedules did interlap though, and my first curiosity was - in a city where everything and anything is called a "concept store", well - what is the definition of one according to him? "A Concept Store, in my opinion, is a retail space that exceeds the expectation of the specific client it is trying to target by offering a wide variation of available products". I was thankful for such a definition because I have seen concept stores built on monobrands in Beirut, and it was a delight that someone was talking psychodemographics finally, so he continues "It is targeting a lifestyle by offering merchandise such as clothing, shoes, jewelry and even electronics or beauty products. It is usually the place consumers go to find stuff that are not available in your standard retail store".
But with the plethora of the shops calling themselves "concept stores", does Beirut really need a new one? Not to be named but just in the vaccinity of Pop Up Concepts, there are already three such stores available. Houssami is adamant "Well, I don't know about new, but i have been online since a year .. The new store in Salim Boustros Street, Achrafieh is only 1 month old and has a different cachet from the surrounding stores in terms of products".
Oh, and indeed about the products, how and how come brands make the cut to be part of the roaster on offer? "The main Criteria for stocking is to have something that is not yet known to the Lebanese Market wether it was a well established brand or a new up coming talent" and as they say, the proof is in the pudding, the brands displayed include a mix or established brands but not known and totally out from left field ones which are too alternative to be mainstream.
But who is that customer who is able to find him or herself in such a setting I wonder? Houssami has a very clear vision of the character of such a person "My clients are loyal, trendy and want that extra twist to set them apart from the others... They have a good eye to aesthetics.. They know what they want and they want it now!"
That "want it now" is an under estimation, just drop by the instagram account and see the frenzy of indicating that such and such product is available now or is on pre-order, the salivating replies, the tagging from one customer to the next, the amazed comments all indicate that willingness to be the first, the early adopter, and certainly the ahead of the curve in terms of having the products.
Houssami is clear on the strategy which shunned mainstream media and focused on Instagram and whatsapp, "Our Society today is all based on technology and social media interaction. Billboards are too main stream in my opinion and do not deliver an effective response that can be measured. Instagram on other hands gives you an exact response, to an exact product to the crowd that is interested.. What's App is the easiest and most casual way to communicate and share photos."
By way of wrapping, Houssami says there is more of this where it came from, new concepts, industrial shops in different areas of Beirut by way of expansion but - this being Lebanon - revealing too much ends with someone else releasing the idea in a half-baked way so his restraint is understood.
As new concepts and shops are anticipated, right now let us relish on the one that exists already!

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