Did you know that since 2013 West Elm has had a program called LOCAL where they partner with local artisans and makers to feature their products in their stores?
At first, looking at their website, it would seem that this is for selling your goods wholesale to West Elm, and you'd be correct.
But what isn't advertised is the fact that each West Elm shop also supports its local community through in-store events. And you don't have to be a corporate level LOCAL to get in on this action.
Pop-up shops within West Elm stores are a bit more flexible than becoming a wholesaler. The businesses tend to be smaller and the diversity of what can be sold is greater. (From my experience it's very hard to sell art wholesale to West Elm because they already get so much of their art prints from the Minted x West Elm partnership.)
West Elm, in particular, doesn't charge rent, nor do they take a cut of the proceeds of their pop-up retailers, which is great.
Since there doesn't seem to be a lot of info on the West Elm site about one-off pop-up shop opportunities and how to reach out to the correct people, here's my best advice, and how I got started:
I WENT IN TO MY LOCAL STORE AND ASKED.
That's it. No, not totally.
I made sure I looked presentable, I had some business cards and pictures of my work. I practiced what I was going to say over and over again so that it sounded polished but not overly rehearsed.
Then I went in and asked to speak with the store manager. I explained that I was a local painter living in the neighborhood and that I had seen the shop support makers by hosting in-store pop-up shops from time to time. I asked how one might go about being considered for an in-store pop-up.
I was lucky the day I went in. The manager was very friendly, took my business card, gave me his and asked me to send him an email with my website, images and more information.
Which of course, I promptly went home and did, thanking him for his time in the store.
Excitingly, his email back go me included a list of dates they were available to have me!
It was lovely and elegant.
Since then, I've had four pop-up shops within that West Elm: three were "solo" pop-ups where I was the only vendor (I usually follow up every few months with the manager to schedule the next one), and one was a group pop-up for the store's Harvest Fest, to which I was invited to participate.
In this same time period, there have probably been about three store managers, so staying consistently in touch is a must so that you are always up to date about the correct points of contact.
I have heard that (but never approached) Pottery Barn Kids and Nordstrom will also host pop-ups (although it looks like Nordstrom's "Pop-Ins" are mostly for larger brands).
So here are my top takeaways for hosting an in-store pop-up at a retailer:
1. Keep your ear to the ground about potential opportunities (or create new opportunities for yourself with local stores that serve a similar demographic to yours).
2. Get up the nerve to ask in person. The worst they can say is no or we don't do that. If the correct contact person isn't there, get their information in addition to leaving your own so that you can follow up.
3. Be respectful, polite, and thankful. Instead of asking how you can get a pop-up shop, ask what the process is to become a partner. Show that you respect their time and processes and aren't looking for a quick yes, but that you're willing to do whatever work necessary. If you are accepted, give them all the love on social media, send them a thank you, and perhaps bring the manager a treat or small token of appreciation on the day.
4. Follow up and be persistent. I approached a local coffee shop in early 2016 about hanging my art there. The owner said it wasn't a good time, but I followed up six months later with new work (still not a good time), and then again six months after that. And then it happened to be great time! So you never know, but staying on someone's radar is necessary.
5. When you're there, be friendly and outgoing. I know it's hard to stay bubbly all day long talking to strangers, especially if you typically work alone. But you need to be a good guest in their shop and engage with their customers, or else why would the store waste valuable real estate on you again in the future?
Sadly, there's not a singular process to master, but hopefully these steps will open an opportunity or two for you!
As always, let me know if you have any questions!
PS West Elm has an awesome blog series for makers with lots of helpful entrepreneurial advice.