How retail giants seized on pop-ups to woo millennials
Three years after cementing his rock star status by being honoured as the world’s top mayor, Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi is at risk of losing his job in next week’s municipal election, potentially presaging the beginning of the end of Alberta’s fling with progressive politicians.
Calgarians are in a foul mood. Their city is struggling with high unemployment, heaps of vacant downtown office space due to oilpatch layoffs that has pushed the municipal tax burden to remaining businesses, and a string of devastating energy project cancellations that are limiting future opportunities — including the Energy East pipeline last week.
They’ve had it with anti-business governments, and Nenshi just happens to be the first politician up for re-election. He’s seen as running a fat and inefficient city hall that, like its senior government counterparts, raises taxes and spends without restraint. The big ideas and high ideals Nenshi — the first Muslim mayor of a large North American city — stood for in booming times aren’t so vital when everyone is tightening their belt.
According to a Mainstream Research /Postmedia poll, released Friday, the gap between newcomer Bill Smith and Nenshi for the Oct. 16 vote is widening, with the mayor now trailing by 17 points. Smith had the support of 48 per cent of 1,500 Calgarians polled Oct. 3 and 4, while Nenshi had 31 per cent.
Though skeptical Nenshi is on his way out, Duane Bratt, chair of the department of economics, justice and policy studies at Mount Royal University, said the mayor is in a tough fight. He believes Calgary’s race is a preview of the 2019 provincial election.
That’s when Rachel Notley’s NDP government will be fighting Alberta’s re-invigorated conservatives, which re-united under the United Conservative Party.
“Calgary will be the battle ground in that race,” Bratt said. “With the Conservatives out of power both federally and provincially, there are a lot of volunteers, donors, party members who are working on Bill Smith’s campaign. If they are able to unseat an incumbent and previously very popular mayor it would be a real sign of where the 2019 election is headed.”
Smith is a smooth-talking lawyer and former Progressive Conservative party president who’s short on details but channelling the business community’s frustrations with Nenshi, who has ruffled more than a few feathers among the elite, including the owners of the Calgary Flames.
“We have all had employees who show a lot of promise, they impress you, they have great credentials, their references all checked out,” Smith said this week at a mayoralty debate organized by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce. “But as time goes along you realize that they are maybe not the right person for the job. They don’t listen to advice, they don’t keep their promises, they don’t learn from their mistakes, they don’t work well with others and they always think they are the smartest person in the room. At some point, you realize they are the problem. They are holding you back. So what do you do? You fire them.”
The biggest beef against Nenshi is the escalation of municipal taxes. Property taxes have increased by 51 per cent in the past seven years. Business taxes did even worse. That’s because the 30 per cent vacancy in office space in the core — the highest of any major global city — has meant other businesses have had to pick up the slack. According to the Calgary Chamber, some 6,000 businesses outside the downtown have seen their tax bills increase as much as 200 per cent. A record number of businesses — 7,124 — closed their doors in 2016. Meanwhile, the chamber complains an escalation of red tape is making it hard to attract new business to fill those empty office towers.
During last week’s debate, Nenshi said now’s not the time to cut back but to stimulate the economy with public spending. He talked up a $45 million fund created to help businesses outside the downtown core facing big tax increases and ongoing efforts to cut red tape. He warned against a return to a “colder, meaner, smaller, elite run city” and complained there is too much “down talk of Calgary,” a city recognized as one of the top in the world to live.
Too bad so many energy companies chose to trade it for lesser places with better opportunities and lower taxes.
VANCOUVER — To drum up excitement around the launch of a credit card targeting the oftpursued millennial demographic, American Express Canada tapped several star chefs last month to serve Instagram-worthy plates at a restaurant in Toronto that would launch and shutter within a week.
Before Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo opened its first Vancouver location this month, it ran a shop with a twist for one day. The location was stocked with flannel shirts, but employees asked Canadians to choose between leaving with a free one or gifting it to a newcomer.
Later this month, Google will open a temporary doughnut store in Toronto, promoting its new smart speaker, the Google Home Mini, simultaneously.
While the pop-up shop may have started as a way for online retailers to stage a lower-risk experiment with a physical presence, the temporary storefront has morphed into a marketing tool for established brands, often ones that already boast multiple locations.
“It’s definitely a trend,” said Tamara Szames, a Canadian retail analyst for apparel and footwear with the NPD Group.
Even Ikea Canada, which operates a dozen stores in the country, has created multiple shortlived shops. In June, the Swedish retailer opened the Ikea Play Cafe in Toronto where shoppers could sample meatballs, play a giant pinball machine and, of course, shop a small selection of the company’s kitchen products.
Pop-up shops backed by big corporations now spring up like whack-a-moles, and Szames thinks it’s “a very smart trend.”
Companies can change the conversation with consumers and align brand messaging, she said, pointing to struggling department store chain Sears.
In April, Sears hosted a pop-up in a downtown Toronto neighbourhood Vogue identified as the world’s second hippest in 2014. The trendy spot intended to woo millennial consumers with Sears’s new private label brand as the company attempted to re-invent itself amid sluggish sales.
That experience could change the way a consumer views the company and prompt them to either travel to one of their permanent stores to shop or to their online store, said Szames.
A temporary location also lets established Canadian companies test new markets in a vast country or international retailers experiment with the Canadian consumer, she said.
Japanese-based Muji, for example, offered a pop-up shop in Vancouver earlier this year and later opened a location at Metropolis at Metrotown in nearby Burnaby.
The method provides additional benefits for big brands whose products are sold in other companies’ stores.
Nestle Canada, for example, hosted a smattering of pop-up shops this past year. In Montreal, people could customize Delissio Rustico margherita pizzas. In Toronto, passersby could sample Haagen-Dazs ice-cream flights a la wine tastings and ice-cream cocktails during happy hour. Later in the summer, pedestrians could stop at a makeshift campground and roast s’mores using Aero chocolate.
The practice allows the company to develop an experience for consumers they don’t get to interact with in stores, and re-invent a brand for new, younger demographics, said Tracey Cooke, vicepresident of communication and marketing excellence at Nestle.
The company sees a direct positive relation with sales in the vicinity of the pop-up, she said.