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Appear Here: Disrupting the high street, one pop-up at a time

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After his pop-up retail space firm, Appear Here, was awarded Young Company of The Year at the Growing Business Awards, Business Advice spoke to founder Ross Bailey about how he identified a gap in the market and moved in to disrupt the world of commercial property.

Bailey had the idea for the business after struggling to secure a retail space for a clothing brand designed celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012. Under the brand name Rock & Rule, he had created a range of t-shirts inspired by Her Majesty, but although it was easy to find empty units in his perfect location, he discovered it was “stupidly hard” to contact their owners and difficult to convince them that a temporary shop was a good use of space.

The world of commercial property – an industry traditionally characterised by long leases and big, established landlords – was not used to disruptive businesses, and Bailey encountered owners resistant to the risks they saw in pop-up tenants.

But when he did manage to secure a space, the Appear Here founder was inundated with enquires from other entrepreneurs who wanted to take on his Soho store after Rock & Rule was finished with it.

“We ended up letting a lot of them join us in the pop-up,” Bailey said. “Then, when we finally shut up shop, I got a phone call from the representative of a major American sportswear brand that was looking for a pop-up shop in the run up to the Olympics, and they wanted to know if I could help. That’s when I realised I might be onto something.”

He managed to convince other landlords to make retail space available to pop-ups by pointing to the financial benefits of utilising otherwise vacant space – and was soon able to win over major players including British Land, Legal & General and Capital & Regional.

The biggest challenge was to negotiate flexible rents and get owners to agree to list spaces online – but once Bailey managed this, Appear Here was able to evolve from idea to reality. The website now allows retailers looking for space to browse available units online and sign short-term leases in under two weeks.

Though it was only founded three years ago, when Bailey was 21, the company now offers over 1,000 pop-up spaces to retailers interested in renting them. Uptake from potential residents was strong from the start.

“A key moment was when we first launched the website and started advertising it online. Within a weekend, we’d taken hundreds of requests for space,” explained Bailey. “And since then, demand has grown for our spaces has grown by 20 per cent month on month.”

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In the last 12 months, almost 2,000 brands have used Appear Here to launch shops, and Bailey has moved beyond simply approaching the landlords of empty spaces. The company has collaborated with Transport for London to turn parts of Old Street station into space for pop-ups, and, most recently, worked with Topshop Topman to create pop-up pitches in the brand’s flagship Oxford Street store.

The company’s innovative model has been popular with investors too. Appear Here secured £1m of new funding in 2013 and a further £5m in 2014 – with backers including Spotify’s Marc Hazan and venture capital firm Forward Partners.

Commenting on his firm’s investment, director Nic Brisbourne, said: “What attracted us to Appear Here, and specifically the fresh talent of Ross Bailey, was his ability to spot a real gap in the market and then move swiftly to execute, becoming the current leader in the short-term retail space.”

Indeed, what is remarkable about Appear Here is the fact that three years after launching it is still almost unique in the space that it fills in the UK commercial property market, with only one major competitor.

But dominating the British high street is only the first step in Bailey’s plans for his business. “Our mission has always been to create a global network of spaces so that people can make their ideas travel. Ultimately, we want to be in every major retail city, giving people access to the best audiences around,” he said.

The Topshop Topman collaboration is the first of a series of pop-up opportunities in high profile locations being created out by Bailey and his team – and the company has indicated that this project will have a global reach.

These ambitions mean that Appear Here takes up a large chunk of its founder’s time, but Bailey knew this was what running a successful business would mean. “I don’t think I’ve had a work-free weekend since Appear Here launched, but that doesn’t bother me. I love working on something I really believe in,” he said.

Having already received enough enquires to fill the Topshop Topman pop-up space for three years, it doesn’t seem like he will be having one any time soon.

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