A ninja-star throwing range pop-up location called “Hella Ninja,” a concept by marketing guru Sam Hansen, was part of the Fulton Street reopening festivities in Downtown Fresno in October. Contributed by Sam Hansen
Written by Edward Smith
Susan Kincaid has a full-time job outside of her volunteer work, but she still gets energized every evening when she comes into Tagua Fair Trade — the fair trade pop-up store in Fig Garden Village in Fresno.
What began as 10,000 Villages — a bricks-and-mortar store in Reedley — became a seasonal pop-up featuring fair trade items from across the world. Even though 10,000 Villages closed in 2011, many of the people who worked and shopped there loved what a fair trade store does for all involved.
They formed the non-profit Fair Trade Fresno in 2013 and by 2017, they were ready to find a home, and the 3-month lease they signed with Fig Garden allowed them a second chance and a trial run.
What Fair Trade Fresno decided to try was a pop-up venue — stores with a short-term lease that have proven popular in larger markets such as San Francisco and Los Angeles. Despite some landlords’ reticence to cater to tenants who don’t intend to stick around long, there are some who see the benefit in the branding, marketing and testing that a pop-up can bring.
For Fair Trade Fresno, the goal was allowing shoppers to see the face behind the product.
“Even though we’re doing retail, we have a different business model where we have the well-being of the makers — the artisans — in mind,” said Kincaid, chair of the board for Fair Trade Fresno. “Every product here has a name, a face and a story behind it.”
The name Tagua comes from a nut-bearing plant in South America that artisans use to craft collectibles and fashionable trinkets. The non-profit offers handcrafted items from around the world from people who might otherwise not have a trade or regular source of income.
The difficulty for the group comes in the viability of a specialty store like Tagua Fair Trade. When 10,000 Villages closed in Reedley, many of the people who had worked or shopped there came together to form Fair Trade Fresno, leaving with lessons about how difficult it could be for a store with unique gifts to survive in the Central Valley.
“[10,000 Villages] closed and the people that had been using it and shopping there wanted to see something continue, but felt like Reedley wasn’t the best place. Fresno was a better place,” Kincaid said.
“The pop-up really helps us test the water because our goal and vision is to open a brick-and-mortar store,” Kincaid said. The group was able to secure a location for the holidays, and within five weeks, they had reached their 3-month sales goal.
That kind of success, however, may have other driving factors behind it.
The idea of a limited release is significant, according to Sam Hansen, director of marketing for the Fresno Grizzlies, who himself has done a number of pop-ups, including the Grizzlies’ team store that opened for the holidays in River Park last year.
“When you limit something, it makes people put a little more pep in their step,” Hansen said, who relies on his interest in anthropology to market ideas.
The success of the pop-up, he says, very much depends on how you use it and some landlords are already recognizing the benefit of retail space for pop-ups. In River Park, there are four dedicated spaces with short-term leases of one to three months available, according to Tracy Kashian at Lance Kashian & Co.
Since they began offering the smaller locations, they’ve had about 10 tenants.
But for the Grizzlies, being in River Park meant the team’s popular bear mascot, Parker, was free to make appearances at the shopping center. The team could also sell additional inventory outside of the stadium.
The pop-up wasn’t wildly successful in terms of sales, but it wasn’t necessarily sales that Hansen had in mind.
“My focus is on branding and treating branding as an art form. One of the key elements of making a brand or any kind of promotion successful is to make it something that is remarkable or worth making a remark about.”
This was the case for the opening of downtown’s Fulton Street in October. Hanson wanted an attraction people would talk about other than just the street opening.
“There wasn’t anything that was really attention-grabbing to compel someone to come downtown,” Hansen said. “If you’re going to get people to come down here, we need to have a pop-up that has a bazooka that shoots ice cream in your mouth, or an indoor ninja-star throwing range.”
It was the ninja-star throwing idea that stuck. The pop-up was dubbed “Hella Ninja.”
“Logistically, no one’s going to get rich doing pop-ups,” said Hansen. “The formula I’ve been using, it’s not a huge cash cow. It’s for marketing. It’s for creating energy and stirring up excitement about a particular promotion you want to launch.”
One promotion was a restaurant based on plans that the late rapper Tupac had sketched out named PowaMekka. Hansen coordinated with Desiree Washington at Take 3 Burgers on Fulton Mall, and for one day, the restaurant attracted hip-hop fans from all over and was featured in Rolling Stone and Time magazines
The restaurant had burgers, drinks and even cake pops inspired by Tupac’s lyrics and lifestyle in honor of the 20th anniversary of his death.
That limited kind of appeal might not always be appealing to landlords, though.
“The problem for the landlord is that it can be more trouble than it’s worth,” said Mark Henry, senior VP and principal at Colliers International.
Drawing up paperwork and leasing out space for a tenant not looking for a long-term home can be unappealing to someone trying to make their property turn a profit.
“That’s where the issue is going to be — finding a willing and able landlord to do a short-term lease arrangement,” he added.
That was the case for some of the building owners during the Fulton Street opening, according to Henry. Some of those buildings hadn’t had tenants in a number of years and having a vendor come in for one night opens up the question of liability, though a willing landlord can require that a tenant provide their own insurance.
For Kincaid and her staff of volunteers at Fair Trade Fresno, they were grateful they were able to find what they did.
“We’ve had people say we’re so glad you’re here, we don’t have to go online or go to the coast,” Kincaid said. “It’s been much more successful than we even envisioned.”