Wal-Mart Stores has put a roof over more retail space than any retailer in history-it has 3,200-plus stores in the U.S. alone and opens nearly one new or refurbished 200,000-square-foot supercenter daily in the U.S. But last week, it pitched a 6,000-square-foot tent on Miami's South Beach as it looked to reach beyond-or at least deeper into the pockets of-the 130 million or so Americans who shop Wal-Mart's stores regularly.
The South Beach temporary store opened last week for a three-day run aimed to advertise Wal-Mart's Metro 7 collection of apparel, accessories and footwear, a high-style line aimed to appeal to the sort of fashion-forward consumers who have tended to turn their noses up at Wal-Mart wear in years past.
Wal-Mart already has used Metro 7 to try to change its image-advertising the new line in Vogue when it launched in October. In Miami, Wal-Mart was looking to establish a beachhead with Hispanic youth, booking former Miss Universe Dayanara Torres and the music groups Voz a Voz, RBD and the Jeremias to appear at its pop-up beachfront "fashion cabana."
Pop-up shops have mainly been the province of emerging brands looking to get hip fast, such as Method Home cleaning products, or established brands looking to burnish their image, such as Unilever's Suave, long a big seller at Wal-Mart.
So while it may seem unnecessary for the world's biggest retailer to pitch a tent, it could actually make all the sense in the world, said Ralph Blessing, a principal with the Arbor Strategy Group marketing consultancy and formerly brand-development director of Suave. "It's clearly part of an overall strategy to raise image, margin and sales," Mr. Blessing said. "They don't want to have the same image Kmart ended up with. ... Pop-up and other cool marketing will all be key to creating the right buzz."
In Suave's case, pop-up salon stores were part of an effort to convince "beauty-concerned" women that the brand was right for them, and not just their families.
But Mr. Blessing noted that while Metro 7 can help Wal-Mart burnish its fashion credentials, the success of Martha Stewart alone didn't do the trick for Kmart.
"Successful value brands have distinct, modern 'brand characters' that go well beyond price/value," he said, pointing to Southwest Airlines and Jet Blue. For Wal-Mart ultimately to drive new consumers into its stores, it will need marketing tactics like the South Beach effort as part of a broader plan, he said.
"Sears obviously tried and failed repeatedly because the message, product and experience didn't all fit together vs. competition in a compelling way," Mr. Blessing said. "Wal-Mart will have similar challenges given there already is a lot of competition in [value-priced] cool clothing."
Method Home, a tony staple at design-centric Target, among other retailers, has found pop-up stores to be among the most successful tools in a nontraditional arsenal that includes catalogs stitched into magazines and viral Web efforts, said Eric Ryan, co-founder and chairman of the company.
Merchandising the whole line together in a place where consumers are open to spending time to learn about the brand is a key to the success. Method plans to expand its pop-up-shop concept into mall kiosks later this year, leveraging a relationship with an executive from Simon Properties, the top U.S. mall operator, who sits on the privately held marketer's board.