Sara Yoon, W’12
CEO and Founder of Pop Up Nation
Sara Yoon, W’12, (Korea) helps emerging retailers expand in New York, by introducing them to the market through pop-up shops.
What do you do?
At Pop Up Nation, we find short-term retail opportunities for emerging brands and merchants in underutilized spaces, such as vacant stores and luxury hotels. We curated and held over a dozen pop-up events this past year in Soho and midtown New York City. The pop-ups averaged 1,000 consumers per day, with over 70 retail partners generating hundreds of thousands of dollars. They range from a three-day weekend to six weeks.
Why do retailer and brands do pop-up shops? And what kind of customers buy?
For smaller retailers, they get to experiment with their brands, interact with buying customers, and of course, make money! Also, retailers appreciate how we mitigate their rent expense, which makes it affordable for them to participate.
Larger brands want to stay relevant and be part of something that is fun, exciting and buzz-worthy. Brands such as Fujifilm paid a sponsorship fee to donate a photo booth for events. Lindt Chocolate and Sixpoint Brewery donated products, and others do product placement.
People like to shop at pop-ups because their short duration creates a sense of urgency and exclusivity. The products are often unique, and they get a chance to meet the founder of the company and understand sourcing of materials.
What has been your path from Wharton?
I have fond memories of Wharton. The fundamental classes gave me the ability to understand and manage financial statements. The intensity of the on-campus recruiting process gave me confidence to sell my company. And the Wharton network helped me to create my business.
After Wharton, I joined IBM as a strategy and analytics consultant working with Fortune 500 companies. I wanted to travel less, so I moved to internal management consulting at Bridgewater Associates for a year, leaving to support a former client Jonis Realty.
After a year, I began to think about how to reconnect to my roots. I saw mom and pop shops being priced out of their stores, increasing retail vacancies and customer demand for pop-ups, and sensed a business opportunity.
What’s in the future?
In order to scale, we are building an app that makes it easy for emerging brands to find pop-up opportunities. Bringing in the retailers and sponsors through the app will be our focus, while we partner with pop-up producers who handle the logistics.
What is your immigrant perspective?
My parents moved to New York from South Korea shortly before I was born. Although my father had received a master’s degree in electrical engineering, he decided to set up his own business here. He began by selling electronic items on a folding table on a street in downtown Newark. One of those guys who sold things like beepers, five-pound mobile phones and CD players. They were robbed twice. He kept saving and saving until he could have his own store selling high-end appliances and it has survived despite Amazon. I saw my parents work seven days a week.
I was brought up to be resilient and tenacious, that I should never wait for a door to open, but create the opportunity myself. They believed that, in America, if you keep learning and work hard, you can do well, which has motivated me to succeed.