[Startup News] How ‘The Airbnb of Retail’ Looks To Revive the High Street

Anthony Mosavi
December 24, 2020

With rising rents and ecommerce here to stay, the way retail businesses operate has shifted, leaving the high street in disrepair. Popups are looking increasingly common thanks to the cost-effectiveness of using a short-term space to leverage brand awareness building. Short-term storefronts give brands that secure most of their sales online the benefit of a physical presence, without the logistical nightmare and extortionate expenses that come with a long-term rental. 

However, short-term retail rentals can be difficult and frustrating to secure. Appear Here, a London-based startup, looks to solve this problem. Operating across the globe, the platform allows users to easily rent various spaces on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis. Tech giants like Apple and Microsoft have already utilized the service - testament to the convenience and flexibility it offers over traditional short-term renting.

The retail apocalypse 

High street real estate is shifting radically across the board as a result of the long-foretold retail apocalypse. Malls run themselves into foreclosure, while the fast fashion giants that once fronted them continue to migrate online, where profits aren’t offset by the debilitating costs of brick-and-mortar maintenance. Around the world, lockdowns have fanned the flames of an already mounting conflagration. In the UK, many of the high street’s most familiar faces have succumbed to foreclosure since March, putting thousands of jobs on the line. 

High street retail is completely unsustainable. As much as consumers and landlords might not want to admit it, the future of the high street is crystal clear: offices will survive, retail won’t. 

Still, the importance of a physical space is not to be overlooked. A flagship store, particularly in a major city like London, continues to be a focal-point of brand representation in the mind of consumers. A physical space carved out for shoppers and tourists establishes presence in a tangible way - useful for new brands attempting to cut through the noise of an increasingly saturated ecommerce market. Hence, popups are likely a positive step new brands can take in successfully navigating the high street crisis.

The prodigious downfall of department stores, malls, and chain stores has a clear common denominator: long-term leases. Incredibly, doomed UK department chain Debenhams had leases stretching as far ahead as 2083. Hopefully the otherworldly optimism that inspired such contracts to be signed in the first place has waned, if not died off entirely, somewhere between the advent of Uber and the arrival of COVID-19.

Evolving the high street

Touted as the ‘AirBnB of retail’, Appear Here disrupts traditional long-term rentals by connecting brands with landlords for short-term bookings, therefore completely avoiding the financial trappings of unfeasible hundred-year leases. So far, over 200,000 brands have used the service, which was founded in 2014. The booking process is managed online securely, with the team’s close support service meaning clients needn’t plan quite so in advance. 

Founder Ross Bailey envisions an alternative approach for the market which recognizes the importance of easy access short-term rentals in reinvigorating the interest of consumers and, ultimately, drawing them back to real-world retail spaces. As Bailey rather aptly puts it, “the high street is like a TV network ... when you turn on the TV, you want the channel you’re watching to stay relevant, to have new, different things. You don’t want to sit there and stare at a blank screen.”

Success stories

One of the brands to successfully utilize the platform is 11 Honoré, an e-commerce site stocking luxury fashion brands like Zac Posen and Jason Wu in plus-sizes. During their first stint at New York Fashion Week in 2019, they hit the headlines after closing the catwalk with trans actress and activist Laverne Cox. 

Image courtesy of Appear Here

To coincide with the monumental fashion moment, they opened a pop-up store on Hudson Street to connect with consumers. Appear Here ensured 11 Honoré could secure the perfect space for their event. The success of the event suggests the continued importance of having a strategically-placed physical presence in the real-world when it comes to creating and sustaining momentum. All that’s changed is that in a consumer culture with an attention span as short as ours, this really doesn’t require a hundred-year lease to achieve! 

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