The Center for Retail Leadership at Portland State is engaging local brands with student consumers with its Pop-Up program—a way for brands to receive dynamic feedback on products and to educate students on the changing retail environment.
Inside the atrium of PSU’s Karl Miller Center on the first floor is the Pop-Up program’s 500-foot space. The polished glass room can be seen while passing through the KMC’s 6th Ave. entrance. Alongside brand employees, CRL staffs the Pop-Up space with volunteer students often sourced through A&O Connect, PSU’s athletic and outdoor industry student group.
Jaksen Krahnke, marketing senior and account manager for the Pop-Up program and president of A&O Connect, said, “[Pop-Up] is meant for local brands, businesses [and] organizations to come in and activate the space: to connect with the diverse student community.”
Since the program’s start in Fall of 2017, it has partnered with 15 different brands, each occupying the space for approximately one to two weeks at a time. Past occupants include Stumptown Coffee and, most recently, U.S. Outdoor Store—a local athletic and outdoor retailer that filled in the space from Jan. 6–17.
“It’s not about sales,” said Jennifer Nolfi, executive director for CRL and creator of Pop-Up. “It’s about the experience and the data brands can gather and the information students gain…whether they are walking through or staffing it.”
Nolfi’s vision for Pop-Up is to “create an opportunity to drive awareness about [CRL] and opportunities in retail.” According to Nolfi, focus groups in students showed that many believe “retail is dead.” However, she believes: “It’s not. It’s changing, it’s dynamic.”
“It’s not just brick and mortar,” Nolfi said. “It’s online. It’s everything from concept to market, because if you don’t have somebody developing a product or designing it, you don’t have the retail piece.”
A committee of faculty, staff and industry decides which brands and organizations activate the Pop-Up space. “Whether it’s a large or small brand, a student entrepreneur [or] a nonprofit, it all has to align with our mission: giving back [and] making a positive difference,” Nolfi said.
CRL is working with Grapevine LLC—a local agency founded by a PSU alumna—to activate the Pop-Up space with B-corporations. According to Nolfi, “[B-corporations] are mission-driven organizations. Even though they are for-profit businesses, there is a very strong focus on giving back and taking care of employees.”
Krahnke has found since working with brands for Pop-Up, that “brands are looking for students who are engaged.”
“They want students with retail experience who can talk to the consumer, ask questions [and] understand what problem they are trying to solve for the consumer,” Nolfi said.
In between the time it takes for one brand to leave Pop-Up and another to enter, the program utilizes it’s space for PSU organizations and nonprofits.
“We’re actually doing a professional clothing closet that allows students to come into the Pop-Up space and pick out clothes for their upcoming interview session,” Krahnke said. The closet is available to any student and accepts donations.
“I think it’s beneficial,” said PSU senior and accounting major Jeffery Wiegand in regard to the professional clothing closet.
Wiegand has visited the Pop-Up space a couple of times, one of which was during U.S. Outdoor Store’s occupancy. Wiegand looked around, however, he said he “couldn’t afford anything.”
As Nolfi previously stated, Pop-Up is not sales driven. “We would like students to come through, check it out [and] give their two cents,” Krahnke said. “We want to hear what they feel about it.”
During dead week of this term, Student Health and Counseling is activating the space to promote mental and physical wellness and share tips about how to stay motivated through finals week.
“It is an ongoing experiment,” Nolfi said. Krahnke and Nolfi are looking to grow awareness of the program as well as improve and streamline the feedback process for brands by incorporating technology, such as tablets in the space.
“We know we have amazing students and an amazing community,” Nolfi said. “When we can get brands in the building, interacting with our students and community, they see it too. And then they open doors and hire our students.”