By Cindy Atoji Keene
When high-end importer Mohr & McPherson shuttered its Cambridge warehouse this summer, showroom manager Mika Nakafuji found herself out of a job. But seeing the now vacant retail space, she also envisioned an opportunity: negotiating to pick up the remaining nine months on the lease, she opened a pop-up store, Pouf! With Pouf! Nakafuji is hoping to test the Boston market for a handmade ethnic home accessories store while fulfilling a lifelong dream of being her own boss. In her native Japan, “life as a woman is very difficult and you are expected to play a supporting role and never express yourself,” said Nakafuji, who came to the U.S. in 1997.
With lots of available unused commercial space, low start-up costs, and built-in marketing, seasonal pop-up stores have become a standard fixture. In Boston, corporate players like Pottery Barn, Toys R Us, Sikara jewelry, and Method have all opened flash-in-the-pan outlets, but Nakafuji’s mom-and-pop incarnation emphasizes artisan imports discovered on her Asian oversea scouting trips. Pouf!, which opened this fall, is an incubator for Nakafuji’s creative ideas as a specialty clothing designer and visual merchandiser.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for Pouf!?
A: The initial idea of this store was born from a casual conversation.
I commented how versatile and practical a pouf is. It is easy to change the feel of a room by throwing a pouf in the space, and they are inexpensive functional furniture. Other than poufs as a piece of a furniture, the word Pouf also implies "suddenly disappearing.” It was just perfect for a pop up store. I plan to be here till June 2012.
Q: How did you get started as a pop-up store?
A: The most important criteria was finding an empty retail storefront with high traffic where the landlord somehow preferred flexible short-term lease. I studied pop up stores throughout U.S. to get inspiration and visited nearby accessories store to become familiar with what competitors do. I borrowed a computer, bought a sign and designed business cards with the cooperative effort of a graphic designer friend. Most of what I needed for fixtures were already there because it had already been a retail store. I opened after about 6 months of planning. I had only a rough business plan in my head; nothing formal.
Q: You carry a lot of imported furnishing and accessories. How did you acquire your inventory?
A: I traveled to India and China, including Mumbai, New Delhi and Beijing and met all sorts of vendors, including antique and vintage furniture wholesalers, rug dealers, and a vendor who specializes in architectural elements. Goods were shipped by air and in one 40-foot sea container from India.
Q: You’re originally from Japan. How did these roots influence you? A: Japanese are trend makers. I have an ingrained appreciation for skilled craftsmanship; an eye for beautiful objects and an understanding of color relationships. In my shop, I am trying to create a lush look that recreates the feel of a bazaar in the East.
Q: What is your favorite item in the store?
A: Anything with kantha stitched textiles, which is a type of folk art and embroidered quilt. I have scarves, bedspreads, throws, chairs, and bags made out of kantha stitched textiles. Patchworks of silk sari are already beautiful, but when a few layers of them are stitched together with colorful threads, it adds a new dimension to the textile surface.
Q: What can U.S. retailers learn from Japan?
A: The Japanese sale staff's manner is beyond excellent. They treat customers literally like a king or queen. A lot of retailers in this country have not made much of an effort to train staff to have good manners.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
Cindy Atoji Keene is a freelance journalist with more than 25 years experience. E-mail her directly here.
Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
Tracy Cashman is a partner and the general manager of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.
Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.