The CEO of the 'Airbnb of retail' reveals his plan to revolutionize stores and why Nike should be an inspiration for brands


Ross Bailey

  • Appear Here is a startup that lets businesses rent pop-up space, which has led to it being called the “Airbnb of retail.”
  • The London-based startup has raised over $20 million in funding since launching in 2013 and has since expanded to Paris and the United States. 
  • CEO Ross Bailey chatted to Business Insider about what it takes to stay relevant as a brand today and how companies should be looking at their stores. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

It doesn’t take much to get Ross Bailey talking about Nike during our visit to his trendy office in Clerkenwell, London. 

The “Just Do It” cap he’s wearing and the copy of “Shoe Dog,” Nike founder Phil Knight’s memoir, on his coffee table are an immediate giveaway that he might be a fan. And he is. 

Bailey tells us about a time, not too long ago, when a group of Nike managing directors gathered at his office. 

“I remember them being really pissed off,” he said. “They were saying, ‘We’re not doing a good enough job. We’re not being daring enough,’ and I just thought, ‘Wow, this is amazing.'” 

He was impressed by their ability to question — and even criticize — themselves despite being a leading global brand. Bailey hints that this is crucial to any brand’s ability to stay relevant and exciting to today’s consumers. 

And he wants to help brands do just this via his company Appear Here, which has been dubbed the “Airbnb of retail.” Appear Here lets businesses rent temporary pop-up spaces in London, Paris, and, most recently, New York. 

Since he launched the company five years ago, more than 200,000 brands have found short-term spaces through the platform. The leases range from three to six months, he said. 

The company has raised $21.4 million in funding and counts designer Diane von Furstenberg, Simon Property Group CEO David Simon, and Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet among its investors.

Bailey’s mission is to make these cities — and hopefully other areas of the US — more exciting places to shop.  

“We are not trying to do property, this is about entertainment and experience,” he said. 

Focusing on the experience of retail

Appear Here

Clearly, Appear Here is well-timed to capitalize on the problems currently facing the retail sector.

“[US department stores] were about taking the city to the suburbs. Right now you go into a department store and quite frankly, they’re crap,” he said. “The biggest fundamental problem about retail is it is being run by accountants. It should be run by showmen.”

Bailey is certainly not the first person to flag the importance of bringing an experiential element to stores, and he won’t be the last. Still, he strongly believes that providing a unique experience is a brand’s best advantage in the age of e-commerce. 

Read more: The flagship store of the future will be nothing like the industry has seen before

Established brands are unlikely to win by going after a price point that Amazon can win at, he said, and they should focus on offering something in their stores that Amazon can’t.

By taking on a flexible lease and looking at the store in a more temporary way — a model Bailey dubs “pay-as-you-go retail” — the brand isn’t tied down to anything and can keep things fresh. 

“That’s what’s great about a flexible lease — you show up, keep the crowd engaged, and you’re gone before the crowd gets bored,” he said.

Stores should be seen as marketing fronts for brands rather than just places to make sales, he said. The idea is that the customer comes to the store to learn and experience the brand, then shops online and spreads the word on social media. 

A selection of younger brands, including Away, Lively, and Glossier, are already well-established in doing this. 

“It’s about turning retail from a fixed cost into a variable cost,” Bailey said.

“Suddenly, when you do that it becomes a new channel and that channel is directly comparable to online advertising.”

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