Learn how the founder of The Lionesque group is shaking up the world of e-commerce.
By Dorothy Cascerceri (Celebrity Lifestyle writer and Correspondent, Freelance)
The word "architect" generally conjures up images of blueprints, hardhats and big buildings, but Melissa Gonzalez, a "pop-up architect," brings whole new meaning to the term as she transforms the world of e-commerce.
Through her company The Lionesque Group, Gonzalez helps both established and emerging brands in the fashion and lifestyle categories transform their online e-commerce sites into short-term "pop-up stores" in cities across the country, including New York and Los Angeles. This experience gives brands a brick-and-mortar presence for a limited engagement without the hassle and commitment of signing a long-term lease, allowing brands to host events, activate with other brands, display their products and interact with their customers face-to-face.
"Brands think of us as their pop-up team for the duration of the project," says Gonzalez. "And we work with their company as an extension of them, work closely with their P.R. team, their marketing company, with the founder. We focus on their vision and help them execute it every step of the way."
In fall of 2013, luxury menswear company J. Hilburn enlisted Gonzalez and The Lionesque Group to help unveil their first ever retail location in New York City. From bringing in interior designers, to partnering with strategic sponsors like Fred Water and Daniel Wellington watches, to fleshing out a calendar of events to keep the pop-up buzz going for two weeks long, Gonzalez guided them from beginning to end.
So how does one become a "pop-up architect?" For Melissa, her journey began in 2009 with one location - the Roger Smith Hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Shortly after she left her job on Wall Street, John Knowles, whose family owns the hotel, now a close friend of hers, approached her about an idea for an empty storefront attached to the hotel.
"He wanted to experiment with the space, so I reached out to emerging brands and they were excited about it," she says, "so we designed it as a revolving storefront, providing brands the chance to have a storefront in New York City without a long-term lease."
The opportunity was perfect for Gonzalez, who was searching for a creative purpose after years in the finance industry.
"I love that the projects are always fresh, creative and different," she said. "Because they are short-term in nature, I'm creating something new, and I love the story-telling aspect and the fact that we're giving people the opportunity to really interact with the brand. It's not just a retail setting we're creating - it's something bigger than that. It's an experience."
Eventually, word spread, and brands began requesting the same service she provided at the Roger Smith Hotel but in various neighborhoods around New York - Soho, Tribeca. Shortly after, brands requested her services in other parts of the country."There was a real need for my area of expertise," she says, "so we responded to it."
An opportunity to join the advisory board of TheStorefront.com, a market place for short-term retail space, came along at the perfect time, she says, and catapulted her in the direction she's moving in now."Everything fell into place at once," she said. "As an entrepreneur sometimes you have this vision and you fight for it so hard, and the universe was organically sending me some other opportunity. I remember reading my horoscope in Harper's Bazaar and it said to accept what's naturally coming to you. I said this is fate. I have to at least explore it."
And explore she did. Today, she has over 65 pop-up experiences on her resume with that list growing every day.
Most of her business comes from word-of-mouth, which is a true testament to her clients' satisfaction level from working from her. Another marketing strategy in finding new business is an incentive program she established, which entices people within her network to refer business to her and in exchange receive monetary compensation.
"My advice for entrepreneurs is to create a reward affiliate program to help get the word out about your business and drive sales," she said. "Every entrepreneur should incentivize people to keep their services or products in mind and recommend them to others."
Her work has been featured in The New York Times, Time Out New York and on a long list of TV outlets as well.
"I love what I do," Gonzalez says. "It's hard to feel bored when I'm constantly creating something different and telling a new story."