Show Summary

Tristan Pollock, Co-Founder of StoreFront, has helped create a very innovative online marketplace pairing together those with space available, and those looking for short term, maybe non-conventional space. Traditionally, commercial leases are long term in nature, and full of requirements that make them unappealing to many. With the online economy, and entrepreneurs that are increasingly looking for more nimble and innovative solutions to build their brands and get in front of prospective customers…StoreFront, and the idea of a ‘dating site’ for commercial real estate was born.

As you hear this interview…you’ll likely have unique ideas running through your head about unique ways this model could work. Don’t miss it!

Highlights of this show

  • Meet Tristan Pollock, Co-Founder and COO of StoreFront, an innovative online booking solution to pair together property owners with un-leased space, and nimble prospective tenants and pop-up shops that are interested in short-term lease solutions.
  • Learn how Tristan Pollock and Erik Eliason transitioned from their last entrepreneurial venture, SocialEarth, to StoreFront.
  • Join the discussion and brainstorm on innovative new ways to make the StoreFront model work for unused space that you may have available!

Resources and Links from this show:

Listen to the Audio Version of this Episode

FlipNerd Show Transcript:

Mike Hambright: Welcome to the Flipnerd.com podcast. This is your host, Mike Hambright and on this show, I will introduce you to VIPs in the real estate investing industry, as well as other interesting entrepreneurs whose stories and experiences can help you take your business to the next level. We have three new shows each week, which are available in the iTunes store, or by visiting Flipnerd.com. without further ado, let’s get started.
Hey, it’s Mike Hambright with the Flipnerd VIP show. Today, I’m back with Tristan Pollock. He is the founder and CEO of Storefront and it’s a very interesting concept that you probably haven’t even thought of before. When you hear it, it will be kind of an aha moment that why didn’t I think about this. It’s a really cool play on excess retail space and how you could lease out that space and make some extra money, something you probably haven’t thought of before. Before we get started today with our interview, let’s take a moment to recognize our featured sponsors.

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Mike Hambright: Hey, Tristen. Welcome to the show.

Tristen Pollock: Hey, mate. How’s it going?

Mike Hambright: Good, good. You’ve got a really cool concept. We’ve talked about this a little bit before and it’s just one of those things that you hear and you’re like, wow, maybe I have some extra space I could rent out to folks. What you’ll do the best job of telling us a little bit about Storefront and how your model works. Tell us a little bit about your concept. It’s obviously not even a concept. You have an operating business now. tell us a little bit about conceptually how your business model works.

Tristen Pollock: Yes, Storefront in essence is the easiest way to open a retail store. Historically, you might have tried to do a five or 10 year lease in retail. We allow you to rent spaces by the day, week, or month. You can come onto the site. it’s very much some people refer to us as Airbnb for retail because you can come onto the site and you can reach out to space owners and rent those spaces directly through the site.

Mike Hambright: Okay, okay. Give us an example of a couple of different folks that have used your service and the type of space that they leased out and why it made sense for the retailer or the shop owner.

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, one good example is Indochino. They’re an eCommerce seller and traditionally have only been online, but for the past two years they’ve been moving around to a different city every month and they’ll open up a two to three week store and they’ve used us in San Francisco and New York, our two main markets by just going to TheStorefront.com, searching for spaces that fit their needs. Then, they’ll get insurance straight away and support will help promote their store. What’s really great for them is they already know where their customers are. They can see where these orders are coming out online. They do custom suits for people so when they’re doing it as an offline experience, it really gives the chance for those customers as well as new customers to be able to go into the store, get fitted, bring in the suits that they’ve had, see the new patterns that are coming out and actually touch and feel the suits, where normally they wouldn’t have had that experience online so very complimentary.

Mike Hambright: Okay. There’s two sides to these parties. One is somebody that has space ad from talking to you, I know it’s either space that’s just not leased out yet. It could be a full retail location that somebody may not want to sign a long term lease in or a least your clients may not. They want something temporary; or it could be just some extra space in a hotel lobby or things like that as well. Then, the other sides are the folks that are looking for temporary space to lease out and would like the flexibility of having a short term opportunity, I assume.

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, exactly. There’s everything from unique spaces like hotel lobbies or even like fashion trucks on the site, really rethinking what retail space can be because it can be a lot of different things. Really, what matters is that you’re where the people that you want to get in touch with are. That could be, we have a partnership with MTA in New York, so subway station spaces where some of the highest foot traffic spaces on the site. Traditionally, maybe it’s just been a magazine store in there but now they’re bringing in these cool fashion brands and they’re reaching so many people because it’s just there’s such a high foot traffic run through of the subways.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: Then, on the other hand, we have traditional retail spaces, spaces at a mall, spaces at a market. You can rent a booth, and then galleries or stores or even store within a store, so you can rent a space inside of a boutique.

Mike Hambright: Okay.

Tristen Pollock: It really runs the full game if you’re looking to start small and test out retail from $100 a day for a store within a store boutique to if you want an entire store in the subway or in a mall, you really have your choice in a platform you can build and grow through it.

Mike Hambright: Yeah, yeah. Talk a little bit about on one side you have folks that have space available. Are you primarily working with larger operators, brokers, and much larger folks that have a lot of space available or even some one off folks that maybe have some excess space in an individual location?

Tristen Pollock: Exactly. We work with both. We work with commercial brokers. We work with mall operators and we work with landlords. That’s on the real estate side of it and we also work with people who are leasing from those folks already, a boutique owner, a retail manager, those sorts of folks as well. Really, it’s an opportunity, and I should say, we’ll even see brokers from each side of the platform so tenant rep brokers, contacting, listing brokers and doing deals that way because they’re getting reached out to by their brands and they’re like, hey, I want to do something shorter. Can you get me into Soho for the holidays or Soho for fashion week? They’re like, all right, where do I look? I have my network but we’re aiming to get every available space in New York or San Francisco on the platform so that you can search through them and find them really easy because that was the biggest issue starting out.

Mike Hambright: Right, right. Tell me a little bit about what markets are you in right now, do you serve?

Tristen Pollock: Yeah. Anyone can list on the site across the US but we’re mainly focused on San Francisco and New York. I’ll give you a little hint that LA is coming up soon. We have a lot of spaces growing organically in LA.

Mike Hambright: Okay.

Tristen Pollock: Also, in the cities like Chicago or Austin, cities that have big events that people want to take advantage of, cities that have really vibrant, urban cores, and we look at these really urban centers and that’s where we want to go is we want to go to these urban centers that there’s a lot of activity. There’s a lot of foot traffic and there’s a lot of really great retail experiences that combine both the national brands and the local brands.

Mike Hambright: Right, right, yeah. I was just thinking when you said Austin, I lived in Austin for a while. I’m not too far from there now. in some cities, a lot of major cities there’s just a huge food truck craze right now. are you guys involved in leasing out parking lot space for food trucks and stuff?

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, no. that’s a great question. Actually, before I lived in San Francisco from Minneapolis and in Minneapolis two years ago they didn’t have any food trucks at all because of the permitting, because it just wasn’t allowed. As soon as they flipped the switch it just became a much more vibrant area especially during the lunch day rush and during certain events where there’s a lot of people out. That’s the thing that’s very interesting to us. We’re seeing a lot of pop up restaurants. We’re seeing a lot of food trucks come out. a lot of these even fashion trucks, they desire some of this open space. What we’ve seen is them actually rent out space through the platform at a market. If a market is listing boost space or things like that, they’ll have spaces. Essentially a truck can take a boost space.

Mike Hambright: Okay.

Tristen Pollock: That’s how they’ve started to cut it up.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: They’ve allowed some space for these trucks to come in, park like a booth, open up their back doors or their side window and then from there, they’re all set to go and they already have this critical mass of people that are already out for this entire event.

Mike Hambright: Yeah, yeah. Cool. Talk about the opportunity for folks that are looking for a short term space. It seems to me like this opens up a lot of opportunities for people that didn’t know it existed before that want to have some sort of retail presence or at least try it on for size but don’t want to commit to a long term lease and all of the build out they might need for a retail location. It’s a big commitment to do that. Talk a little bit about the feedback you’ve gotten from folks that are looking for temporary space, not necessarily just the big players that like the idea to open up a high end shop for a short period of tie and bounce around but for more of the kind of Mom and Pop level or maybe folks that maybe they’ve only had an online presence or they don’t have a big retail presence but they can dabble with it through your platform.

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, yeah. No, that’s a great question because a majority of people we see searching Storefront today are people who haven’t been able to access retail.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: It’s the artists, the designers, the power SC sellers. They’re using an e-commerce platform to sell today and it’s never been easier. Maybe they’ve raised money on Kick Starter but now there is still a huge ledge for them to climb to get to retail and so now they’re able to access these different retail spaces that they weren’t before. That’s the people that are most excited about it because they’re able to get into it, try out different spaces, maybe try out different neighborhoods and so much more flexible than they would’ve had if they had to lock into a five year lease right away. It may or may not have worked for their brand just because of that area or even that side of the street. When they’re able to do it during certain times of the year, move around, they’re coming from online going offline and they’re more excited than ever. We have some really great stories that we have up on the site where people are basically saying, “I wanted a store. I wanted to open a retail store my entire life.”

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: “I couldn’t do it so I opened up a fashion truck or I didn’t do it at all. Now, through Storefront, I was able to do a month long pop up shop with a group of brands and now since I’ve opened up two more and have them kind of ongoing around the city.” Really exciting to see those stories because if you look at eBay for example, Sophia the CEO of Nasty Gal, she launched her brand on eBay and we want to be considered. We want to be in that same dialogue because now there’s all these great platforms online. There’s a lot of noise. Naturally, what can you do next best? You can come offline. You can go through Storefront and you can open up a shop in your local neighborhood and let people know of what you’re doing and talk to them and get feedback and all those things and create a really amazing experience essentially. Retail is becoming an experiential practice.

Mike Hambright: Right, right.

Tristen Pollock: If you want transactional products, you can go on to Amazon. If you don’t make it interesting and make it engaging and make it temporal in our case, then it’s not going to be something that’s going to last.

Mike Hambright: Right, right. For pricing that folks get, if they’re able to do a short term lease, they’re not necessarily, landlords are using it as a way to just make some revenue where they otherwise wouldn’t have. Are they charging less for this space or are they charging more because there’s no lease associated with it? What are you typically seeing there?

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, we’ll see landlords actually make more because they’re making it more efficient. They can price more efficiently because they know, all right, I’m getting this much demand for this month, I can price more for that month. That’s one of our big goals is how can we create more tools that make it easier for someone to run their business? On the landlord’s side of it, it’s how can I price my space better? How can I keep it filled? A lot of landlords are concerned, not just about their profit but they want to keep their experience vibrant. They don’t want to be contributing to the neighborhood in a negative way.

Mike Hambright: Right.

Tristen Pollock: Part of that is keeping these, bringing in these local online sellers that haven’t had the chance before, but as soon as they get the chance they really succeed. That’s always our north star is how do we keep people becoming successful when they go through us? We’ll see for every dollar someone spends on rent, they’ll make $7 on average in sales income. That’s something that we try to promote as much as possible. Here’s the things that’ll make you successful. Here’s how to do it. That’s why we provide such great customer service. That’s why we put so much helpful content out on the blog. Really, all that helps people become more successful in what they do.

Mike Hambright: Right, right. It seems like a simple concept that a lot of folks just don’t know exists. How do you create awareness? How do you educate folks to know that these possibilities are out there?

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, that’s exactly it.

Mike Hambright: You’ve got to educate an entirely new industry almost.

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, exactly. There’s two steps to the education. One, I like to look at it as like every single person out there either themselves is a maker in some sort of way. Maybe they work fir a brand. Maybe they’re a designer. Maybe they’re an artist on the side, or they know somebody who is. It’s a really accessible business, Storefront is for all these people out there in the US today. A lot of people say one in 10 people in the US so of 300 million, one in 10 are creative entrepreneurs in some way, shape, or form. Even a graphic designer who does web graphics still probably does prints or maybe does photography on the side. There’s so many levels of it that people can use to follow their passions. As a big part of the sharing economy, there’s a lot of different ways you can make extra money to fuel your passion but I like to say through Storefront you’re actually making money doing your passion so you can do it more. You’re really creating a business out of something that you love and you’re not just making extra money to support it. You’re actually supporting it through what you do.

Mike Hambright: Okay. Are you guys actually brokers? Are you brokering these deals or are you aligning with brokers on both sides? Go ahead and answer that first and I’m curious how brokers and agents that have listings see you, because sometimes they may think, well why would I do that temporarily? I want to get the commission for locking up something for a long term even if it sits vacant for a long time, it’s just maybe a tough mentality to crack for some folks.

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, yeah. We’ll see brokers structure new deals with their landlords in a lot of ways like there’s still ways to get commission. It’s not always that golden egg of Apple for 20 years.

Mike Hambright: Right.

Tristen Pollock: These deals, again, are keeping your space filled. They’re bringing in revenue. They’re bringing in new foot traffic. It’s staged so the people that come into the space, you can actually walk tenants through when a space is built out and looking great versus walking them into a blank canvas that maybe they can or cannot visualize. That’s what’s great. As far as we looked at as a broker, we looked at it as a connector, a service provider. Both the brokers and landlords, and space owners on one side and then the merchants, the artists, the designers on the other. They’re fully autonomous. We’re giving the power to streamline this service, streamline this process and so if they’re doing negotiation or anything like that, pricing is up front, transparent on the site, all that stuff.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: We’re looked at as just the instigator. We’re just helping people do more, access this and make it more efficient.

Mike Hambright: Yeah, talk about, several times you mentioned customer service, providing good service. Talk a little bit about the services you provide because I can tell from you talking that you’re doing more than just matchmaking on a site. I know you’re providing some insurance solutions and some other things. Talk a little bit about the services you actually provide.

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, yeah. It starts, basically Eric and I, maybe this is a good point to go into the background of the story. He and I both came from really creative families. My parents took me to my first art gallery opening and my first art crawl and they were both artists and designers themselves.

Mike Hambright: Okay.

Tristen Pollock: From there, Eric and I, we both worked in ecommerce after. I worked for BestBuy.com. I saw the online, offline component and actually worked the middle of it to help bridge that void. Then, Eric did some of the first stores inside Facebook, so really thinking about how to reach your customers, what’s the best way to do that, how to be innovative about it. We took those experiences and brought them into Storefront and when we were doing that, we saw, okay what are the biggest pain points in this industry today and how can we help that? The first one was finding these spaces, so like I said, we’re bringing on hundreds of spaces. Now we have thousands on the site and want to make that the one stop shop when you’re looking for retail space. You can sort through and you can filter and find the best one for you.

Mike Hambright: That’s cool.

Tristen Pollock: The second biggest part of that was insurance. We heard stories of people going to 10 different insurance providers and a lot of them saying, no, I’m not going to insure this short term event or no, I’m not going to do a short term. You can pay for an entire year. Really, what we saw was there needs to be some easy way. Everyone needs to be insured. That’s what landlords want, malls want, every type of space, seller should have that type of protection.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: We’re able to bring that on board so now if you come through you’re going to get that for free, specifically short term, general liability and it’s specific to that event. We’ve even heard that Target will do specific short term general liability insurance for its pop up shops because they want to make sure that it has the right type of insurance. That same thing, we want to do that as well and we want to make sure everyone has that. We have some flexibility in that as well so if you need higher coverage, we can get you that. If you’re doing a pop up restaurant or you’re doing pop up retail, we can do either of those as well so we have some flexibility around the insurance that fits the space owner’s needs, and then the rest of the process sis you’re getting into set up payment and you can pay up front to decide securely when you get to actually setting up your store we can introduce you to the service providers you may need, temporary retail staff, store design, anything like that, POS systems, anything that you need we’re here and customer support is there to help you along the way as well as give you those recommendations for when you’re opening up your shop.

Mike Hambright: How about things like I’m mixing this with the residential rental side, but in terms of collecting rent. What if you’re the intermediary and somebody is renting it for let’s say more than a month and rent is due. Are they paying you and then you’re paying it on? Is that rent passing through you? Are you just kind of facilitating it? What’s your role and responsibility if somebody were not to pay and things like that?

Tristen Pollock: One of the things that people, there’s a few things that people traditionally hate about rental properties. Collecting rent and plunging toilets are the two things at the top of the list.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: If it’s a monthly or multi-month thing, then you get paid up front every month and yeah, that’s part of what we do. When people are submitting requests on the platform, you can look at their profile. You can see their verified phone, verified email, you can see what types of products they sell, past retail experience they’ve had. You know that they have a bank account or a method of payment. All of those factors is going way past the sign in the window. It’s not cold calling at all. You’re actually seeing who this person is and what they’re passionate about and what they make before anything else.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: When it comes to rent payments, yeah, everything is paid up front and you’re paying directly for that space. A lot of times it’s a license agreement instead of a lease. There are specific incidents like a mall operator has got their standard lease. That’s fine. We let them use that but a lot of the times people use a standard license agreement that’s much shorter, much more light weight. You don’t have to worry about hold over situations and things like that.

Mike Hambright: Right, right. From a little bit from the business perspective, from the side of the business on how you’ll make money and how you’ll grow and things like that, are you on the hook for rent if somebody were to not pay? Is Storefront responsible for that?

Tristen Pollock: It’s kind of impossible for someone not to pay since you’re going to be paying before you move into the space.

Mike Hambright: Okay, but let’s say they were to lease it for three months or six months, they’re paying that in full up front?

Tristen Pollock: Usually, before every month like you would with any sort of lease or rental.

Mike Hambright: I see.

Tristen Pollock: Yeah. Right now, we allow people to use their own refund policies or if there’s someone coming back with that, they won’t be in the space unless they paid their rent basically.

Mike Hambright: I see. Tell us a bit about the business side of it. How do you measure success and where do you go from here?

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, exactly. A lot more growth. We’re getting inquiries from all across the US, all across America, all across the world really.

Mike Hambright: That’s awesome.

Tristen Pollock: We want to one, stay focused and provide a really consistent, really great experience. A lot of times we look at Zappos or Amazon. We want the best customer service that is out there. We want to treat people great, make them feel great and help them be successful in what they do so they’ll do it again and they’ll come back to us when they need it again.

Mike Hambright: Yeah.

Tristen Pollock: Part of that is giving them as many options as possible so if I want to go to New York, say I start in San Francisco, I start growing my brand and now I want to go to San Francisco and New York. Now they have those options. As brands grow with us, whether they’re local, whether they’re national, etcetera, we want them to grow with us and be able to expand their business and their distribution with us. That’s just naturally, we need to be in the best cities for retail, the best shopping cities, the best shopping streets in the US. That’s really the plan for us this year is providing that platform and being one of the top service providers that helps people sell their products along the lines of Amazon and eBay.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. From listening to you talk, would it be fair to say that you’re aiming at more higher end brands more so than an individual Mom and Pop that wants to have a retail presence in some way? A lot of folks are very geographically specific. They’re located in one city and they may only want one storefront periodically for a short period of time if they’re not really a national player.

Tristen Pollock: I’d say right, we serve both. If someone is going local to local, maybe they’ll be in San Francisco and they’re going to different places in San Francisco, different neighborhoods, they’re going to Oakland, they’re going to Paulo Alto or Silicon Valley. Eventually we see these brands growing and becoming more and more of our local brands will start, it’ll be like a national to local where they have a presence across the US versus just in one specific area. On that front, though, we see both,. We see the Indochinos that travel across the country and need to go to a lot of different cities and we see people that want to stay in San Francisco and grow their brand locally here or in New York. Both those are applicable to the platform. We can serve more people, let’s say we go to Chicago. We can serve the local makers there and we can help larger brands or ecommerce brands come off line there if their customers are there.

Mike Hambright: Yeah, yeah, cool. Tell us a little bit more about how people learn more about you. I know you have an eBook out that helps educate people and help people understand what you have to offer as well but tell us a little bit about how folks learn more.

Tristen Pollock: Yeah. Definitely. I’ve always been a huge advocate for helping people. That’s what we do through Storefront. We empower these makers, artists and designers, all the creative entrepreneurs out there. Through my last startup that I founded with Eric as well, my cofounder, we helped social entrepreneurs. My email is Triston, real simple, T-R-I-S-T-A-N @TheStorefront.com. If I can answer any questions or help people think about this in a better way. We have our ultimate guide to opening a pop up shop free for download. I think we will include it as a link after this.

Mike Hambright: Yeah. We’ll add links below the video.

Tristen Pollock: Great, awesome. The pop up guide and our blog and my email, those are some of the best resources that you can have for retail today.

Mike Hambright: Okay, or they could just visit TheStorefront.com and maybe see some examples of shops that are available. Do folks that are interested in space, do they have a profile as well? Does your model have both sides present on the site or do you just see the sites that are available for rent or is it people who are looking for something they can’t find on the site and they’re kind of marketing to potential space owners?

Tristen Pollock: Yeah, what you’ll see there are both. Both sides have profiles so you’ll see a space owner profile, a renter profile, but what you’re searching on the site are the listings so through that really right now the only people who see the renter profile, which are the brands are the space owners when they submit a request.

Mike Hambright: I see, okay. Okay. Awesome. Hey, thanks for joining us on the show today. It’s been a really interesting concept. Like I said, my wheels are kind of turning on extra space I have to maybe lease out. Most of my stuff is residential but if you want to market some lemonade stand opportunities for folks, I’ve got some front yards that we can put these shops in.

Tristen Pollock: We have some very unique spaces on the site so maybe you should test it out, Mike.

Mike Hambright: Cool, I’ll check it out. I’ll check it out. Awesome, I appreciate you joining us on the show today and sharing your information and I definitely wish you all the best in Storefront.

Tristen Pollock: Thank you so much. I appreciate being here. It’s been a pleasure, and again, happy to take any questions from anyone.

Mike Hambright: Awesome, awesome. Thanks so much. We’ll see you around.

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