Open up your own VR pop up store

Pop up stores are lit. We need more of them. It is an awesome way to get feedback from users, connect with potential partners and showcase projects you’re working on.

Last week, we opened up the doors to our second annual VR pop up store in Berlin. A whole week of VR showcases, storytelling and tech workshops, stand-up panels and social hours (full program here). Here, we want to share our findings in this five-things-to-remember-post, in case you are thinking about opening up your own VR pop up store.

We are Vragments, a Berlin-based virtual reality studio. We produce VR projects in collaboration with newsrooms and we are building a tool called Fader which allows users to create their own 360 stories easily and fast.

The original idea behind the pop up store was to open up a space where people can meet and experience various VR projects. Our goal was to offer a platform to network with like-minded VR enthusiasts but also to introduce this new medium to people who have never even heard of VR. Last year, we opened up our first VR pop up store and combined that with a Hackathon and our 2016 VR Conference for Journalism and Documentary (next one coming up September 22nd).

These are five things to remember while planning your own VR pop up store.

1. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

The venue for your gig plays an important role for the success of a pop up store. Especially, if you want to attract different kinds of people with various backgrounds. Thanks to Joaquin Alvarado and late 90s Kreuzberg resident Trey Bundy, we found the perfect spot in the heart of beautiful Berlin, Kreuzberg. It gave us the opportunity to welcome the coincidental walk-ins with no previous experience in VR technology. It also enabled us to invite potential partners and fellow VR enthusiasts because the store was easy to find and well connected to public transportation.

This also requires soft skills: Make sure that the vibe of the location matches your pop up store vibes. Do you need to invite potential investors? Make sure that you have a place ready for meetings. Your store needs to look like it’s ready to scale. Are you planning a launch party for your product? Don’t under- or overestimate the size of the location. Depending on what you are planning and the vibe you are trying to send, the venue has to match that exact message.

2. CREATE HIGHLIGHTS FOR YOUR DAYS AHEAD

It is not enough to open up a pop-up store, tell all your friends on Facebook and then expect it to be a success (unless you are super popular, then it might work). Your days at the venue can be brutally long and if you just wait/hope/pray for people to show up, chances are, you’ll be disappointed by the end. Instead, think about activities around your VR pop-up. Last year, we organized a VR hackathon in collaboration with a nearby media design college. The students gathered around the store afterwards and celebrated their VR projects. Also, we synchronized the pop-up with a VR journalism conference on the last day as a highlight. It worked, people showed up to specific events, sometimes more than once.

This year, we decided to offer mini-workshops throughout the week for people who were interested in different topics evolving around VR. For instance, we offered an A-frame and Unity workshop for storytellers and a rapid prototyping workshop for journalists to experiment with new VR concepts/ideas.

Discussing VR storytelling techniques

Rapid prototyping workshop

Workshop on A-frame for storytellers

Also, we organized a stand-up panel on VR and ethics in journalism. We asked experts to speak about the subject while everyone else was able to chime in and discuss with them.

Stand-Up panel with Thomas Seymat and Catarina Gomes

More importantly, think of different stations at your pop-up store representing different VR experiences. We had a three-steps approach:

1) explain who we are, give an overviews of our work and what we are doing here.

2) show people our different VR gear and let them experience at least one 360 and one CGI-based experience.

3) if they are still interested, invite them to one of our events, socialise and show them even more VR work from us.

That way, people stayed in the store for a longer period of time which gave us the chance to getting to know them and their work.

3. SPARK VR CONVERSATIONS

Since VR is still new to many, we were able to get rapid feedback from viewers. It was powerful to watch their reactions and discuss VR’s impact.

 

Discussing VR and trying out experiences

4. FIND THE RIGHT PARTNERS

Needless to say, we could not have done this on our own! We had partners who sponsored some of the events (e.g. we offered our workshop in collaboration with Netzwerk Medientrainer). Also, we partnered up with amazing colleagues from NowHereMedia, euronews, and Deutsche Welle who also showcased their 360 work. And on Friday, the Media Design Hochschule took over the store and they presented their VR projects.

All these different VR experiences upgraded the program of our store. We were so lucky to find others willing to contribute to the space. Actually, acquiring partners for a collaborative VR pop up store is a reminder that we all need a kind of an offline version of a Facebook group to showcase VR experiences. Not everyone has VR equipment at home, so especially Oculus and Vive experiences are often not available.

5. BE GENEROUS

I think our store worked so well because we were not trying to sell anything. We truly wanted to make VR technology accessible to people and we wanted them to  experience this new medium. Let’s not turn these VR stores into spaces to sell things. Rather, make it a place to discuss. We gave out beverages and invited everyone to stay. People started sitting down, observing others who were experiencing VR projects. It was magical.

Ok, this is it. If you have organized a VR pop up store, let us know about your findings. If you are planning on opening up one, let us know if you have any questions. Either way, VR stories are still in its early phases and right now, the producers need feedback from viewers more than ever. Let’s create spaces where this can happen in a friendly, non-profit-driven way to really enhance storytelling techniques and understand what works and what doesn’t.