58 Stars' first pop-up store yields bookings, leads and lessons learned

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58 Stars co-owner Mike Salvadore talks with Microsoft employee Vladimir Sorokin on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash.
58 Stars co-owner Mike Salvadore talks with Microsoft employee Vladimir Sorokin on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Wash.

Over the course of two and a half months this summer, Seattle-based travel agency 58 Stars maintained a pop-up store on Microsoft's main campus in Redmond, Wash. Co-owner Mike Salvadore estimates the pop-up drew between 2,500 and 3,000 Microsoft employees, resulting in 15 booked trips and 28 hot leads.

In addition, nearly 1,000 of those employees signed up for a newsletter touting the agency's services and perks.

"I think we hit the ball out of the ballpark with a number of people who, in many cases, would never have even considered talking to a travel agency," Salvadore said.

Last year, Salvadore, a marketer, teamed up with Dan Burke, who owned the agency Passport Travel & Tours. They formed a partnership and rebranded the agency 58 Stars, which they now co-own. One of their strategies for reaching new audiences was to create pop-up stores. The Microsoft pop-up was their first.

According to Salvadore, 58 Stars pitched the pop-up plan to several corporations. Microsoft was interested from the beginning.

"They liked the idea of getting their employees to travel more and take their vacations more, and they liked the idea that there was an engaging environment that was in and on their campus for more than just a day," Salvadore said.

Because the 58 Stars pop-up was focused solely on leisure travel, Salvadore didn't anticipate any conflicts with Microsoft's corporate travel program, and that turned out to be the case.

A map game at 58 Stars’ pop-up store on the campus.
A map game at 58 Stars’ pop-up store on the campus.

From mid-June through August, 58 Stars staffed a 20-foot-by-20-foot space in an area many Microsoft employees passed en route to lunch. Salvadore estimated that thousands of employees passed by each day. The pop-up, which was open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, included a lounge-like area, a map game and a virtual reality setup. The agency has layouts for pop-ups of various sizes for future installations.

"What we wanted to do was to make sure this wasn't a table with a table skirt handing out brochures," Salvadore said. "This was a really lounge-y atmosphere. When you looked at it, it had couches, and it had overstuffed chairs, and it had places for people to interact and sit and have conversations."

Every day at 12:15 p.m., a different travel supplier would give a presentation lasting 15 to 25 minutes.

"Some days they were really well attended, some days they were more lightly attended, but it was a really interesting way for the supplier to get connected more closely to a very new and different audience," he said.

Several dozen suppliers participated in the pop-up, including G Adventures, Silversea Cruises and Icelandair. Their feedback to 58 Stars was positive, with many asking to participate in future pop-ups.

Salvadore said about 95% of the Microsoft employees who interacted with 58 Stars said they had booked travel on their own before, and being on the campus every day helped the agency continue the conversation about its value to that audience. Many were millennials, who Salvadore said he believes are key to the future of the industry.

"If we don't bring that audience in, then the travel agency industry is going to have a very difficult time expanding," he said.

To continue to reach Microsoft employees after the pop-up ended, 58 Stars created a monthly newsletter. The first, sent last month, had an open rate of around 25%.

The agency also created benefits exclusively for Microsoft employees, such as a subscription to Conde Nast Traveler and a membership with Clear, the airport biometric security provider, for those who booked a certain number of trips.

58 Stars has about 15 bookings completed from visitors to the pop-up, including trips to Alaska and St. Petersburg, Russia, and nearly 30 leads in development.

"While I think our numbers are going to continue to grow, we've already seen some really great bookings out of that," Salvadore said. "And we've been able to book with a number of the suppliers that were partnered with us on the ground over the time that we were there."

The pop-up also taught 58 Stars some lessons. For example, Salvadore said he thinks two and a half months was too long and that three to four weeks would be ideal. He also said he wouldn't offer a supplier presentation daily but perhaps two to three times per week, making it more novel.

His goal is to host the agency's second pop-up in the first quarter of 2020. After that, Salvadore hopes to hold one per quarter.

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