Digital Signage-Driven Sook Pop-Up Stores Cease Operations

January 2, 2024 by Dave Haynes

Well this makes me sad … the UK start-up that was using digital signage technology as the core visual marketing feature of a set of short-term rental pop-up stores has ceased operations.

The company, called Sook, had what I thought was the clever idea of establishing small, ready-to-use retail stores on UK high streets that could be rented by the day or for even shorter time windows. One of the keys to making that workable was a set of LCD video walls that lined the shop walls, so that a store that was selling apparel for an emerging designer one day could be rebranded with some visual file changes as a store selling fragrances or exercise gear the next day.

The premise was that small and emerging companies could have a bricks and mortar presence on places like London’s Oxford Street for things like launches or special events, without signing business-crippling long-term leases on the properties.

I visited the Sook on Oxford almost a year ago while passing through London on my way to ISE in Barcelona, and recorded this podcast interview with John Hoyle, who founded the company in 2019.

Sook had grown to 13 locations, including the first outside the UK, in the Mall of Africa in Johannesburg.

This was a fun pop-up done just recently in London for a company that sells recycled toilet paper … as in toilet paper made from recycled paper products, and not where your mind might have gone.

Hoyle posted a Linkedin note Monday about the decision to shut down operations:

I’m devastated to announce the closure of Sook yesterday.

In spite of the extraordinary efforts of our team, growing sales and achieving international scale we were unable to raise sufficient investment to continue in the current environment.

I’m so proud of all that we achieved and incredibly sad that we cannot continue.

It seemed a good business model, and Hoyle’s efforts won him recognition in the UK as Property Week Entrepreneur of the Year for 2023. But scaling up is tough and I wonder how the stores outside of London did. Start-up brands might want to make noise and do some trade on Oxford and in Shoreditch and Islington, but perhaps locations in smaller, northern cities like Newcastle and Leeds might have had a tougher go. Dunno.

It’s particularly sad because the closure comes less than 18 months after his wife Emily finally lost a lifetime battle with cystic fibrosis. He was happy to chat with me in Jan. 2023, but it was obvious and understandable that he seemed a bit broken by that loss, just weeks earlier.

Best wishes on what comes next, John!

Leave a comment