Kicker

Kicker

(For use by New York Times News Service Clients)

c.2013 Houston Chronicle

The iconic south Texas ranch has a popup store in CityCentre, selling boots, apparel, accessories, luggage and more. It opened Friday and closes Christmas Eve.

The temporary King Ranch Saddle Shop debuted at the west Houston center last year, but was open for less than half the time.

Houston is one of the King Ranch's best retail markets, based on catalog and online sales, said Bill Gardiner, chief financial officer at the King Ranch's Houston-based corporate headquarters.

Might they have a year-round store here one day?

''We're sticking our toe in the water in Houston," he said, adding that it is premature to say if the privately owned company will ever have a permanent store here.

In the meantime, the King Ranch has found a variety of ways to market itself. The South Texas ranch has leveraged itself as a brand, selling items at its Kingsville store, on its website and through its catalog. It also has a licensing agreement with Ford.

''The King Ranch has a smart and aggressive branding team," said Doug McIntyre, CEO of Cult Marketing in Columbus, Ohio.

''When developing a brand, you have to ask, 'Does it tell a story?,'" he said. The King Ranch's vast, rugged landscape and legendary cattle and quarterhorse breeding programs are a lot to draw on, McIntyre said, and they create a sense of "heritage and authenticity" for those who like the Western lifestyle.

A King Ranch connection seems to work with Texas truck owners. About 16 percent of all the Ford Super Duty trucks sold in Texas are a King Ranch model, said Doug Scott, Ford truck group marketing manager.

The King Ranch is a multifaceted business. It is the largest citrus producer in the U.S., the largest pecan sheller in the world and a leading producer of turf grass, Gardiner said. It produces cotton in Texas and grows sugar cane in Florida.

On the retail side, the King Ranch is best known for its leather goods, said Rose Morales, general manager of the King Ranch Saddle Shop which has a permanent store in Kingsville, an online presence at krsaddleshop.com, a catalog and an annual popup store at the Houston Livestock Show.

The popup in CityCentre smells like leather. Morales said all its leather goods, from wallets and briefcases to sofas and saddles, are made in the U.S.

Under a glass case is a large belt buckle, made of nickel, gold and rubies, commemorating the ranch's 160th anniversary.

CityCentre is a good fit for King Ranch because of the center's tenant mix, proximity to the Energy Corridor and the area's residential makeup, said Jason Baker, principal at the Baker Katz retail brokerage firm. He brokered the deal for King Ranch.

About two months after the King Ranch popup shuts down in CityCentre it will have a temporary shop at the Houston Livestock Show for the third year.

A number of retailers are using popup stores for test marketing, said Patricia Norins, publisher of the Specialty Retail Report which covers the kiosk and temporary retail industry. They study the sales and shopper demographic to determine if the popup would work as a permanent store, she said.

The Land of Nod, a retailer of baby and children's furniture, bedding and accessories, will make its Houston debut this holiday season as a popup shop in the Galleria, from Nov. 8 to Jan. 26.

The Morton Grove, Ill.-based retailer has permanent stores in several states and opened its first popup in New York City last holiday season. It will have six popups in the U.S. this year.

The Land of Nod is always on the lookout for new markets for permanent stores, and it is possible that it could open one in Houston "following a successful opening this holiday season," managing director Michelle Kohanzo said.

Toys R Us will operate about 200 popup Express stores across the country this holiday season, spokeswoman Alyssa Peera said. Many of its 24 permanent stores in outlet malls were originally popups, she said. XXX - End of Story