The rise of the pop-up shop has been almost meteoric, particularly over the last ten years. The phenomenon has grown hugely in popularity to coincide with the growth of ecommerce and changing face of traditional high street retail.
The pop-up format is hardly new. Farmers markets, or seasonal markets around Christmas, for example, could be considered the original pop-ups, appearing for short periods before disappearing. It’s this sense of fleetingness that makes the format so popular with consumers.
The method appeals to brands for a different reason: it allows businesses to test their viability with less of the associated risks or costs. The opportunity to experiment with a high-street presence without breaking the bank is great, particularly when it can also help to increase brand awareness and reach new customers.
The good news for up-and-coming businesses is that the pop-up phenomenon is not slowing down. The industry was reckoned to be worth £2.3bn a year to the UK economy in 2015, and it’s growing. So how can up-and-coming businesses get involved in the action?
Finding a space
Luckily, there is a growing number of companies that are catering to businesses and entrepreneurs looking for spaces on short-term lets. When we were looking, we used Appear Here (dubbed the “Airbnb for retail”), though there are several other options.
Using an intermediary like this can help to remove some of the difficulties associated with short-term commercial lets, but not all of them. One of the significant stumbling blocks is that you must pitch your business to the landlord of the premises.
There are several other challenging constraints you’ll have to work within. Cost, availability, and location are all primary concerns; the space you want may not be available at a time which suits you, or it may fall outside of your ideal area. This can be a stressful process, but it’s so rewarding once it’s all finalised.
Then there are secondary concerns: depending on the nature of the business, you may need certain permits. Want to play music? You’ll need a PRS licence. Serving food and drink? Food safety. Short-term insurance arrangements may not have crossed your mind, but they should.
Designing your space
We’ve written before about how important it is to design a retail space to attract and interest passing footfall. The same is true of a pop-up space: it needs to be eye-catching, engaging, interesting, especially as it will exist for such a short time.
You’ll need to be aware of your budget for design, but if you’re lucky you may find a premises which is already set up functionally for your purposes and aesthetically close to what you would like.
If not, you’ll have to work within the terms of your lease to design the space in a way that the landlord finds acceptable. There will be some constraints here, but do your best to work within them to create an engaging environment for your customers.
Next comes the exciting (but equally stressful) bit – opening the pop-up! Now is when you get to show off all your hard work to the world.
Because your shop will only be open for a short time, it’s important to make the most of every opportunity. Make sure to bring along printed marketing material that people can take away even if they don’t make a purchase. Business cards, flyers, leaflets with offers… anything that will jog peoples’ memories a few days or weeks down the line.
Signposting people towards your online presence, whether that’s social media channels or a website, can help to improve brand awareness, too.
Then there are the functional, practical things to figure out. Have you thought about how you’ll manage sales? You’ll need a point-of-sale system and, given the fact that most people are ditching cash in favour of card, accepting card payments could be a make-or-break element.
While pop-ups can be a shortcut to growth, it isn’t always reasonable to expect incredible results. It takes a lot of hard work and a promising business concept to get things up and running, so don’t be put off if you don’t get the wave of customers that you expect. But that’s the beauty of the pop-up – allowing you to create a small, nimble business that can pivot quickly to test a number of routes to success. As the saying goes – if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.