What we're talking about
As the name suggests, a pop-up store is a physical shop that appears for a limited time only – it's a way for a brand or small business to create a unique experience for a target audience at a specific time and place. There are a few core places to do this: general pop-up event space that's tailored for temporary stays; vacant street-level retail space; kiosks and booths in malls and shopping centers; and stores within stores (when a bigger shop gives a smaller brand space to play with). Whichever you opt for, you won't own the space and you're not setting up for the long haul. You could be there for a weekend or a year.
Why it's important
If your business is aspiring to delve into the physical retail world, pop-ups can be a no-brainer as a first step – they're a low-risk testing ground. You're not tied into a long-term lease, the space provider often looks after much of the infrastructure and the nitty-gritty details, and you can quickly iterate and adapt. Plus, the retail landscape of major cities has changed significantly over the past few years; an increase in retail-space availability on high streets has led to reductions in rent and more generous contract terms. That spells a great opportunity for small businesses to take advantage of flexible retail options.
But pulling a pop-up off properly requires significant planning and thought – before, during and after the event. Businesses can make plenty of mistakes during their first foray into the physical. Think spiraling costs, a lack of sustained hype and footfall, running out of stock or a lack of staff. There's no sure-fire way to guarantee that your pop-up will be a success, but there are steps to take to give yourself the best chance possible.
Things to note
Lean on online marketplaces. When it comes to finding and negotiating the right space for your pop-up, there are plenty of companies to help – no matter how small your business. Online marketplaces for retail space, such as Appear Here and Storefront, have access to numerous spaces in major cities all over the world. They can assist at every step of the journey, from finding the right location and designing your layout to taking care of the infrastructure details. They can even help you with elements like marketing and photography, or curate a shopper-friendly playlist. Their expertise and access make going through these platforms a smart call.
Footfall isn't everything. It's often tempting for emerging brands to spend big on pop-up stores in locations with the largest foot traffic. But foot traffic can be something of a vanity metric – it's meaningless unless customers buy your products or engage with your brand. If you really want to maximize the success of your pop-up, you'll need to leverage your community. Mohamed Houache, founder and CEO of Storefront, points to the correlation between successful pop-ups and a well-established following on social media. A highly engaged audience in online spaces will be advantageous when you take your business offline.
Test and learn. The flexibility of the pop-up model allows businesses to quickly test how different areas and demographics respond to their product (and brand) at a relatively low cost. This means you can afford to try different things out, like popping up in different areas of a city and tweaking things along the way to see what works best. Ideally, you shouldn't lose money through a pop-up store – so, make sure you're not overly ambitious with your first one. Don't rent the most expensive space; instead, test and validate, then take the learnings with you as you expand to future spaces.
You'll need more than just a launch party. Building hype is an essential ingredient for a successful pop-up. But,if you want any momentum you gain to continue beyond launch day, you need to plan other events throughout the duration and maximize the use of your space. One way to do this is through collaboration. Invite brand ambassadors, influencers, vloggers and anyone else along who can spread the word and, hopefully, become a brand evangelist.
How to plan a pop-up
1. Clarify your aim. Touch base on your main motivations for launching a pop-up. Are you aiming to trial demand before opening something permanent in a specific location? Are you seeking to get closer to your customers and build relationships? Is it about making connections and boosting brand awareness in an area? Clarify how exactly you'll measure success.
2. Figure out your budget. Understand your financial limitations. You'll have to consider rent, insurance, tax, any fixtures and fittings, any necessary tech features and staff costs. A simple spreadsheet allocating funds can be a good starting point. Aim to include a lower band of price options for each aspect of the project.
3. Land on some parameters. Based on what you're hoping to achieve and your means, you should be able to land on some rough parameters for the duration and scale of your pop-up. Though these might change depending on what's available, decide on an ideal length of time to run for and when in the year you'd like your pop-up to occur (eg, are there any seasonal events that you could benefit from?).
4. Think about your staffing needs. Determine who from your team will be available to help run the pop-up. You might be able to move staff around to handle this in-house – but you may also need to bring in temporary staff. It's essential that, whoever they are, they act as brand ambassadors for your business and are able to represent your brand in the strongest possible way.
5. Shortlist locations. It's at this point that you'll likely work with a third-party marketplace or retail-estate agent to help you narrow down some appropriate locations and terms. You'll want to put the time in and vet these carefully – keeping in mind who your target audience is and the areas they spend time in.
6. Consider the hidden details. Once you've found the right spot, make sure you have any permits or licenses relevant to your location and what you're selling. The owner of the space should be able to help with this, but make sure to do it well in advance. Find out what's provided by the landlord and what you need to take care of yourself. You should also find out if any roadworks or disruptive events are planned in the area.
7. Compile a list of what you need. Make a list of all the different things you're going to need for the space. That means the essentials (eg, signage, window dressing, lighting, point of sale software, internet) and the specifics for your type of shop. Will you need shelves, rails or display cabinets? Fridges or freezers? How about storage space? Music, furniture and other decorative elements will play a big part in creating the right vibe.
8. Consider professional help. If you're doing this without the assistance of a general pop-up specialist, you might bring in some specific expertise.Retail architects can help plan the space; accessibility consultants can make sure your space is open to all. One often-overlooked element of a pop-up is the storefront – your window is a free media space to advertise your store, so make sure it has something to say.
9. Get the word out. Devise a considered strategy for how you'll get the word out well in advance of the pop-up – and keep it front of mind once you're up and running. That might be through your newsletter, your website and social media channels, through physical activities like flyering, or through pitching for press or working with a PR agency. The key is to build and sustain hype throughout the pop-up's duration, and not just beforehand.
10. Figure out what to track once you're open. The data that you collect from a pop-up will play a big part in determining whether it was a success, and the direction of your business in general. Identify what data you'd like to collect – whether that's email addresses, social media handles or footfall – and then figure out the best way of collecting it. You could collect data at the point of sale, or track footfall using a hand tally counter or an app like Counter+. Collecting email addresses is also a great way of improving the return of investment on your store, as you can retarget those customers in the future.
• The flexibility of pop-up rentals means you can test how different areas and demographics respond to your brand, quickly and at a relatively low cost.
• It makes sense to work with third parties if you're a small business – their expertise can help you at all stages of the pop-up journey.
• Having a good strategy for promotion – and generating hype throughout its duration – means you can maximize your pop-up's impact.
Perspective. Listen to the co-founders of medical scrubs brand FIGS on the In Conversation With Spotify Plus podcast on running a pop-up store and why cornering a niche market can mean powerful repeat revenue.
Example. If you're looking for some inspiration for the perfect storefront, check outThe Shopkeepers' website or Instagram – it's a collection of the world's most eye-catching shops.
Tool. There are lots of moving parts to a pop-up project, so it might be worth using a project management tool. Trello, Notion or Asana will help you keep everything on track.
A version of this article was published in the Courier Weekly newsletter. For more insights, analysis and inspiration, sign up here.