Pop-up Stores

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Temporary retail is everywhere, and it’s easy to see why

At the corner of Shoreditch High Street and Bethnal Green Road sits what used to be a series of makeshift shipping containers that were filled by temporary retail while the area was being redeveloped. Boxpark Shoreditch’s retail success turned the small shopping area into a permanent pop-up haven. Each tiny little store has enough room for just a couple of people to walk through and a large handful of products at any one time - and is only leased for 3-6 or 12 months at a time. With a thus constantly rotating collection of tiny stores, shoppers keep coming back to see what strange niche they’ll find next.

A onesie store with Norwegian fabrics? An ugly-sweater store? A cronut place? A ball pit you can play in for ten minutes at a time? Ok so Boxpark isn’t for everyone - but that’s almost the point of pop-ups. Pop-up stores are intended to be fast, small, niche and flexible. They fit into the category of “temporary retail” which is an estimated $80 billion a year industry.

Now Boxpark in Shoreditch may be peak Gentrified-East-London, but the concept of a pop-up store is anything but new. From traditional peddlers and carts filled with wares, to farmers markets or summer beachside kiosks, people have been selling in this way for generations.

This post takes a look at the benefits of a modern-day pop-up and what to consider before starting one yourself.

How a pop-up store can be an awesome part of your business

Build buzz and brand awareness

Pop-ups are a great way for new brands just starting or entering a new market to get noticed. They allow you to put your face in front of new people and get talking to an audience.

Find new audiences

They also allow you to find new people you haven’t marketed to before yet. Even though you may have developed a great following in certain geographic or demographic arenas, a pop-up store can help you break into new areas for your business.

In creating a pop-up with a new audience, you will also be able to learn what other types of people are looking for in your product. This kind of knowledge will only help when growing your business and creating targeted messaging later on.

Test out products

One of the great uses of a pop-up is to test out a new idea in a relatively low-risk setting. Instead of skipping ahead and investing in lots of supplies, logistics and products for something new, a pop-up shop lets you start small and scale up.

Get offline

Ok, ok so in our industry of course we love that so much can happen online. You can run your whole store from a phone! But, for many shoppers, there is little real substitute to sifting through markets and actually trying on and testing out products for themselves.

Companies that are trying to bridge the online-offline divide can use pop-ups to create both experiences. People can test out your products in person, then buy them in the future online.

Create urgency

Pop-up shops are effective in part because the message is “we are here today, but if you don’t buy now, you might not get the chance.” This is an especially useful tactic with holiday shopping and other kinds of seasonal merchandise, because you aren’t letting someone think about it for too long before they make a purchase.

Creating a sense of immediacy is natural in the world of pop-ups, especially for stores that roam around to different places.

One example is a person fondly known as The Crème Brûlée Man. He had a cart in San Francisco that would drive around and park in a different spot every day, rarely hinting at where he was going to be next. If he showed up in your neighbourhood, believe me you went and got a delicious crème brûlée (a signature “Yes, Please!” was the strawberry and Nutella crème brûlée cup). The fact that you knew he had a great product and would not be there the next day, or maybe even a couple of hours later, meant that he always had a line down the block. He has since opened up a permanent store, and no longer needs to work on the scarcity tactic - and still has a line down the block.

Be around when you’re wanted, and use your time better when you’re not

Lot’s of pop-ups are specifically around holidays - and that’s awesome. It can be difficult to run a business all year round if you have found your niche, and pop-up stores are a good way to stay flexible. You can operate when there is a market for it, and use your time doing more productive things on slow seasons. Find out more about how to tackle running a seasonal business.

In tandem, the flexibility of a pop-up lets you move around and work where there is demand. Unlike a regular store that is tied into a long lease, if business slows in one place you can move on to a different area.

Offload extra inventory

Dealing with leftover inventory is a headache for tons of businesses. Many sell on Amazon or eBay, some just throw away their products, some donate them to charity if they can. A pop-up is another way to offload last season’s stock and gain some new customers in the process.

Get poppin’

Actually starting a pop-up shop does take work and consideration. Here are a few things you need to plan out before you rent a spot. For further reading, take a look at Shopify’s guide to starting a pop-up.

1. Choose some turf

Picking your place is one of the most important steps. You want to be somewhere with a lot of foot traffic, and where that foot traffic means potential customers in your demographic. You can go to a pop-up haven where there are tons of stores like yours that are sharing a similar demand market, or you can try to make yourself unique in a setting that is not usually for retail. Here are a couple of places to start brainstorming.

  • Nest yourself in an existing store with a similar customer base
  • Stick your store inside a place your customers might already be hanging out in (like a cafe or gallery etc). 
  • Makers fairs, marketplaces, craft fairs, holiday fairs - hey even a Dickens Fair will do 
  • Music festivals, sporting events, food halls, or other places your demographic goes
  • Spaces that are transitioning, such as commercial space that becomes vacant while a redevelopment is happening (sometimes called in-between spaces)

Check out a more nuts-and-bolts resource to finding a location here.

2. Visual merchandising

Pop-up shops, almost more than normal retail stores, have to stand out from the crowd. You’ll likely be at a market or event, with tons of other temporary retail around and people bumping shoulders. You have about a second to make a passerby notice you - which is where the concept of visual merchandising comes in. Visual merchandising is all about creating a display that balances bold and enticing with simple and approachable. There’s plenty to learn - so start with this guide.

3. Marketing a pop-up store

Marketing for in-person sales is a different beast than pure online marketing. Instead of driving traffic and generating UGC (though that’s still important), you instead need to focus on:

Planning an event. You are going through this process like it is an extended event - with a set time frame and lots of logistics related to set-up and suppliers. You can incorporate programming, like a kick-off event with freebies or snacks, or special interactive activities (like spin-the-wheel games) that gets an audience to start paying attention to you.

Influencer marketing will be your best friend. In conjunction with your programming efforts, try to find local influencers in your field and invite them to come and help you market. How you do that will depend on your type of pop-up. If you have your own little store, you can have an exclusive opening for press and influencer media. If you are in a kiosk surrounded by others, you can request from your influencer crew to help spread the word.

Take to the streets. Sometimes there is nothing more effective than seeing an opportunity in person. Even in the world of pixels and data tracking, there is still plenty of room for standing on a busy corner and handing people postcards with a bold call to action and clear address.

A coordinated campaign. Use this opportunity to tell your existing followers about your upcoming pop-up shop - and the inverse. Anyone that comes by your pop-up should be informed about all of the rest that you sell and exactly where to get it. Think about what you are trying to achieve - are you trying to demonstrate scarcity so people will buy today? Are you trying to generate leads for new customers and get email addresses to follow up with? Are you trying to show a new and unfamiliar product, and direct interested people to your store? Your message should be clear across all of your marketing and social media channels.

For more tips on marketing for pop-ups, check out this guide from Shopify.

4. Make sales with POS

Shopify Point of Sale lets you take cards, cash, cheques, PayPal or basically any other form of payment in-person. It’s a free app that is included in all Shopify plans, and absolutely perfect for running a pop-up with shared inventory for an online store. Find out how to use it here.

* Image via COS