How to Open a Pop-up Shop

Opening a pop-up shop is a great way to meet customers, test out the concept of an in-person retail store, give sales a boost and create buzz around your business.

Even before COVID-19 hit, rents outside of central London had plunged by 30-50% – making pop-up retail and permanent space more affordable. It’s a renters’ market with lots of empty commercial space to fill and opportunity to negotiate favourable terms.
Following months of lockdowns there’s pent-up desire from people to get out and have ‘real’ as well as ‘virtual’ experiences.

A pop-up shop is a great way to build in-person shopping experiences into your business model to make it truly omnichannel – and serve your customers where they are, whether that be online or on the high street.
This guide is packed with information to make your pop-up a success.

What is a pop-up shop?

A pop-up shop is a temporary in-person shopping opportunity usually housed in a bricks and mortar environment. It can be a stand alone store that you takeover for a short period, space within a bigger commercial outlet or shop or a trade stand at an event. A pop-up shop could even be an outdoor experience similar to a market stall.

The point is that is provides your customers the chance to shop with you in person for a short period. There’s no intention of it being permanent. You can set up a pop-up shop for a day, a few days, weeks or months.
The benefits of pop-up retail are many, they include opportunities to:

  • Market and sell seasonal products in person – the Calendar Club is a king of the pop-up shop, operating 200-300 in the UK in September to January each year
  • See and engage with existing customers face-to-face to help build brand loyalty and reach new customers
  • Launch a new range in a way that allows customers to see and feel the product – a strategy adopted by womenswear brand Nobody’s Child did with a pop-up in London’s Carnaby Street
  • Test what it is like to have an in-person retail offer or test a new location. Disney set up a pop-up in Leicester with the intention of retaining it for the Christmas period then stayed for more than three years
  • Generate some buzz and marketing around your brand
  • To give your online business a short-lived blast in the real world – as many chose to do via a pop-up shop venue in London’s Oxford Street.

All of these benefits are available without the long-term commitment and costs of fitting out, renting or buying and staffing permanent premises.

Cost of a Pop-Up Shop

One of the major attractions of a pop-up shop for many businesses are the lower financial commitments compared to a permanent bricks and mortar retail space.

As with any retail outlets rent on a pop-up shop is likely to closely align with the desirability of the location and the size of the space.

A pop-up in an undesirable location may cost a lot whilst a tiny space may come with a low price tag. A place in a central London location may cost you £1,000 a day or more. Miniature pop-ups consisting of a single shelf in a store or countertop box, for example, may come as cheap as £1 a day.

On top of rent, other costs to consider – especially for a standalone pop-up retail unit – may include:

If you are a small business with a small budget all of these things can be done relatively cheaply or you can choose to invest more.
Store fit out and display can even be achieved in a home-made kind of way, especially if you’re going for a laid-back thrown-together feel. You may be able to hire shelving or negotiate with your landlord to include it. Just be sure not to scrimp on safety.

You can produce signage yourself, do your own marketing and may be able to staff your pop-up with the help of friends and family. If you hire people remember you’ll be bound by minimum wage laws.

Ensuring you’re set to receive card payments and mobile phone payments can be sorted for £16 + VAT through Square Reader.

Remember that if you decide to go for homemade and self-made fittings and signage you still want it all to reflect well on your brand. Your pop-up shop will become part of your brand and will impact how people identify with your business – make sure customers go away with a great impression.

Have a great idea for more than just your products

Easier said than done! ‘Novelty’ is big business when it comes to pop-up shop ideas – just look at the pop-up retail mecca that is Boxpark, a venue built out of shipping crates! - so even your most unique idea may not be unique at all when you look at other pop-up creations. This doesn’t mean you need to compromise on your vision, though – a pop-up isn’t just about what you’re selling, it’s about the overall experience. That’s precisely why even major brands like Burberry still go for pop-ups, because while their products can be bought in countless shops around the country, pop-ups have that extra magic touch to make a purchase an experience.

How to find the best location for your Pop-Up Shop

Pop-up locations come in all shapes and sizes, from fully-fledged retail units in shopping centres to alcoves in tube stations.

Finding the best location for yours is a matter of considering your target market and pop-up shop goals. Creating a mini business plan for your pop-up will help you to work out your best location.

It needs to be affordable, to help you achieve what you want it to – such as generating publicity or helping you make a lot of sales fast (in which case high footfall may be a major requirement) – and to enhance your overall business brand.

Locations you can consider for a pop-up include:

  • A vacant shop – look in the area you want to target for a vacant store that you may be able to take over on a short-term basis and approach the owner or agent. Otherwise approach an estate agent that deals in commercial lets and see if they have something suitable.
  • Space in a shopping mall or arcade – as well as the occasional vacant shop that may be suitable, shopping malls and arcades often have purpose made kiosks or central spaces ideal for a pop-up shop. Whether you’ve seen businesses trading from there before or think you’ve spotted an opportunity that the mall operator has not yet seen – speak to them to discuss rates.
  • Space in a larger store – you can approach an existing retail outlet to see if you could set up a pop-up shop in a spare space. Emerging baby fashion brand Little Black Outfit was preparing to launch its first pop-up shop in John Lewis, in Leeds, in summer 2021. You could target a department store or smaller scale retailer. You can even go with a miniature pop-up involving hiring a micro space like a shelf or part of an aisle.
  • A space designed for pop-ups – you may choose to go with a custom designed space ideally suited to pop-ups like Boxpark, which offers leases of one to 12 months plus on its dining and shopping outlet created from shipping containers in London’s trendy Shoreditch.
  • Your local street market – the original pop-up shop destination in many ways, a stall on your local street market or a street market further afield, can be the ideal pop-up shop. Your local council is a good place to start to find out about getting a pitch. You may even find you can run something out of your garage at home (check you’re not in breach of planning rules) or from a car boot sale.
  • A mobile space – food trucks are a classic example of a mobile pop-up shop and the same model could work for other non-catering businesses too. Ensure you check out what permits you’ll need to park up and trade.
  • A trade event – specific industry events are sometimes the perfect home for pop-up shops.

You can try to spot the ideal location for your pop-up shop yourself and then approach the appropriate landlord, agent or local authority. Otherwise, you could consider what your budget and requirements are and then try one of the specialist companies with a focus on pop-up shop rentals, such as Appear Here and Pop Up Shops.

Promoting your Pop-Up Shop

You can never do enough marketing for pop-ups - they may not be the most luxuriously fitted-out of stores, but punters are usually drawn to pop-ups because of the limited-edition feel they have. People out front with fliers, balloons, banners and attention-grabbing displays may be a bit old-school for well-founded permanent stores, but for the humble pop-up, these things bring the excitement to life. And nibbles and fizz can help get any opening party started. Social media is your friend and a strong Instagram account is a must have for pop-ups who only have a high-street presence for a short period of time.

Announce on Facebook and Twitter that you are arriving to the high street. Make use of TikTok and YouTube too if you have (or can create) something video worthy. Don’t just rely on putting the word out on your own accounts.

Tag accounts that have an audience that may be interested in your pop-up. That could be accounts that feature local news and gossip or that have specialist followings that match your customer base, such as merchandise collectors, fan groups, vegans, parents, older people or whatever your audience is! Social media creates amazing growth opportunities for all small businesses.

Your local paper may well be prepared to feature you for free in the news pages too – get in touch with the editorial team with all the details of your opening and ask. If you can provide a great photo to go with the piece it’ll increase your chances of getting coverage too.

Make sure your Google My Business profile is up-to-date. Also, promote your pop-up store on your own website.

Place flyers in neighbouring businesses and put eye-catching posters in the window during your fit out to drum up interest and anticipation.

Marketing doesn’t stop once you’re up and running - make sure business cards are available at various points around your pop-up, or ensure staff include one in the bag with every order, your location might only be yours for a few weeks, but every customer might just be yours for a long time yet.

Make the experience flawless

Your location is perfect, you have customers waiting at the door, now to make sure you deliver. It can be easy to forget the logistics of store ownership when you are busy trying to grant the fleeting fantasy of your pop-up to every customer who walks in, so you’ll want to have easy-to-use tech on your side. The Square Reader is a pop-up’s best friend, able to accept card payments and digital wallets and letting you manage staff in multiple locations so you’re free to begin your pop-up journey into the British high street wherever you’re ready. Upgrade a little to Square Terminal and gain extra functionality, including the ability to print receipts.

Making Sure Your Pop Up Thrives in a Post-Pandemic World

Pandemic restrictions (or the threat of their return) seem set to be hanging over retailers to some extent for a while yet, whether you’re a permanent bricks and mortar trader or pop-up shop owner.

On the plus side for pop-up retail, this means short-term leases may well continue to be a lifeline for landlords and offer great opportunities for start-ups and independent business to capitalise.

To ensure your business is prepared for all eventualities it makes sense to have everything lined up to serve your customers in every way possible and maximise all business opportunities.

An online shop is a must and a fundamental partner to any pop-up shop.

To make the most of sales opportunities consider click and collect and delivery options.

Even as a pop-up shop you can easily equip yourself to receive contactless payments, which people relied on more than ever in the pandemic as they sought to avoid touching change. It’s a trend that is likely to remain.

You can use QR codes on marketing materials to help advertise your pop-up shop or include them on your business cards or marketing materials at the event to remain connected with customers.

If restrictions are at a heightened level where social distancing is important or you have a vulnerable customer base who may prefer to remain distanced from others, you can also think about offering shopping by appointment slots even at a pop-up store.

Pop-up retail is a whole new world of opportunity – get started and make the most of it!

Relevant articles

How to Start a Side Hustle
Setting up a Business: A Checklist
The In-Store Experience That Will Get Customers Out of Their Houses